In late 2019 the decision makers at Alberta Distillers – or at Beam Suntory, ADL’s corporate overlords – finally gave Canadian rye lovers what they had been wanting for years.
Alberta Premium released Alberta Premium 20 Year Old to appeal to the “rare and refined” crowd; they released Alberta Premium Cask Strength Batch 1, bottled at 65.1% ABV to please the “gimme the jet fuel” crowd. Both are 100% rye whiskies and both caused quite the stir in the Canadian whisky community. Rye fans channelled their inner Dwight Schrute while elbowing and punching the air and shouting “YES! YES! YES!”
That said, I can be a bit of a curmudgeon at times, and I am hesitant to part with my hard-earned money on something announced with this much fanfare. Fortunately, a friend provided me with a sample of Alberta Premium Cask Strength Batch 1 so that I could try it before taking the plunge on a full bottle. While it’s “only” about $65 CAD, I am still cautious with all my whisky money. Space in my whisky cabinet and storage comes at a premium (pardon the pun) and I try to think critically and ideally sample a whisky before buying a bottle.
I have included three questions I often ask myself at the end of each review. Online whisky reviews require the reader to learn a new language, so to speak. The reader must learn the reviewer’s style, preferences, and idiosyncrasies, and many readers do not have the time or energy to go through this process. My three questions aim to provide an overview that is straight to the point.
It takes an especially unpleasant whisky for me to say “no thanks” to a free glass. A whisky I would order in a bar or pub isn’t necessarily great, rather it is inoffensive at worst. If I would (or have) purchased a bottle, that means the whisky is good enough and offers enough value for money to take up valuable real estate in my home. As is the case with any online whisky review, your mileage may vary.
Alberta Premium Cask Strength Batch 1 (65.1% ABV) – Review
On the nose: Sweet butterscotch jumps out right away, followed by peppermint, dark brown sugar and salted butter. This smells like dessert; there’s an “almost rum” note in here that’s really interesting. It becomes even sweeter and “rummier” with the addition of water. I may have developed diabetes while nosing this. Maybe it’s the “rum, brown sugar, and butter” combo working through the power of suggestion, but I think I perceived raisins in there as well. Did I mention butter and brown sugar? I also oak, cloves, and a bit of spearmint (or peppermint; I can’t really differentiate the two).
In the mouth: Rich, rich arrival; salted caramel, toasted and buttered rye bread, brown sugar, something slightly vegetal and “green,” then black pepper. The finish is long and warming. There’s more rye bread, toasted oak, cloves, some red apple skins, and brown sugar. The peppermint flavour appears like a depth charge on the tail end of the finish. I think I might actually like this one better with a touch (1/2 teaspoon) of water.
This rye shows us exactly why WhistlePig chose to source so much whisky from ADL. It’s rich, complex, and spice forward. This is what most rye lovers want rye to be. I know this won some kind of “World’s Best” something or other award which makes people want to poo-poo it (because that is how the internet works), but this is an excellent offering. I have not tried the other batches yet but if you find batch 1 in the wild I heartily endorse it. At $65 per bottle at the time of purchase, Alberta Premium Cask Strength Batch 1 was a no-brainer. Despite being Canadian, Alberta Premium Cask Strength rye is bold and unapologetic. No doot aboot it, eh?
- Would I accept a glass of this if it were offered to me? Gratefully
- Would I order this in a bar or pub? Without hesitation
- Would I purchase a full bottle? Based on this sample, I did.
There’s no easy way to say this. My experience with Alberta Premium Aged 20 Years has been awful and has gotten steadily worse. While this whisky has generally gotten middle-of-the-road to positive reviews (including on this site), I don’t like it. I don’t like it at all. In fact, I hate it. I’m hesitant to share this review because I’ve liked every other Alberta Premium I’ve tried, and I don’t want to be negative for the sake of being negative or “edgy.” That said, I paid money for this bottle of whisky, and it’s been worse than a disappointment. There’s no way to sugarcoat this: it’s bad. Aggressively and obnoxiously bad. Imagine William Shatner and Yoko Ono singing Puccini arias with Nickelback playing the role of their “orchestra.” Since I’m bound to draw pushback from certain quarters for what I’m about to publish, allow me to address some of the likely criticisms:
- “Joel, maybe you just don’t like Canadian whisky.” OK, let’s look at some of my ratings of Canadian whiskies: Alberta Premium Cask Strength (7/10), Gooderham & Worts 49 Wellington (7/10), Lot 40 Cask Strength 11 Year Old (9/10).
