It’s no surprise that COVID disrupted the Canadian premium whisky industry in Ontario in 2020. From what I understand, the LCBO, a major purchaser of Wiser’s products, put a hold on new releases. So there was no formal Northern Border Collection roll-out this year. Still, Dr. Don Livermore had some new whiskies he wanted to get out to keep the hype going. So he engineered some limited release sneak previews direct from the Wiser’s online store. This was one of them.
This expression went on sale at 9 am on Thursday, November 12, and was sold out by 9:04, I kid you not. It may have been the fact that one bottle from each order got the Livermore autograph (some expensive autograph!). Did getting in early bring me good fortune? Let’s see.
As described on the label, this is “a bold and complex medley of aged corn and rye spice finished in seasoned French oak ruby red Port casks”. Given the rules for Canadian whisky, I presume it is mostly aged corn with some younger flavouring rye thrown in, less than 9%.
This bottle was opened Nov. 13, 2020 and was 90% full (poured on opening and once for a sample). Gassed each time.
This expression is reviewed in my usual manner, allowing it to settle after which I take my nosing and tasting notes, followed by the addition of a few drops of water, waiting, then nosing and tasting. Given that it is my New Year’s review, I decided to try it out in a number of glasses.
In the Highland whisky glass, Sweet, spirity nose. BBQ sauce, stewed prunes, baked apples with baking spices. My daughter smells vanilla, but I didn’t pick that out. In the Canadian Glencairn, it remains spirity, the stewed prunes are toned down, and I get a hint of dill pickle juice. The BBQ sauce (pork rib sauce) is still there. There is something both fresh and dusty about the nose. In the regular Glencairn I lose the stewed prunes altogether and the pickle juice remains. This round goes to the Highland glass. In general, the finish is a little overpowering, though air time seems to soften it a little .
With water, the baking spices become more prominent in the Highland glass.and the other flavours are more in the background, more integrated, harder to tease apart. With time I do get the BBQ sauce. In the Canadian glass the spices are forward but the other flavours are more washed out with a hint of green apple. In the Glencairn there is better balance between the spices and the rest, but the nose is definitely softer. I think the call goes to the Highland glass. Although I think I like the nose better neat, the wine finish is controlled a bit by adding water. (21/25)
First from the Highland glass. Sweet and hot. Fruity with a spicy backbone. Here I get vanilla and cinnamon sticks, and dried dark fruits in the background. In the Canadian glass, the alcohol overpowers the flavours, but I get fruity sweetness, mostly bass notes, if I interpret @Victor’s nomenclature properly. In the standard Glencairn, it is full-flavour experience, although hot, it is spicy and fruity with the nicest balance between spirit and finish. This round goes to the Glencairn.
With water in the Highland glass, it becomes sweeter. The fruit and spice integrate nicely, and the dark fruits move to the development and into the finish. In the Canadian, the alcohol burn is stronger and overpowers the flavours more. Fruitiness stands out. In the standard Glencairn the spices come to the forefront but the fruits remain. Again, a slight edge to the Glencairn. (21.5/25)
The finish is fairly short, spicy and sweet. Water lengthens the finish, with oak astringency. (22/25)
In general the wine finish is a bit overpowering, but the flavours in the nose and palate complement each other. A little more balanced but maybe a little less interesting with water.
Score: Neat - 86/100 With Water: 85.5/100
This is not a bad whisky. I think I like the 23 YO CS from last year more. If you like wine finishes, I think this is worth trying (though a bit expensive to buy). If you are not a fan of wine finishes, consider trying it once or twice before committing to a bottle when it is released later this year.
If you are in the mood for nosing, I recommend this neat in a Highland glass. If you want to focus on the development and the finish, consider adding some water in a Glencairn. Or, start neat, adding water half-way through for the best of both worlds. Or pour 2 glasses. After all, it’s yours to do with what you want.
The first time I tried this my first thought went back to the 2012 release of Forty Creek Portwood Reserve. The last time I tasted it was in November 2018 at an epic tasting when we emptied all but 1 oz of what I had left in the bottle. I decanted it and it has waited patiently for the right moment. Given that both are Canadian blends with a port-style finish, it seemed appropriate to compare the two. A limitation of this comparison is that the Forty Creek sample is decanted from a bottle originally opened 8 years ago, and has an ABV of 45%, roughly 3/4 that of the freshly opened Wiser’s. I tried a 15 cc pour in a standard Glencairn.
This is a completely different beast. The viscosity alone appears thicker. On the nose I get dark raisins and prunes. There is not the same spiciness that jumps out. Sweet on the arrival, thick mouth feel, with those dried fruits at the forefront and the rye spice peeking through. I would say the port finish is much thicker and the underlying spirit plays less a role. It appears much more integrated. With water, the spiciness comes through very nicely.
It may have changed in the 8 years since my review. Time will do that to opened bottles, especially as I did not discover private preserve until later on. I have changed a lot since that review. My biases have changed. I think this is more of the “port bomb” I had wished for back then. I would score this several points higher today.
If anyone wants to see my original review from 2012 when I knew a lot less and my palate was a lot less mature, it can be found here:
I don’t think they are similar in style enough to really compare, but this H2H has renewed my appreciation for the golden years of Forty Creek releases.
Happy New Year everyone!