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J.P. Wiser’s Alumni Whisky Series – Paul Coffey

It is truly amazing the memories that a whisky, or whiskey, can revive. Given time with a pour and a moment to drift away from modern life. This particular ice hockey themed release took me back a few years to Toronto and a visit to the Hockey Hall of Fame.

There I was in goalkeeper apparel, facing a machine that fired pucks at increasing velocity at a hapless rookie goalie. I’d like to say my cat-like reflexes burst into life and I wowed onlookers with my Andy Goram-like defensive capabilities. Nothing could be further from the truth. The outfit was very restrictive, but for good reason. Being hit by one of the supersonic pucks is not a pleasant experience. My better half did enjoy the spectacle and I left the makeshift arena and museum, armed with a greater appreciation of the sport and its robust nature.

Thanks to this J.P. Wiser’s series, such a vivid memory was revived for a mere review. In Scotland, whisky has been used to commemorate all manner of sporting events for decades. The roots of this arguably were sown with the whisky barons of the early 1900s who loved publicity and seizing the moment. Closer to my own sporting preference of football and the modern era. Whisky has been bottled by clubs to celebrate a league or cup title. These whiskies, on the whole, tend to be blends of an unknown origin, bottled at 40%, chill-filtered and coloured. And for that reason, we’re always quick to dismiss such themed releases as bottom shelf fodder.

I always recall the surprise that a mere sporting label can suddenly boost the retail price of any such release. Bottles always tended to languish in stadium shops, at the back of bars or liquor cabinets of passionate fans. The whisky was never the real driving force behind such a concept. Nowadays, you’ll find such relics cluttering the lower end of listings from whisky auctioneers.

What we have here from J.P. Wiser’s is a little different and ultimately more thoughtful. Firstly, this is a series of one-time releases that come under the Alumni Whisky Series banner. The beneficiary is the Alumni Association which cares for the retired player community and supports local ice hockey initiatives. So, there’s the charitable aspect. Thinking about this in Scottish football terms there’s probably an issue with alcohol and football, although that doesn’t seem to stop betting companies from being everywhere. However, for every player that enjoys the media spotlight after their playing days are over, or a continuation of their skillset from the sidelines, there are at least 100 ex-players who have to move on and some do need external support. Not every sports professional retires wealthy, or even on a modest basis.

For most sport tie-ins, this would have been enough by now. Except this is ice hockey and a Canadian whisky. You also have the substantial array of stocks offered by J.P. Wiser and the guiding hand of Dr Don Livermore, as their master blender. The whole concept was a springboard for some blending inventiveness and trying to capture some of the qualities that made the selected Alumni so successful. In Paul’s case, his robust nature and high energy were the inspiration for the blend, with some of the Alumni taking a hands-on approach and helping Dr Don with the creation of their whisky: it beats the usual figurine I’m sure!

This Paul Coffey entry in the Alumni whisky series is from the 2019-2020 edition, or season I suppose. It consists of 2 grains (93% corn, 7% rye), column distillation, is 7 years in age and is bottled at 48% strength – 48 representing the greatest number of goals from a defensive man in a season and 7 being Paul’s shirt number. Actually, you’ll see the number 7 coming up a lot in this paragraph for that very reason. Four types of casks have been used to produce this homage with Canadian, Speyside (7%), virgin oak and bourbon barrels being utilised. Expect to pay around $44.99 from your local LCBO in Canada. The intended style on the label reads as rich & smooth.

J.P. Wiser’s Alumni Whisky Series – Paul Coffey – review

Colour: toffee.

On the nose: caramel, black pepper, banana, honey and vanilla. Wood forward, pecans, pulped apples, nutmeg and some wood glue. Water unlocks pine resin, sawdust and more honey.

In the mouth: creamy vanilla, more pepper and an alcohol kick. Very grain-like, cereals, marzipan and brown sugar. Water I felt wasn’t beneficial, but time is.

Conclusions

Overall, a pleasant surprise. You may have as did I, when faced with an ice hockey themed bottling, rang the alarm bells. However, it just goes to show you that the liquid is always the key benchmark.

This is a very wood-forward grain with a touch of rye. In some respects, it reminded me of a North British grain, but older than the 7 years suggested. Bold, rugged and spicy initially, it benefits from time in the glass and becomes an enjoyable whisky.

Score: 6/10

My thanks to Distilled Magazine for the generous gift and opportunity to revive some old memories.

CategoriesCanadian
  1. Avatar
    David says:

    It’s great to see you favourably review a Canadian whisky. I think most outside Canada, and far too many within, associate Canadian whisky with the cheap stuff old men may have mixed with ginger ale in the 80s. Over the last decade Wiser’s has produced some great products that show how good Canadian whisky can be and often is. I had my doubts about the Alumni series, as I don’t share my compatriots’ obsession for hockey and feared the focus might be on the branding and not the liquid, but I was happily wrong. My favourite is the Wendel Clark, an 11 year old 100% rye.
    Full disclosure: I live so close to the Hiram Walker distillery (where Wiser’s is produced) I can smell their spent grain as it dries, so I may have a bit of “homer” bias!

    1. Jason
      Jason says:

      Hi David

      Thanks for commenting. We need to do more Canadian whiskies. Very overlooked and yet a lot of American whiskey has – let’s say – a strong Canadian foundation.

      There’s that danger with any sporting or celebrity angle on a bottle that it exists for the wrong purpose. Glad Wiser’s put the effort into this release and I’d expect the whole range. Sadly, we won’t get to pick these up over here, but I’ll see what I can do.

      No homer bias, one of the better ‘factories’ to live nearby I’m sure.

      Cheers, Jason.

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