Canadian Whisky Gets Old

by Stephen Beaumont

Yes, it’s true, we’re all getting older, and for most of us that’s a good thing, particularly when presented with the alternative. Same for whiskies, or at least so it is most of the time.

Take Scottish single malts, for example. For years, distilleries in the northern British Isles have expended enormous energy convincing drinkers that age marches lockstep with character and quality, and thus also costs more. And for the most part, they have been right.

(Of course, that was before a shortage of old whiskies prompted the flurry of No Age Statement, or NAS, whiskies that has hit the market recently, which in turn has led to considerable back-peddling on the distilleries’ part. But that’s another story for another time.)

Bourbons, on the other hand, have not been so keen on the age = quality equation, mainly because any number of very old whiskies would end up tasting more like toothpicks than high-end spirits.

Which brings us to Canadian whiskies, which have largely avoided the whole age issue. Until now.

Four recent arrivals on the market have prompted a re-examination of how Canadian whiskies react to decades rather than mere years of aging. And the results have been, if not quite eye-opening, at least somewhat revelatory.

The first to cross my palate was Canadian Club 40-year-old, which emerged from its decades-long slumber at 60% alcohol and was bottled at 45%, retailing for $249.95. The oldest Canadian whisky ever bottled, it offers a profile I would describe more as sophisticated rather than aged, with dry vanilla and green apple plus some light spiciness on the nose and a hint of sweetness on the palate that quickly gives way to dry caramel, hints of black pepper, light florals and a dry and spicy finish.

Next up was J.P. Wiser’s 35-year-old, with a mature but not especially old aroma offering notes of vanilla, candied orange, ripe red and green apple and toffee. At 50%, this has heat, so a drop of water is suggested – but only a drop – to fully release its green apple, charred wood and dried peach and pear notes, all of which lead to a very dry finish that leaves a tingling on the tongue and lips when the spirit is sipped undiluted. This one is at the LCBO for $164.95.

The Gooderham & Worts 17-year-old ‘Little Trinity’ 3 Grain Blend is a shimmering gold whisky with a surprisingly fresh and lively aroma of honey, fresh hay, light rye bread and vanilla. The front is a bit hot – 45% alcohol will do that – but offers plenty of ripe fruit, apple and pear prominent, with a light and fresh oakiness leading to a spicier and more raisin-and-currant mid-palate with some raw wood notes and dry vanilla leading to the lingering and peppery finish. It’s relatively inexpensive at the LCBO for a mere $79.95.

And finally, Pike Creek 21-year-old Finished in Speyside Single Malt Casks might be the bargain of the lot at an LCBO price of $89.95. (Try getting a 21- year-old single malt for that price!) Bottled at 45% alcohol, it offers a lovely aroma of toffee, raisin, date and orange oil, with a light floral background approaching lavender. On the palate, it presents a rich and complex profile with sweet caramel up front moving to a quite spicy, peppery body with oak and char notes, some dried apple and pear and hints of roasted sweet grain, finishing dry, oaky and spicy.

For my money, all four of the above whiskies prove the age-worthiness of Canadian whiskies, and while I might not rush to spend $250 or $165 for the CC 40-year-old or Wiser’s 35-year-old, neither would I be disappointed to find either underneath my Christmas tree in a couple of months. The Pike and the Little Trinity, on the other hand, I just might gift to myself.

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Short Sips with Stephen Beaumont

A corner dedicated to bringing you insight from industry author and beer connoisseur, Stephen Beaumont.

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