‘Watching it on television… I felt disgusted — as though I were attending a public hanging… No one should have a chance to see so much desire, so much need for a prize, and so much pain when it was not given.’¹
We all have our own thoughts on awards in general; good and bad. We’ve certainly discussed the flaws of such institutions here on Malt for some time now. A truncated synopsis would be that we’re not fans of the format. An annual institution that relies mainly on the pay to enter dynamic that litters the internet with medals of interchangeable colours and rosettes of varying shapes and sizes. All underpinned by some lofty scoring, with recipients adorned with lavish quotes from rent-a-quote whisky experts and consultants. It’s not for me and never will be, simple as that.
But in saying this, there’s no denying that a great deal of the industry revolves around awards, which has increasingly become a pivot point for marketing and sales generation. A booming industry that can harbour power, influence and generate revenues to make it a profitable endeavour. All for that top status which will trigger a goldrush and unlock more sales. Today’s bottle is the recipient of a major whisky award in 2020 and it comes from Canada, which is refreshing compared to the usual assortment of major players. We’ve been here previously in 2016 when the Crown Royal Northern Harvest Rye won the best whisky award leading Adam to conclude…
‘The point, I suppose, is to judge the whisky as it is in your glass, not simply as it’s scribbled in someone else’s book, or typed on someone else’s Twitter feed.’
And that’s the key point in all of this. You’re the ultimate judge of what you like and crucially what’s good, bad or indifferent to you. According to Gordon & MacPhail, Whisky expert Charlie MacLean believes, ‘There is no bad whisky, only good and better whisky.’ A quote that’s reminiscent of a similar take from novelist Raymond Chandler, who said ‘there is no bad whiskey. There are only some whiskeys that aren’t as good as others.’ He was perhaps a little closer to the mark, but even so, it’s a sentiment that might not be shared by all consumers. You’re the ultimate judge of what you desire and that’s one of the key motivators for Malt. We joined together because the whisky-sphere was lopsided and our independent stance, easy to understand scoring system and transparency, has been the bedrock of our popularity since our unification.
I’d love to gauge how much of our traffic is from those looking for a quick opinion or score, when standing in a retailer or hovering over the buy it now button online. Quite a sizeable percentage, I’d expect. People seek out opinions and sources that they can trust. We won’t be always right, nor we will snuggly match up with your own taste buds and preferences. For those moments we get it wrong or don’t meet your expectations, then I am truly sorry. But rest assured we’re genuine, honest and devoid of the ties that twist some in knots to please others. The best avenues remain your own experiences, finding others who have similar tastes or the fruitful channel that is word of mouth.
So, after all, that is said and done. Let us give you our opinion on this Alberta Premium Cask Strength Rye. This release is bottled at an eye-watering 65.1% strength and is a remarkable No Age Statement release. Born in Calgary, Alberta, the recipe features 100% prairie rye mash bills and water from the Rockies themselves. Matured in charred oak casks it is unleashed at cask strength. If you can find a bottle for its original price of $65 CAD then congratulations, but we cannot point you to any retailer with only the secondary market possibly harbouring a bottle for a considerable premium. From what I understand, Alberta Premium is widely available in Canada as a relatively cheap whisky that is mainly utilised for mixing. This limited cask strength release, alongside 25 and 30 year old editions, was a successful attempt to showcase the potential of the brand. Our thanks to Distilled Magazine for generously shipping over some samples labelled as the world’s best olive oil. I’m sure it’d make for an interesting pasta or salad dish, if the liquid doesn’t hold up under scrutiny.
Taylor joins me to give you a double slice of opinion but noting he is reviewing a later batch bottled at 66% strength. So, a unique opportunity to compare the award-winning batch versus what came after.
Alberta Premium Cask Strength Rye 65.1% – Jason’s review
Colour: a copper pan.
On the nose: honey and toffee, brazil nuts and a sense of the grains with pecans, black peppercorns and liquorice root. Rum-like in parts with some fudge, popcorn and blackberries. Waxy apples, blackberry jam and a touch of Turkish Delight. The introduction of water delivers apples and lemon icing.
In the mouth: quite a powerful thing! Lot’s of spicy nuttiness going on with blueberries, shoe polish, bronze and aniseed. It needs water but it is easy to overdo it.
This Alberta Premium is a good and an ultimately interesting whisky, but not an award winner in my opinion. To someone else, it might meet such criteria and that’s perfectly fine. The best of the best is a difficult tag to place on anything annually. A great deal of responsibility, pressure and incentive comes with such a label.
The most beneficial aspect apart from my own individual enjoyment is the potential and we should explore Canadian whisky more. This seems to be going for circa £140 on the secondary market nowadays and hopefully, that’ll realign itself with the contents, as I wouldn’t look to pay ideally more than £60 for this.
Alberta Premium Cask Strength Rye 66% – Taylor’s review
Colour: Polished gold.
On the nose: Heady to start, with a piquant acetone scent. There’s a creamy sweetness of vanilla underlying this, as well as a more juicy whiff of freshly-sliced orange wedges. I’m getting a very faintly spicy note as the sole aromatic tell that this is a 100% rye whiskey; the rest of the presentation on the nose is quite soft and, honestly, a bit too restrained for my liking. Adding a drop or two of water adds a vaguely roasty and nutty scent but, on balance, doesn’t really result in much of an improvement.
In the mouth: In comparison to the nose, the mouthfeel is not at all restrained and begins with a punch of tart fruit and alcoholic heat as it first touches the lips. This blooms toward the middle of the tongue with a more full-bodied rye character, incorporating some of the flavors I more typically associate with that grain such as aloe vera, black pepper, and a steely, metallic texture. There’s a chewiness to this at its peak that quickly yields to a slightly chemical taste and a burning sensation. That chemical flavor hangs around in mildly unpleasant form through the finish, which radiates awkwardly around the mouth in an uncomfortably bitter and synthetic fashion. Adding some water reduces this effect a bit, but it is still there in noticeable form, threatening to trigger the gag reflex.
I struggled to finish a 1-ounce pour of this, which is a dishonor I generally reserve for the most awful of whiskeys. This isn’t revolting throughout, but the chemical note at the end is sickening; the sensation of drinking this is more like swallowing bitter medicine or accidentally tasting a household cleaning product. I left this for hours and returned to it to see if some time would soften either the whiskey or my palate, but unfortunately they were still unable to meet amicably. A second try a day later did nothing to change this impression. I’m not giving this rye a bottom-of-the-barrel score, but don’t feel justified in elevating it much above that.
¹ Glenda Jackson, British actress and politician, 1979.
Photographs kindly provided by Beam Suntory. Taylor’s sample was a sample generously shared by Ryan, and for that he has my grateful acknowledgement.