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Sourced Canadian Whisky – WhistlePig, Howitzer, and Bearface

Much has been written about whisky sourcing by Non-Distilling Producers, and even more ink has been spent denouncing whisky origin stories of dubious credibility. I mean, how many “great-great grandpappies” had secret rye whisky recipes that perfectly matched up to MGP’s 95% rye? What a fortuitous occurence!

That said, I have nothing against sourced whisky per se, so long as companies are honest and transparent about their practices. Selecting and blending whiskies is an under-appreciated art form so I’m not against sourced whiskies outright. Compass Box makes some of the most interesting whiskies I’ve tried, and their offerings are 100% sourced. The whiskies I’m reviewing here are all sourced, yet none claim that theirs was Al Capone’s whisky of choice, or smuggled across the Canada-US border by Vito Corleone, or… whatever.

WhistlePig is open about their use of Canadian-made rye, no flight of fancy required. According to their website, WhistlePig began with the purchase of a farm in 2007. After a few years of “deep consideration and personal reflection we committed ourselves to crafting the world’s finest and most interesting Rye Whiskeys.” No, I’m not going to rant about marketing stories here. WhistlePig should be commended for not referring to any “secret pre-Prohibition recipe”, but rather being transparent about their process.

WhistlePig teamed up with the late, great Master Distiller Dave Pickerell and bought rye whisky from Alberta that “was being profoundly misused.” This 10 Year Straight Rye is a 100% rye whiskey which was sourced from Alberta Distillers and then re-casked and aged in Vermont. It is first aged in new American oak and finished in first-fill ex-bourbon barrels.

Thanks to my friend Hal for the sample.

WhistlePig 10 Year Old Small Batch Rye – Review

Colour: Chestnut.

On the nose: Surprisingly soft; vanilla, gentle baking spices (cloves, allspice, cinnamon), oak, a bit of ginger, caramel. With time in the glass, the floral vanilla notes dominate.

In the mouth: Slightly hot arrival, green and vegetal initially with some black pepper, cinnamon, and a bit of caramel. The finish is of medium length but the odd “green” vegetal note refuses to go away, there’s some cinnamon and black pepper with a bit more oak and vanilla.

Conclusions:

A decent whiskey to be sure, but nothing that moves my spirit (pun unapologetically intended). The “green” notes are a bit odd. To be completely honest, I find them a little off-putting. I’m glad I waited for a sample before dropping $100 on a full bottle. I might grab a bottle if it were $50 – you know, to keep around as an oddity – but at $100 it’s a hard no from me. I can see how this bottle might appeal to some, but it’s not really my preferred style of rye whiskey. I want my ryes to be spicy with a bit of toffee sweetness.

  • Would I accept a glass of this if it was offered to me? I suppose. I don’t want to be rude. I am Canadian, after all.
  • Would I order this in a bar or pub? Probably not. At $100 for a bottle here, I can’t imagine a pour being worth the money with the “pub atmosphere” markup.
  • Would I purchase a full bottle? No. This is not really in my personal wheelhouse.

Score: 4/10

For those who don’t know: a Howitzer is not only a long-range artillery weapon, it is also hockey slang for a booming slap-shot. The company’s marketing seems to lean heavily on military traditions and also with Canada’s national obsession. However, (spoiler alert) this whisky isn’t really a big bold…anything. It’s a blend of 93% corn whisky and 7% barley whisky, aged for five years according to their website.

The details on the source of their whiskies aren’t disclosed and, as far as I know, there isn’t a Howitzer distillery. There is mention of ex-bourbon barrels on the website, but no further details. My sample of Howitzer Canadian Whisky is “double sourced,” so to speak. The whisky itself is sourced and my sample was generously provided by my friend Hal. I should mention that this tasting was done blind. I made my notes and scored the whisky without knowing any details about it whatsoever. I like this format whenever possible, because all expectations and preconceived notions are removed and the focus is uniquely on smell, taste, and texture.

Howitzer Canadian Whisky – Review

Colour: Auburn.

On the nose: Shy at first, smells like young rye, a bit grassy, some solvent aromas, a hint of cardamom, black pepper, cinnamon, a bit of orange zest, caramel, some wood furniture polish. With time, the caramel and vanilla become more prominent on the nose.

In the mouth: Gentle arrival, some caramel, red apple skins, oak tannins, black tea, surprisingly pleasant after the shy nose. The finish is short to medium length, a bit peppery, with just a bit of rye spice (cardamom and cinnamon mostly), and red apples. The solvent-like ethanol note shows up again.

Conclusions:

Howitzer is an inoffensive and relatively well-integrated whisky after a shy start. When tasting this I thought this was 100% rye whisky – albeit a young one – based on the flavours when tasted neat. But, as soon as I added water, those corn whisky notes took over on the finish. Those of you who have read my reviews or chatted with me know that I’m not really a fan of that very spirit-forward, dare I say vodka-esque note on the finish. Of course, I could be assigning blame for those notes to the wrong component. I’m no expert, just an enthusiast.

