Single malt whisky - tasting notes

06 May 2013

Lot No. 40

Tasting notes by Ruben Luyten - Posted in * World

Canadian Whisky - De KergommeauxI’m taking part in a four week Twitter event based around Canadian whisky. The idea came from Johanne McInnes (thanks!) and of course Canadian expert and Malt Maniac Davin De Kergommeaux’s work is at the center of it all.

Basically we were sent four samples of Canadian whiskies together with his award-winning book Canadian Whisky – The portable expert, which we read during the last couple of weeks. We know each of the samples is representing a chapter / region / distillery, but they are not disclosed until the end of the Twitter tasting, which is preceeded by a Q&A with Davin. The first instalment was yesterday, but you’re welcome to join in the next three Sundays at 21:00 Western European time, using the Twitter hash tag #DavinTT


Whisky CanadaNow I have to admit that none of the 1200+ whiskies on this website had been Canadian so far… I haven’t even tried the the fairly well-known Crown Royal or Canadian Club. I do own a bottle of Glen Breton matured in Ice wine casks, but I hope you agree that’s not even proper whisky, and hopefully not the best example of what Canada has to offer.

With the risk of going over it too quickly, in a few lines, what makes Canadian whisky different, other than being made in Canada?

  • The majority of Canadian whisky is distilled in column stills. Some distilleries use the more traditional pot stills.
  • Nowadays Canadian whisky is always blended (but not to the Scotch definition of grain + malt). They produce neutrally flavoured, higher proof ‘base whiskies’ and blend it with one or more ‘flavouring whiskies’ that have more distinct aromas. By tuning the mix of flavouring whiskies, they can keep a steady profile even when raw materials change. Also, this allows distilleries to have multiple products with different profiles.
  • Up to 9.09 per cent of the blend can be other stuff. Other whisky, or caramel, or even brandy or wine! Canadian whisky needs to be matured and married in oak, in Canadian warehouses.
  • Rye plays a huge role in Canadian whisky making, up to the point where it became a nickname for Canadian whisky as a whole, you just “drink rye”. More than other grains, it brings along strong flavours, lots of spices and a “refreshing bitterness”.
  • Canadian whisky is based around brand names rather than distilleries as is the case in Scotland. Sometimes production of a certain brand can even move over to a different distillery. It’s a more industrial distillery landscape, where history and tradition play a tiny role.


We’ve just tried our first sample, so here goes. Lot N° 40 is produced by Corby at Hiram Walker distillery in Windsor, Ontario (owned by Pernod-Ricard). It’s mostly 7 – 8 years old whisky with some older and some much younger added to the mix. It is made in a 12.000 litre copper pot still from 90% rye grain and 10% malted rye grain. They use a variety of barrels for maturation, both new and used.

It is highly collectable. Lot No. 40 has generated more enthusiasm among whisky connoisseurs around the world than any Canadian whisky Davin could think of. It has become the Black Orchid of Canadian whisky, the quintessential Canadian rye. Recently they are trying to produce more of it, but due to the relatively high age, it will take a while before more people can get hold of it.



Lot No. 40 - Canadian whiskyLot No. 40 (43%, 2012 Edition)

Nose: a mix of harsher, prickly notes (cloves, flints, hints of menthol) with sweeter notes (buttered popcorn, cinnamon). Quite some sourish wood in there. Pine wood (typical for rye, I’m told). Hints of graphite and dust. A slight alcoholic / solventy edge. Certainly outside of my familiar Scotch territory. Gets a little smoother with a drop of water. Mouth: again quite sour initially (pickled even), slightly woody / tannic (yes, pine needles), with lots of spices and herbs. Ginger, clove, cinnamon. Something of rye bread and sour dough too. Again a slight vanilla/ popcorn layer in the background, but it’s definitely not a sweet dram. Again better with water though. Finish: not too long, with sourness, pepper and a slightly strange metallic edge in the very end.

Difficult whisky, and I honestly don’t think that is only because I’m not used to Canadian whisky yet. Lots of oak and pickle / prickle. Not at all easy to find around here, but typically around € 35.

Score: 75/100

Lot No. 40 2 Ruben Luyten 2013-05-06
  • Ricardo

    I’ve never seen anyone drink Canadian whiskey straight. In the US Canadian whiskey is rarely drunk that way, it is almost always used in mixed drinks with lemon sour, 7Up, ginger ale, you name it. I would venture most Americans actually don’t know what Canadian whiskey tastes like. Many years ago I occasionally drank Windsor and water on ice.

