Like many American whisky bloggers, I don't know a whole lot about Canadian whisky. There are a whole bunch of interesting sounding ones (the Alberta Premiums and the Highwoods) that never make across the border. I live too far from the border to do a quick stop and grab. Heck, I haven't been to Canada since, what, the Reagan administration? In the mid-'80s my family went to Montreal and saw the Expos play at Olympic Stadium. There were so few people in the stands that between innings we heard the third baseman sneeze and a fan yell back, "Bless you!". And then my mom got robbed on the subway on the way back to our hotel that night.
But otherwise, Canadians rule. And I love whisky. So this has to work, right? Before this Taste Off I'd only had Canadian Club, Windsor, and Black Velvet. Time to expand my horizons a little. So, here I go. Dropping four on you at once.
JP Wiser's Rye, NAS blend, 40% ABV
Along with Forty Creek and Lot 40, JP Wiser's is a Corby Spirit and Wine Limited (46% owned by Pernod Ricard) brand. Other Wiser's products sold in The States include Wiser's 18 year old, Wiser's Deluxe, and Wiser's Spiced. Curiously the flavored "Spiced" as a higher ABV than the non-flavored products. The Deluxe was, once upon a time, a 10 year old. Meanwhile the regular "Rye" (a blend) I'm tasting here does not have an age statement. It tends to retail around $15-$20 per 750mL.
Pendleton, NAS blend, 40% ABV
Pendleton is produced by Hood River Distillers (who also own Lucid Absinthe and Clear Creek) and tends to retail for $20-$25. Hood River is an American company, but the Pendleton spirit is distilled in Canada. They don't hide its northern origins, nor do they refer to it as "rye" on the label. There's also a more premium Pendleton called 1910 which is aged around 12 years, but the one I'm reviewing is the cheaper product.
Canadian Club Reserve, 9 year old blend, 40% ABV
Ah yes, another Canadian Club review! The Reserve used to be a 10 year old, but was reduced to 9 years right around the time Canadian Club's starter whisky lost its age statement altogether. Still, it's remarkably cheap, easily found for $15-$17.
Collingwood "Toasted Maplewood Mellowed", 21 year old rye, 40% ABV
Yes, the odd man out. It's a sample from an actual bottle (thank you Florin!). And it's an actual rye. The whole "Toasted Maplewood Mellowed" thing refers to the fact that the rye barrels which made up this batch were married in a vat full of toasted maplewood staves. The Scotch industry can't do such a thing, nor can it seem to price a 21 year old whisky at Collingwood's $50-$60 range. Of course there's a law for the former, but none for the latter.
Wiser's - Medium gold, looking a little dark for a young blend
Pendleton - Amber, by far the lightest of the four
Club 9yo - Dark gold, some e150a orange too
Collingwood 21yo - GlenDronach gold, the darkest of the bunch
Wiser's - Begins with vanilla, turpentine, honey, and white fruits (probably red & golden delicious apples if more specifics are desired). The next wave of notes include oak pulp, caramel, and margarine. After a while there are small unusual notes of grape juice and aerosol hair spray.
Pendleton - Turpentine, neutral grain spirit, chlorine, and lacquer make up the entire nose for a good ten minutes. Later on small notes of cinnamon, mint chewing gum, dried apricots, and caramel start to appear.
Club 9yo - The rough edges of the previous two whiskies are absent here. There's vanilla, pear, pastry dough, and baking spices. After some time in the glass the Club starts showing some barrel char, sawdust, melting sugar, and something malty.
Collingwood 21yo - Wow, actual fresh rye bread. I wrote "real kosher rye from NY". Much of that (the bread) was consumed in a previous lifetime. Beneath the rye bread are notes of caramel sauce, peaches, bubblegum, orange pulp, and tapioca pudding. Later on fresh apples appear along with rosewater syrup and yeast.
Wiser's - Very sugary, with rye in the background. Lots of Nillas! Then pepper, caramel, brown sugar join up with Absolut Peppar. Very watery texture.
Pendleton - Vanilla. Vodka. Chicken stock, caramel, and horseradish bitterness fill in the middle. Lemon peel shows up after the whisky has been aired out.
Club 9yo - More oomph than the nose, in both positive and negative fashions. Grain spirit meets peppery rye, though not in unison. Vanilla, toasted walnuts, and brazil nuts are some of the prominent notes. It picks up more spicy zing with time and it still feels kind of raw for its age.
Collingwood 21yo - Toasty and aromatic. Rye seeds and lots of dried fruits, along with raspberry fruit leather. Never overwhelmingly sweet. Roasted peanuts (not the weird fake peanut note I've found in Beam and Brown-Forman bourbons). Licorice (the root, not the candy). Somewhat bready and earthy. Very unique.
Wiser's - Gets grainier here. Lots of pepper. The vanilla grows along with the sweetness. Short.
Pendleton - Vanilla vodka, oak pulp, and (finally) some rye. Longer than the Wiser's.
Club 9yo - Vanilla, notebook paper, caramel, and little bit of rye-related baking spice. A bit drying.
Collingwood 21yo - Edges out the Pendleton for the longest finish. It keeps some of the sweets and fruits from the palate. Maybe some nuts. Lots of sticky rye.
JP Wiser's Rye (blend) - $15-$20
For a $15 whisky, this isn't bad. Its wateriness and occasional vodka notes keep me from saying that it's actually good. I will say that it is noticeably better than the current NAS Canadian Club "1858", if you're looking for a Canadian whisky in that price range.
Rating - 76
Pendleton (blend) - $20-$25
Not a total fail, but the intensity of the poisonous elements were too big for me. The nose makes you think the fluid is for rinsing paintbrushes, and the palate required plenty of crackers and water to allow me to move on to the next whisky. This is difficult stuff.
Rating - 67
Canadian Club Reserve 9 year old (blend) - $15-$17
It's engineered not to offend and it thus succeeds. But the blend doesn't always feel in balance and the oak's vanilla rides pretty hard. It does make me interested in trying the old 10 and 12. Overall, it's much better than the NAS CC, and only just a little better than the NAS Wiser's.
Rating - 78
Collingwood 21 year old Rye - $50-$60
A singular whisky. There are notes in this one I still can't figure out. It's pretty bold for 40%abv, though I'd be curious to know what it would be like at 46%abv. Don't know if it would be too much or gorgeous. But here as bottled, it's the best Canadian whisky I've yet tried. It's not for all tastes, but it's something I might buy. And, believe it or not, it's from Brown-Forman.
Rating - 86