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Hiram Walker Special Old Canadian Rye Whisky

Hip to be square

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@OdysseusUnboundReview by @OdysseusUnbound

29th Aug 2018


  • Nose
  • Taste
  • Finish
  • Balance
  • Overall

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  • Brand: Hiram Walker
  • ABV: 40%

This is an abridged version of a blog post

Hiram Walker Special Old is made, unsurprisingly, at the Hiram Walker distillery in Windsor, Ontario. It's been around forever and the bottle and label probably haven't changed since the 1970s. I may be suffering from the Mandela Effect, but I'm sure I remember this bottle of rye from family Christmas parties in the early 1980s. Packaging shouldn't affect how a person feels about a product but it does. Some might be put off by the square bottle with the diamond-patterned indents and the retro label, but I love it. I hope they never change it. Maybe it's some kind of residual emotional attachment to the early 1980s, a time when my life consisted of He-Man action figures, Star Wars movies, and X-Men comic books. Ok, so this looks like something your grandfather would drink. Maybe it was the rye of choice for your lovable, if somewhat politically incorrect drunk uncle. But how does this "budget" rye whisky taste, sans the ginger ale or Coke?

Tasting Notes

  • Nose (undiluted): Rye spice is evident right away, a bit dusty (think sawdust) but pleasantly so, butterscotch along side some oak notes (black pepper, and cloves), and a bit of a dark rum/molasses note, with time a pickled hot pepper note (banana pepper) appears with a bit of orange, and almond lingering. Spicy, savoury, and sweet. Surprisingly complex.
  • Palate (undiluted): very gentle arrival, too soft after the promising nose, butterscotch, candy corn, hints of herbal rye, more hot peppers, a tiny bit of barrel char/smoke
  • Finish: medium length, butterscotch, almonds, a bit of orange and grapefruit zest with a touch of ginger lingering. There is a touch of “spirity-ness” at the tail end of the finish, but it's pleasantly drying rather than distracting.

This whisky benefits from a few minutes in the glass to properly open up. The nose is definitely its strongest point. Adding water only mutes the nose and makes it feel much too watery. I preferred this one neat. Even a modest bump up to 43% ABV would do wonders for this whisky.

A few years ago, before IPAs started flooding the market, Pabst Blue Ribbon became the beer of choice for hipsters. I can picture Hiram Walker Special Old enjoying the same popularity surge as PBR. It's got a great retro look, and it's a much better whisky than its bottom shelf price suggests. Those who drink their rye with ginger ale or cola probably wouldn't notice much of a difference, but this is a really good sipping whisky, provided your bottle is from a good batch.


Victor commented

@OdysseusUnbound, thanks for your fun review. I think that you capture Hiram Walker Special Old Rye Whisky rather well. "Dusty" is indeed the operative word. For me, "dusty" is never a good thing.

And the idea of Hiram Walker Special Old Rye Whisky ever becoming the choice of hipsters just about made me laugh out loud. I would enjoy living in such a world. I would be laughing all the time.

I really wanted to like my bottle of Hiram Walker Special Old Rye Whisky. I just could not do it.

2 years ago 1Who liked this?

OdysseusUnbound commented

@Victor Perhaps it’s another emotional connection, but “sawdust” is a very pleasant note for me. It reminds me of my maternal grandfather’s garage/workshop. I loved going into the garage as a boy. It was massive and always smelled of sawdust, gas, and motor oil. I can see how many people wouldn’t like this aroma/flavour though.

2 years ago 0

MadSingleMalt commented

Dusty sounds good to me!

Sawdust sounds good to me!

Huey Lewis and the News does not sound good to me.

2 years ago 1Who liked this?

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