  • Ricardo

    Then again, who knows what it would be like if it sat in some good oak for 25 or 30 years? I don’t think they do that.

    Mass production seems to be the goal and what you get is what you get, to be masqueraded with other stuff as mentioned earlier.

  • WhiskyNotes

    You’re right, they’re only taking their first steps in the connoisseurs niche. Lot No. 40 should be an example of a better quality Vanadian, meant for savouring on its own.

  • jfpilon

    no neutral spirit is used in canadian whisky, sorry.

  • WhiskyNotes

    I said “neutral, higher proof base whiskies”. I didn’t say “neutral (grain) spirit”, right? I understand that the components of Canadian whisky need to be aged for three years, but when creating their base whiskies they aim to get a neutral profile (as in ‘not having heavy flavours’), or did I get this wrong?

  • Ricardo

    You meant neutral in flavor not neutral grain spirit. I got that, no confusion here.

  • Dave K

    As a proud Canadian ex-pat living in the US I feel compelled to jump to the defense of our national drink. While Ricardo is not alone in his lack of respect for the typical Canadian plonk. Let’s also remember that close to 90% of Scotch is sold in fairly nondescript blends, and a huge portion of American whiskey is more suitably used as paint thinner than drunk neat. As for Canadian whisky, the times they are a changin’. There is a lots of excellent whisky on the market from large producers, Lot 40, Pikes Creek, Wiser’s Legacy, Alberta Premium, as well as an emerging craft distilling movement that is producing some excellent product, everything from Forty Creek, Still Waters Distillery, and Shelter Point. Not to mention the great sourced Canadian ryes that go into Whistle Pig, and Masterson’s. In fact there have also been some great releases in recent times of good product that spent 25 or 30 years in good oak. Alberta Premium released 100% rye products at both 25 and 30 years of age. So please don’t judge Canadian whisky based on your experience with Windsor, any more than you would Scotch based on tasting Bells, or Bourbon because of a night drinking Old Crow.

    BTW, you should try the Lot 40 after the bottle has been open a while. I find with most rye that a little air changes the spirit more than most others, losing what you refer as a solventy edge and bringing the spicy rye flavors and sweetness more to the fore.

  • Ricardo

    Dave K, I don’t drink Canadian or American whiskey. In fact. I drink so little that when I do drink it’s almost always Single Malt Scotch although recently I tried some Ventura Limoncello out of curiosity.

  • Bill

    This score is low for this whisky, and it says more about the taster than it does about the whisky. People who know whisky (not just a certain type) know this is somewhere around a 90 score.

  • WhiskyNotes

    Obviously this is the score of an experienced Scotch drinker and a beginning Canadian whisky drinker. In fact it’s hard over here to be experienced in Canadian drams. If you’re used to a Scottish profile, I think the score is still representative.

  • Tudval

    Just because canadian whisky ‘can’ have other stuff in it, doesn’t mean it does. Regulation is not the be all and end all. Certainly these days there are many premium whiskies that clearlly disclose the ingredients and some do not have any caramel, are non-chillfiltered and so on. I still have to see a bourbon up here in Canada that adheres to this new trend. What I tried, I profoundly disliked. I drink almost exclusively premium scotch malts, but what attracted me to canadian whiskies were those that are 100% rye, some even malted rye (I can’t stand corn in any form other than polenta). Let me tell you, I was very surprised at the quality and finesse of the Wiser’s premium products and Masterson’s. Lot 40 is very distinctive and flavourful, even though it’s a little heavy for me, if I have more than a couple of ounces. I understand it is used in some blends as a flavouring whisky, but certainly worth trying on its own. If you like whisky you have to try these products and decide for yourself. Many are certainly sipping whiskies, but they also make wonderful Negronis and Manhattans (though it would be a waste imho).

  • Matthew Rond

    I agree. My bottle has been open for almost two years. I was initially on the fence. After going back to the bottle a couple of time recently, WOW. Seriously this is good stuff, really good stuff. Complex. I plan to taste test it next to Saz 18, Handy, Baby Saz, Old Scout MGP, etc. sometime soon and see how it fairs. I think that it may hold it’s own against the big Americans.