- “Joel, maybe you only like higher proof whiskies, you cask strength snob!”. Let’s look at my ratings of whiskies in the 40-45% ABV range: J.P. Wiser’s Last Barrels 14 Year Old (6/10), Wiser’s Wendel Clark Rye (6/100), Lot 40 (6/10).
- “Joel, maybe you don’t have the palate to fully appreciate older Canadian whiskies.” Let’s see what my record says: Canadian Club 40 Year Old (7/10), J.P. Wiser’s Seasoned Oak 19 Year Old (7/10).
- “Just because you don’t like it, it doesn’t make it bad whisky.” All tasting notes and reviews are inherently subjective and, in my opinion, this is really bad whisky. Many will disagree, and that’s fine. But I spent my own money, so I’ll tell you the truth.
Alberta Premium Aged 20 Years – Review
Colour: Burnt orange.
On the nose: Nail polish, galvanized metal, pine sap, and an industrial note reminiscent of snowmobile exhaust on a really cold day. It sounds weird, I know, but it’s there. I can’t say it was pleasant. No, I’m not trying to overplay the Canadian stereotype, but it’s there and it’s distracting. This is unpleasant. Very unpleasant. After a long rest in the glass (30-40 minutes), there are some typical (albeit subtle) rye notes; cardamom, black pepper, nutmeg.
In the mouth: There’s nothing elegant, mature or “luxurious” here. The arrival is too tame and gentle, and the texture is thin. I find some faint fruitiness with plums and apricots, then butterscotch, some oak, and a little bit of orange zest and vanilla, the finish is mercifully short with some hard caramel candy and a touch of peppermint, but the pine sap and exhaust fumes push forward and remind me that this is not the whisky I’m looking for.
This whisky gets worse every time I try it. I’m disappointed by the low proof; 42% ABV makes it feel thin and weak. The nail polish aroma refuses to dissipate. I can not emphasize enough how strong and off-putting this aroma is. Even my wife, who rarely comments on my whiskies, asked “Are you drinking nail polish?” from across the room when I poured this. Maybe my expectations were too high, and I was hoping it would get better with time. Maybe I’ve got some lingering anger over having paid good money for this awful whisky. Who knows? I really wanted to like this. I really did. But I hate it. This Alberta Premium 20 Year Old is downright awful to my nose and palate. The remainder of the bottle will likely stay in my cabinet, only to be opened when someone asks me “What’s the worst whisky you’ve ever had?” Perhaps it’s harsh, but I’m nothing if not honest. How un-Canadian of me. #sorrynotsorry
- Would I accept a glass of this if it were offered to me? Not on your life. I’d rather drink water.
- Would I order this in a bar or pub? I’d order a Zima before paying for this whisky.
- Would I buy another bottle? You’re kidding me, right? No.
Alberta Premium produces some of the world’s best rye. Some years ago, they released two aged bottlings: a 25 year old and a 30 year old. Sadly, this predated my foray into the world of careful whisky tasting so I have never tried them. These releases have since become the stuff of legends and even those who tend to shy away from Canadian whisky have sung their praises. A particularly fastidious bothy-dwelling YouTube whisky reviewer rated Alberta Premium 30 year old 89/100, which is an incredibly favourable review from that notable malt-mate.
Perhaps I expect more cask influence from an aged (18+ years) whisky than what the 20-year-old release offered. Given my mostly positive experience with Alberta Premium, I remain optimistic vis-à-vis future releases.
Alberta Premium Cask Strength photo courtesy of Flask Fine Wines. 20 Year Old photo courtesy of Taylor.