- Brand: North of 7
- ABV: 74.5%
- Batch: Barrel 16
This year Canada Day is a time for reflection. Usually a time when we express pride in our great country, there have been a number of recent events that have made me think a lot about how much needs to be done for Canada to become the country we say it is. So today I wanted to present a review of a challenging whisky, one that has required a lot of attention to get to know.
This is a good time to explore Canadian whiskies. Given that our exports include the most mundane expressions, our reputation in the world is that our whiskies go well with gingerale. But here on this site we know the heights to which the Canadian style can climb. Recently we’ve seen the big producers bring out limited releases of older whiskies, and a few high quality cask strength expressions, one of which was declared whisky of the year 2021 by He who must not be named.
This one is a single cask offering from North of 7, a craft distillery near Ottawa. In the fall I participated in a tasting of 10 different barrels organized by @JasonHambrey, and while I was not a big player in the purchase, I was privileged to be part of the decision-making process. Barrel 16 was the one that was chosen. Unlike many Canadian whiskies where the individual grain spirits are aged separately then married, this one had a mixed mash bill of 51% corn, 26% wheat, 12% rye, and 12% barley. It was matured in a new oak cask with a light char and heavy toast. It was barrelled in April 2015 (with an ABV of 68.8%) and the sample we used for tasting was drawn in September 2020 (at an ABV of 74.4%), making the actual bottling age a little older than 5 years and 5 months.
After several tastes from a sample bottle graciously provided by @fiddich1980, I opened one of my two bottles on June 16, so my first taste was from a freshly opened bottle, which I gassed.
This expression is reviewed sequentially over the course of 3 sittings each a week apart, at different ABVs. Each time allowing it to settle after which I took my nosing and tasting notes.
June 16 - in a Kentucky Bourbon Glass
Neat, this smells very much like a good bourbon, but missing the strong cherry notes that sometimes overpower a bourbon. Even at cask strength the nose is not too spirity. Lots of vanilla and caramel notes. A hint of mint. There is a cherry note but sour, slightly unripe, and it is nestled in the background. Warm, sweet baking slices. 22/25
Diluted to approximately 60%, the nose is creamier. There is a pleasant butterscotch note. It stills smells a lot like a bourbon. 22/25
At ~50% ABV, the nose remains rich and strong. I get no cherry anymore. Mostly vanilla and some caramel. It still smells like a bourbon but the nose is now trending to be more like a Canadian whisky, only with a little more punch. 21.5/25
Very powerful entry on the first sip. Sweet. Caramel. Oaky. It is so strong that the flavours are like a battering ram. Delicious, but hard to tease out individual flavours. 22.5/25
At ~60%, it actually tastes spiritier on first attack. But some flavours are starting to come through. I get coffee, like the old Barton’s Coffee Loves. Menthol. Butterscotch. Definitely more approachable on the palate. 23/25
At ~50%, the mouthfeel is definitely thinner. But that is in comparison to its less diluted form. It remains rich. It is not as “hot” or spirity but there is a nice spicy nip. The coffee is still there but not as prominent. This is a lot more caramel and vanilla-forward. 22/25
Astringent. Long. Hints of mint and vanilla. 22/25
Slightly less astringent and a little shorter at ~60%. 22/25
No change when diluted down to ~50%. 22/25
Neat, it is delicious but a bit overpowering. The palate simply is too strong to match the finesse of the nose. 21/25
At ~60% it is more balanced, the nose and palate complementing each other. 22.5/25
Though balanced, at 50% it becomes a little less complex. 21/25
Score: Neat - 87.5/100 Diluted to ~60%: 89.5/100 At ~50%: 86.5/100
June 23 - in a mini-Glencairn
Neat, sweet, slightly spirity, lots of caramel and vanilla, some fruitiness. With time it smells a little less like a bourbon than in the bourbon glass. 22/25
At ~ 60%, lots of caramel, some butterscotch. The fruitiness has subsided 22/25
Neat, It is quite overpowering tonight. Tasted blind I could easily be fooled that this was a bourbon, like ECBP Hazmat edition. Very rich. 21.5/25
At ~60%, the flavours explode a bit. The fruit is back. Pleasant spiciness. Much tastier with water. 22.5/25
Neat, Long finish. Very oaky. A little pepper. 22/25
Slightly shorter finish at ~60%, more peppery. 22/25
The nose is great, but the palate is a bit rough and overpowering. 21/25
At ~60%, this is much more balanced. 22/25
Score: Neat - 86.5/100 With Water: 88.5/100
June 30 - in a Glencairn
Neat, very spirity. The ABV is quite apparent on first sniff. Lots of Vanilla and caramel. I could be fooled to think this is a bourbon. 22/25
Diluted to ~60%, There is a fruitiness that becomes apparent. The nose is sweeter. Baking spices, stewed apples? More complexity. 22.5/25
Further diluted to 50%, Fruit (some green apple), light syrup (like from canned fruit), vanilla and caramel in the background. But the nose is a little more subdued in general. 21.5/25
Neat - Rich but hot. Some pleasant spiciness. Sweet. Lots of Caramel and vanilla. 22/25
Diluted to ~60%, it’s still hot and spicy. A little sweeter. Vanilla is prominent. 22/25
Further diluted to 50%, the mouthfeel becomes thinner. Spices, vanilla. Pepper. 21/25
Oaky finish. Warm. 22/25
Diluted to ~60%, it is a little more astringent. The finish lasts a little longer. 22/25
Further diluted to 50%, the finish remains fairly short and a little astringent. 22/25
Neat it is overpowering. I would not be able to have more than a few sips of this without adding water. 21/25
Diluted to ~60%, it is still a bit overpowering. The increased complexity of the nose is not reflected in the palate. 21/25
Further diluted to 50%, the flavours become a bit washed out and more unidimentional. 20/25
Score: Neat - 87/100 ~60% - 87.5/100 ~50% - 84.5/100
While this is a powerful and delicious whisky at cask strength, and I’m sure there will be times that I want to sip it that way (carefully), I think that the ABV where this shines is around 60%. It is versatile and goes well in different glasses, but it seems to work best in a Kentucky Bourbon glass. Not surprising, as it has been categorized as a “Bourbonne” by @paddockjudge.
At the end of this long review, I hope you can tell that I like this whisky (maybe I should have gotten more than 2 bottles but at this ABV, I won’t go through it too quickly), but also I hope that I was able to get across that this is a challenging whisky. It will demand different amounts of dilution in different settings. But some challenges are good for us, and this one is definitely worth taking on.
Happy Canada Day!