It’s time for blunt talk: Today’s whisky enthusiast is (generally) not a fan of Collingwood whisky. This is a whisky for a casual whisky drinker—the whisky drinker who has a few pours a month. The sort of whisky drinker that doesn’t need to describe a whisky in any other adverb but ‘smooth.’ This is a big market, and Collingwood deservingly sells plenty of whisky!
Lot No 40 Rye is, by far, Canada’s most award winning whisky. It’s won plenty of praise in Canada, as well as the United States and world wide. What’s not as well known, however, is the evolution of flavour that’s been achieved by the constant stride to perfect this whisky.
The release of the highly anticipated Northern Border Collection (read my writeup) is coming out in a trickle within the LCBO here in Ontario. If you want your hands on Lot No 40 Cask Strength and the other great whiskies as part of this collection, here are some rules to follow:
Ross Hendry, Pernod-Richard’s director from premium Canadian Whisky, is bullish on his company’s next move: “Mark this moment in your memories. Years from now we will look back at it as pivotal in the journey we are on to drive the reappraisal of our national spirit.” After the success of J.P. Wiser’s Rare Cask releases (including Union 52, Dissertation, and Last Barrels), the Canadian division of Pernod-Richard (Corby’s Spirits and Wines) is ready to make the big move.
When I started this website two years ago, I thought I was being clever by using a domain name without any vowels. It was, I thought, a clever play on the controversy on how one spells whisk(e)y. Sadly (for me), it wasn’t so clever. Autocorrect kept insisting on changing whsky to whiskey, making the domain a pain to interact with.
The following list are whiskies to buy today, because they will be gone tomorrow. If you have a whisky friend on your gift list, any of these purchases will not only impress them, but they'll soon realize that they're not likely to see them at the LCBO again.
Making whisky is not unlike writing—you do it because you love the craft. You hope there's a big windfall, but in most cases you know that to simply be able to work on your craft and pay the bills is a win. Every person I've met that's in this business is passionate about making whisky. The passion, the enthusiasm, that drive is shared among whisky makers from the smallest to the largest distilleries.
Jim Murray's The Whisky Bible is one of the more influential book releases of the year. Each year a new book names the best whiskies in the world. Not everyone is a fan of Jim Murray's list, but the this list is hugely influential in the whisky world. Let's see what you can actually buy.
The attention Jim Murray's annual "Best Whisky" award receives is often met with eye-rolls from whisky enthusiasts. Often this award winners are unavailable or expensive whiskies. Last year's winner, Yamazaki Sherry Cask, was selling on the grey market for $1000 for 30ml samples (it was already an expensive bottle before the win).
The Canadian Whisky Awards were held last night in Victoria, with Lot No. 40 taking home the title of “Whisky of the Year” for the second time.
Henry McKenna was once an affordable bottled-in-bond bourbon that rapidly sold out when it won best whisky in the world at the San Francisco Spirit Awards. It went from affordable ($30s US), to gone, to now being difficult to find for under $50 US.
Mister Sam Whiskey is Sazerac’s continued foray into Canada. The company is in the process of opening a distillery in Montreal, and two years ago they launched High River Canadian whisky. That whisky, sourced from another distillery, entered the market at an affordable price point. Mister Sam Whiskey is a monster of a whisky, with a monster price of $250 per bottle. It distribution is limited to only 1,200 bottles between US and Canada. Spoiler: It’s worth it for most whisky collectors.
The Okinawa Japanese islands slinks down south from Japan toward Thailand. It’s a hot climate, and the home of Awamori, a traditional distilled rice spirit unique to the region. Awamori is thought to be the predecessor to Shochu, a more popular fermented and distilled product made in many parts of Japan.
The Irishman is produced by Walsh Whiskey, the same group that’s behind Writers’ Tears. The Founder’s Reserve Caribbean Cask Finish is a terrific addition to the line-up. From their website:
The Irishman Founder’s Reserve – Caribbean Cask Finish is the second expression in The Irishman Founder’s Reserve Cask Series. It is a limited edition finished in rum casks from the tiny tropical Caribbean island of Saint Lucia. A super-premium whiskey, it is a rare vatting of Single Pot Still and Single Malt whiskeys finished for 6 months in Chairman’s Reserve Rum casks. The release is limited to just 12 casks with 380 bottles per cask. Each bottle is individually numbered and signed by Bernard Walsh.
Barrell Bourbon isn’t a distillery. They’re a bottler that purchases barrels from distilleries selling barrels. Because Barrell Bourbon gets to sample the barrels they purchase, and distilleries often sell barrels that don’t meet with their standard taste profile (which doesn’t make them bad, just not right for that distillery), this gives Barrell Bourbon the freedom to release interesting flavor profiles.
The Gooderham & Worts brand is the most exciting brand owned by Corby’s, the company behind J.P. Wiser’s, Lot No. 40, and many other brands coming out of Hiram-Walker Distillery in Windsor. It’s getting the reputation of being a blender’s playhouse, and the blender with all the great barrels is Dr. Don Livermore. Winner of the 2019 Master Blender of the year, Dr. Don Livermore was tasked with choosing eleven barrels to blend for this year’s special release.
Canadian Club 41 Year Old is undoubtably the most celebrated whisky of the 2018 season. It’s also readily (as of this posting) available at the LCBO. This is, at least in part, a controversial whisky in price-point, the way it’s made, and value. Where you fall on this will largely depend on your philosophy as a consumer. Either way, this is a terrific compliment to last year’s 40 year old release.
In the summer of 2017, Master Blender Dr. Don Livermore called the Hiram-Walker warehouse manager to ask that the six barrels intended for the that afternoon’s tasting be brought outdoors. This was unusual. Typically, when doing a tour through Hiram-Walker distillery, the much anticipated barrel tasting happens within the warehouse. That summer of August, though, was the day of the eclipse.
Barrel Bourbon seeks out unique barrels of whisky from various sources, batches them, and bottles them when they’re ready to go. Their mantra is “no two batches taste alike.” It’s a good mantra. It’s a fantastic idea. It’s a play on a weakness, since smaller producers buying barrels have a challenge of producing a consistent product.
Glenfiddich’s Experimental releases are pushing the distillery in new directions. Fire & Cane, the latest, is perhaps the perfect balance of price and flavor. Winter Storm is, undoubtedly, the best whisky of this excellent collection. It’s 21 Year Old Glenfiddich, however, and that comes with a high price. Fire & Cane is affordable, and dead-set on competing with peated whiskies coming from Islay.