Border Wars: Canada VS US Rye
June 30th, 2016
American Rye has been exploding in sales lately. We are in the midst of a Bourbon Boom but caught up with that is the fact that American Rye sales have increased astronomically in the past few years. As consumers come to love the bold, big flavour of American Rye we are seeing more come into our market as well.
One guy who writes a book deemed Crown Royal Northern Harvest to be his whisky of the year. This made us all turn around and take a closer look at whisky hailing from our fair land bottles we may have been passing over lately in favour of more exotic pursuits whiskywise. It is a good time to take a look and not just because that one guy wrote something nice about one of them. The Canadian Whisky market is becoming a more widely varied landscape with more experimentation involving virgin oak barrels and higher than 40% alcohol content all leading to a rich and exciting dram. It isn’t all just your parent’s and grandparent’s mellow mixer any more.
On the evening before Canada Day we held a comparison Rye tasting here at Kensington wine market. It gave us a chance to see how Canadian and American Rye fare when they face off. Eight different bottles were tasted all hailing from right here in Canada or from the USA except for one surprise.
To add to the excitement we did the tasting blind.
After we tasted through the whisky as a group we voted on our favorites and then went back through the lineup again to reveal what had been tasting. Here is the lineup in the order tasted:
This new bottling of Gooderham & Worts is Four Grain Canadian Whisky was put together at Hiram Walker Distillery in Windsor, Ontario. It is the third part of a trilogy that also includes the excellent Lot No.40 Single Copper Pot Still Rye and Pike Creek Double Barrelled.
This dram has notes of mint/menthol, toffee, cinnamon/nutmeg and rye bread along with hints of chocolate and oak. This is a great addition to any Canadian Whisky drinker’s cabinet.
From Buffalo Trace Distillery in Kentucky. Containing the bare minimum required 51% Rye the mash bill for this whisky also contains 39% Corn and 10% Malted Barley.
Compared to whisky #1 Sazerac is a little bit softer on the rye spice note with more sweetness in the form of red twizzlers and toffee coming through. Candied orange and ginger also come through.
This whiskey is completely new to me. I cannot say that I have ever had a whisky made from Triticale which is a hybrid made from the combination of Wheat and Rye together before this bottle. Dry Fly Distilling Co. resides in Spokane, Washington. The reason the chose to use Triticale as a grain for distillation is because they source their grain as local as possible and rye does not grow well in Washington’s climate.
This is one interesting whisky. Lush notes bread, yeast, and dough come through along with soft spices. Fresh grain and grassy notes come in along with some peach and apricot. Finishes soft, slightly sweet and elegant.
This is a mutant of a whisky made at Alberta Distillers right here in Calgary Alberta. I call it a mutant because it takes full advantage of a rather odd regulation that allows Canadian Whisky to contain up to 9.09% of other spirit in its makeup. Alberta Premium Dark Horse is made up of 91% Rye hailing from Alberta Distillers along with 8% Old GrandDad Bourbon from Jim Beam Distilllery in Kentucky and 1% Sherry to top it all off. This crazy cocktail of a Rye works very well as the main component in cocktails itself.
Even at only 1% I still find the sherry evident in the scent of a newly opened bottle. Hints of wine and Earl Grey tea, fruit cocktail. Rye toast with honey and a dab of maple syrup.
Another mutant of whisky but for a slightly different reason. Looking at the bottle gives you a bit of a story about the legend of the person this bottle takes its name from. But you put your glasses on and look at the back of the bottle you will see that it does say “PRODUCT OF CANADA”. This is a sourced whisky and in this case the source is the same as whisky #4: Alberta Distillers right here in Calgary Alberta.
More dusty rye grain on this one along with dill and black pepper, coconut and Nanaimo Bars. Peach nectar, vanilla and toasted oak spices. Slightly dry on the palate.
I managed to sneak this Rye into the lineup just for fun and because I wanted to try it myself. This whisky does not hail from Canada or the United States. Instead it comes to us from Zuidam Distillery in Holland. They call this the 100 Rye because it is: 100% Rye aged for 100 months in 100% New American Oak Barrels.
What a difference in character when compared to the rest of the lineup! I get dark chocolate and cocoa powder along with pumpernickel bread and an earthier side to this one. Cloves and black liquorice add complexity to the rich earthiness of this dram. A lot of fun to be had if you want a chance from your typical Canadian or American Rye.
This is a cask strength single barrel release from Michter’s using an undisclosed mashbill and likely sourced from another Kentucky Distillery. Being a Straight Rye this should be at least two years old but beyond that it is hard to find out what the distillery source is.
This whiskey is quite mellow and soft for being higher alcohol. It is still full of flavour with a mix of Apple Jack cereal and Cinnamon Toast crunch. Peach cobbler and roasted almonds also make a showing.
I was looking forward to trying the Cask Strength version of this Rye from Still Waters Distillery in Concord, Ontario. I have previously been impressed with their regular 46%ABV Rye as well as their Single Malt Whisky. They have done a lot of things right for being such a young distillery.
Juniper berries jump out right away and the experience can seem ginlike because of that. More time in the glass leads to notes of ginger and lemongrass, cloves, mint, vanilla, and gingerbread cookies. Still very drinkable despite the high ABV. This is a fun cask strength Canadian Whisky something we sadly don’t see much of. Hopefully we will see more in the future.
And now, without further ado here is are the winners as voted by the attendees: Tied for 2nd Place:Sazerac Rye A versatile Rye whiskey that works on its own or in cocktails.
Millstone 100 Rye Whisky The depth and the different flavours in this bottle really impressed.
Michter’s US*1 Barrel Strength Rye An impressive Rye that is complex but very drinkable even at cask strength.
The Americans handily won this year with some interference from the Dutch. Hopefully the Canadians come back for a rematch soon!