Single malt whisky - tasting notes

06 May 2013

Lot No. 40

Posted by: Ruben Luyten 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.

  • http://twitter.com/jfpilon 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).

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