If you ask people what comes to mind when you mention Canada, “hockey” is likely to be among the top three responses. While it has become a truly global sport, no country is as hockey mad as the Great White North. Over 53% of current NHL hockey players are Canadians.
The only surprising thing about a whisky line honouring great Canadian hockey players is that it didn’t happen sooner. The Scots have their long, unpronounceable Gaelic names, and stories of dodging the English tax collectors. The Americans have (too many?) stories of “great-grandpappy’s pre-Prohibition” recipe. It’s only logical that we Canucks continue the whisky marketing tradition of playing to national stereotypes.
In fairness, each NHL player’s namesake whisky was the result of an actual collaboration with Dr. Don Livermore. In a radical break from whisky marketing tradition, J.P. Wiser’s actually told the truth. I kid… sort of. Dr. Don Livermore, J.P. Wiser’s/Corby’s Master Blender is a huge hockey fan and was also a referee for many years. It would be interesting to ask Dr. Don if his passion for hockey supersedes his passion for whisky blending and experimentation. Perhaps we shouldn’t put him in that awkward position, and we should just enjoy the fruits of the team’s labours.
I have tremendous respect for Dr Don Livermore and for Lanny McDonald (and his glorious moustache), but let me say upfront that this whisky has not been my favourite of the Wiser’s Alumni offerings. It got somewhat better with time, but even after 6 months it was, well, you’ll see. I should state that this opinion isn’t shared by everyone as I know quite a few people who truly enjoyed this one. I frequently offered it to guests, many of whom seemed to enjoy it more than I did.
J.P. Wiser’s Lanny McDonald 9 Year Old – Review
On the nose: Strong acetone/nail polish remover, even after 6 months of “air time”. After a very long rest in the glass, there’s some fresh-cut oak, a little caramel and vanilla, and not much else.
In the mouth: Thin mouthfeel. I guess you could call it smooooooth. There’s a bit more vanilla and caramel, pencil shavings, some apricots, and a touch of barrel char. Short to medium length finish, somewhat drying, a faint hint of apricots, with a little toffee lingering. Adding water makes this go from mediocre to unpleasant. With water it smells and tastes like nail polish remover (don’t ask how I know what that tastes like). The finish becomes unbearably bitter.
The bottle says “Canadian whisky barrels and virgin oak barrels,” but I didn’t get many of the rich, sweet notes I’d expect from virgin oak. The bottle says “wheat forward,” but I didn’t get any notes I’d associate with wheated whisky. I got a lot of flavours and aromas I associate with not quite grain neutral spirits, but pretty darned close to it, uhm, I mean “high-proof, base whisky.” And while this “base whisky” might work if left long enough in good barrels, that doesn’t seem to be the case here. This is drinkable neat, but not great with water or ice. I would say this is not recommended, but many of my “non-whisky friends” seemed to enjoy this one. Maybe my moustache isn’t glorious enough to fully appreciate this whisky.
The Wendel Clark 11 Year Old 100% Rye was the first whisky I tried from the J.P. Wiser’s Alumni Series. I’m not ashamed to admit I love the idea of a Canadian distillery teaming up with Canadian hockey legends to create this line-up. The Wendel Clark edition is a blend of double column distilled rye and pot still distilled rye (if my information is correct), aged for 11 years in ex-bourbon barrels. This is bottled at 41.6% ABV, in honour of Toronto’s area code (416), where Wendel Clark spent the majority of his career.
J.P. Wiser’s Wendel Clark 11 Year Old Rye – Review
On the nose: Rye spice, toffee, red apples, oak, vanilla, a touch of mint.
In the mouth: Rich and round, toffee sweetness, clementine oranges, a little bit of coconut giving way to peppery cloves, nutmeg, and cinnamon. The finish is medium length with Kraft soft caramels, chai tea, with the taste of coconut macaroons lingering. With the addition of water, there’s more red apple on the nose, more spice on the palate, and a pleasant hit of fresh cigar on the finish. I was loath to add water to a whisky bottled at 41.6% ABV, but water really opens it up nicely. A few scant drops will suffice.
This whisky is delicious neat and with water (or even ice, gasp). When I first opened the bottle, I found it very similar to Lot no.40, but it changed with some air exposure or with my palate getting used to it. That’s a discussion for another day. Lot no.40 has a wider spectrum of flavours than the Wendel Clark Rye, and Lot no.40 is more oak-driven in general, but this whisky is much more than a marketing gimmick. It delivers the goods in a big way.
Images courtesy of J.P. Wiser’s