I got to meet Dr. Don Livermore this week, the master blender for Hiram Walker who was visiting the Bay Area from Ontario. Pernod-Ricard is beginning to expand the available selection of Hiram Walker Canadian whiskies in the U.S., which is great news on two fronts:
1) Extra mature Canadian whisky is delicious and plentiful.
2) Extra mature Canadian whisky is very affordable compared to its American, Japanese, and Scottish brethren.
Along with the Lot 40, J.P. Wiser's blended rye, and the Pike's Creek, I noticed an unfamiliar square bottle tucked in among the lineup. "When did the Wiser's 18 year hit the states?!" I asked in shock.
"Just recently," was the answer, and there wasn't much to be had. I immediately snagged the remaining few cases left in NorCal (most of which have already sold online), and we'll be getting about 60 more bottles next week. The price? $54.99; shockingly cheap when you compare it to other comparable competitors in the whisky category. Is it a substitute for American whiskey selections like Sazerac 18, or Jefferson's 18? Not in the slightest. While Canadian whiskey is indeed made from corn, wheat, and rye, the distillation and maturation processes are completely different from what's done in Kentucky. First off, there is no such thing as a mashbill in Canada (at least not at the distilleries I've been working with), as the grains are all distilled and matured individually. The final products are always blends of individual corn, rye, and wheat whiskies. Second of all, like Scotland, the whiskies are put into used oak barrels rather than new oak, so the intensity of the wood is nowhere near the level one would find in a Bourbon. Thirdly, the final blends are often proofed down to 40%, making Canadian whisky more of a mellow, easy-sipping spirit, rather than a bold, in-your-face style of product.
While I feel the Lot 40 continues to be a great crossover or gateway whisky for American whiskey fans looking to explore something new, the Wiser's 18 year is Canadian through and through—and that's a good thing. People who change their personality to fit what others want them to be are uninteresting and boring. That being said, I would be disappointed if 200 years of whisky tradition were changed and altered to capitalize on the current cask strength American whiskey fad. The Wiser's 18 is full of pencil shavings and rye spice on the nose. It begins with soft oak on the palate, and quickly moves into a peppery, spicy, rye-dominated flurry of flavor that finishes with accents of baking spice and lots of tingly, tangy goodness.
If you're looking for a replacement to that 18 year old Stitzel-Weller Bourbon you drained two years ago, then look elsewhere. If you're looking to try one of Canada's legendary 18 year old whiskies for the same price as a 10 year old Springbank, then this is definitely up your alley. It's as good as anything I've had from Canada thus far, which I'll admit isn't much, but it has me very excited for what else may be lying in wait.