  • Would I accept a glass of this if offered? Sure, it’s not unpleasant as long as it’s sipped neat.
  • Would I order this in a bar or pub? Unlikely, unless there was nothing else available.
  • Would I purchase a bottle? Not really.

Score: 4/10

Bearface is a relative newcomer to the Canadian whisky scene. I first found out about it back when I ran my own blog. I got an email from their sales rep/marketing person/brand ambassador asking me if I’d tried it. I remember feeling, as Ron Burgundy would say, like I was kind of a big deal. That said, they didn’t send me a free bottle, so I suppose I’m not at Davin de Kergommeaux, Serge Valentin, or Dave Broom’s level just yet.

The makers of Bearface sourced “7-year-old Canadian whisky from the shores of Lake Huron” (presumably the Canadian Mist distillery, as it’s the only distillery I know of that fits that description) and then Master Blender Andres Faustinelli experimented with “countless barrel and wood combinations”.

From my correspondence with the company and Faustinelli: “This single grain whisky is initially aged in ex-bourbon charred American Oak barrels for a minimum of seven years. It is then placed in tight-grained French Oak ex-wine barrels with over seven years of use for high end, rich Bordeaux-style wines that Mission Hill are noted for…The final finish…is with 3-year-old, air-dried virgin Hungarian Oak.”

Bearface Triple Oak Canadian Whisky – Review

Colour: Copper.

On the nose: Fruity, with a strong corn whisky (sweet, soft caramels) presence. Maple notes, rose petals, and a few solvent/spirit notes at first. But the acetone notes dissipate within 5-10 minutes and some oak notes appear alongside some icing sugar and vanilla.

In the mouth: Much richer than I expected from 42.5% ABV, and a bit darker in flavour too. Amber maple syrup, a hint of oak and spice (cloves mostly), red grapes, vanilla, roses, icing sugar. Very creamy, silky and SMOOTH mouthfeel. (Did I just use the word “smooth?” There goes my internet street cred) The finish is medium length, silly as it may sound, I’m reminded of Cap’N Crunch’s Crunchberries with milk, and with the creamy vanilla and fruity notes lingering. This whisky gets a bit less interesting with water, as the fruity and floral notes all but disappear, and the vanilla and caramel dominate. At 85 proof, there’s no need to add water. This one is much better neat.

Conclusions:

I have no idea if there will be a Bearface distillery or not, but this is an interesting whisky. I don’t think it will change the “sweet and friendly” image of Canadian whisky, but it is definitely more interesting than the caramel and vanilla dominant mixers that dominate our shelves. There’s no real bite, no bold punch which is what a lot of people look for in a whisky. Despite the “fearless” marketing and the bear claw marks on the bottle (which is actually pretty cool looking), this whisky is more teddy bear than grizzly bear. That’s not to say it’s bad; it’s very sweet and creamy, with a touch of fruitiness, much like a dessert. It is much richer than I expected it to be, and dangerously easy to drink. This could easily become a staple for casual sipping. At $35 to $40 here in Ontario, it gets a bump up point for value. Bearface is definitely worth your time.

  • Would I accept a glass of this if offered? I would gladly accept it.
  • Would I order this in a bar or pub? Indubitably.
  • Would I purchase another bottle? Sure.

Score: 6/10

WhistlePig photo courtesy of WhistlePig. Howitzer photo courtesy of Connosr. Bearface photo courtesy of Bearface.

CategoriesCanadian
Joel

Joel lives in Ontario, Canada with his family. When he’s not enjoying whisky and rum, he teaches history, civics, and philosophy to high school students. Joel can be found on Twitter and Instagram @odysseusunbound.

  1. Cornelius says:

    I love bearface! I have a chai bitters that I use with a little brown sugar to make a half sweet old fashioned. Its my go to proof that I can make an interesting cocktail for guests. The multiple barrels/out door ageing make it notably different than most corn based whiskey.

  2. Aengus McCloud says:

    Thanks for your reviews Joel. Always nice to see more content highlighting great Canadian products. I appreciate your honest and value focussed reviews. I really enjoy Bearface, excellent quality for the price and too often overlooked. WhistlePig 10 I think is a good whisky and a nice opportunity to try the flavouring rye from ADL, but agree that it would be better positioned in the $50-$70 range. At least it’s age stated and presented at a good ABV!

    1. Joel says:

      Thanks for the comment. There’s a lot to like about WhistlePig. There’s no secrecy; they put everything out in the open. My review was one sample tasted at one moment in time. I didn’t love it but that opinion should be weighed in that context.

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