  • Peter

    Lot 40 is the perfect Rye, please keep your reviews to Single malts, you clearly have no taste for 100% Rye Whiskey.

    Maybe try Highwood Ninety (proof) from Alberta, !00% corn aged 20 years in Oak and the best >$50 Whiskey on this planet.


  • Peter

    The Scotch Noob says:

    March 3, 2014 at 11:03 am

    “Hi Fred, If I could get Lot 40 for $40 (US), it would have a permanent place in my cabinet. So, yes, that would be a MUST HAVE. Cheers! -Nathan”

    The typical response to Lot 40

  • selfbuilt

    Despite the criticism in the comments here, I think the review is an understandable response to a straight rye whisky from someone not experienced with the style. No, it is not single malt, and it will not score in the same range when directly compared to malts. But it still a fabulous sipping whisky, with a great nose and range of flavours. I would rate this much higher, but that’s within the context of other Canadian and American whiskies I’ve tried.

  • Bob

    Ignore the above review and read this one from an experienced and knowledgeable source:

  • WhiskyNotes

    In case you haven’t actually read the above review: I tried it WITH Davin, indeed a very experienced source who wrote the article in your link. I’d think at least I got all the information I needed to be able to appreciate it. But then again, I’m honest about the fact that this was one of my first Canadian whiskies so I was really reviewing it from an (also experienced) Scotch whisky perspective and then it comes accross quite rough and woody. Now, dozens of ryes later, I know rye will never be my favourite style.

    It’s surprising how many comments you get after a lukewarm Canadian review.

  • LB

    That’s usually correct, but the combination of stripping in a column still and doing a second distillation in a pot still is what allows whiskies like Lot No 40 to preserve that high-rye grain character.

    Look for a smoother, more neutral profile in some of the Wiser’s line, for example.

  • LB

    You should diversify bro.

  • LB

    With all respect, judging a rye whiskey with metrics by which you would judge a scotch is facile.

    Apples and oranges dude. Rye whiskeys have a distinct character and Lot No 40 upholds that character perfectly. Essentially, it is a benchmark of what rye whiskey can achieve as a flavour profile, much as you could say Clynelish is for Highland, the Glenfiddich range for Speyside, or Taketsuru NAS is for Japanese malts.

  • WhiskyNotes

    With all respect, judging a rye whiskey from a Scotch perspective makes perfect sense. The same way it makes sense to say vodka will never get on the same level as Scotch, or an old Madeira can indeed offer similar complexity. In the end scoring is a subjective thing, I do like oranges better than apples, you see. For me personally, as a non-professional blogger who rates for himself, I don’t see a need to score “within its profile” or “as related to similar drinks in the market”.

  • LB

    I can see where you’re coming from, more in terms of background and the crux of your blog, but in some parts it also sounds like you’re agreeing with me. For example, you say that a vodka will never reach the same level as Scotch. You may be right, because barrel-aging imparts a particular depth and complexity that an unaged spirit cannot achieve. Thus, it makes more sense to judge a vodka’s quality amidst a range of other vodkas, where (for example) pure vodkas like Polugar or Konik’s Tail might rate quite highly.

    By that same token, a whiskey may never be able to do what a gin does. Would I be justified in saying that Ardbeg Uigeadail is a poor whisky because it makes a terrible Clover Club or Martinez? Certainly not.

    I still maintain that judging a rye on the same merits as a Scotch makes little sense, as the two are seeking to achieve different things. I see more value in determining whether or not a distiller has achieved his/her ambition within a certain category or set of parameters. To me, acknowledging a well-executed rye as being on the same plane as a well-executed Scotch or tequila is impartial, balanced, and takes into account the broad, exciting range of products we have available to us these days.



November 2015
« Oct    

Coming up

  • Lindores 2015 festival bottling
  • Amrut 2009 (cask #2701)
  • Glenlivet 1981 (#9468 for TWE)
  • Lagavulin Distillers Edition (2015)
  • Talisker Distillers Edition (2015)
  • Laphroaig 32 Year Old
  • Glen Grant 65yo 1950 cask #2747 for Wealth Solutions
  • Mortlach 1959/1960 (G&M Royal Wedding)

1931 notes by Ruben

WhiskyNotes - Ruben LuytenThis blog is my personal collection of impressions, written while searching for the ultimate single malt whisky.