When it comes to the various awards given by different festivals, societies, or writers for the best whisky, or best in different categories, I’m all for it, as it:
- creates interest in the general category of whisky and helps the industry (macro, craft); in a word it’s good for business
- draws attention to products that may get overlooked due to the great number of whiskies in the market
- reinforces the standing of whisky as an international spirit of high quality and venerable tradition.
On the other hand, as someone who has studied carefully and written on the subject, I like to form my own judgments. They don’t always concur with what others say.
A good example is the Crown Royal Northern Harvest Rye Whisky huzzah of a few years ago. The well-drawn LCBO product description gives the background, here.
I bought a number of bottles before, during and after the period the awards got high publicity. I could never see the fuss. The whisky benefits from an obviously high straight whiskey component – lots of taste – but doesn’t cohere well, IMO.
Yet, it obviously got peoples’ attention, which brings buzz and interest to the whisky business. That tends to be good for everyone, producers, consumers, governments (the revenue).
In terms of Canada where the blended style constitutes most of what is available, no one will convince me blended whisky is on a par with straight or single whisky. That blends appeal to many people is unquestioned and salutary, as is the generally lower price they fetch than straights.
But from a palate point of view, the straights will almost always have the edge for me. This is due to their heavier body and more complex taste than results from a largely silent spirit base, albeit aged, mixed with a small amount of straight whisky. (Straight or single as I use them here means, distilled at a low proof as the world’s traditional spirits are, for example Cognac, bourbon, tequila, malt whisky).
I suspect this is so for most devotees of the whisky palate and that is why Canada until recently didn’t figure in the top rank of world producers. It’s changed to a degree but that is due to introducing a few straight whisky products, or blends with a high degree of straight whisky as the Northern Harvest, or Alberta Distillers’ Dark Horse, say.
Yet, to every rule there is an exception. A couple of blends have an outstanding character. The best is JP Wiser’s 15 Years Old, introduced to replace the Wiser’s Legacy brand which was a good effort but not more IMO.
The JP Wiser’s 15 is outstanding because it has a very good flavour, that cigar box some older whiskies have, Canadian Club 20 years old, for example. And it drinks pillow-soft, the grain whisky element doesn’t stick in the throat with a peppery bite.
The straight element is extremely well-blended, probably it’s a minimal amount but sometimes less is more. It’s just a very good flavour and texture, you have to taste it to see.
Of course I’m talking about neat sipping, meaning really neat – no ice, no water in this case.
For mixed drinks the differences I’m highlighting aren’t that meaningful and perhaps the blends even have the edge often. It would be interesting as well to compare, say, a CC 20 years old-and-Coke with a regular CC-and-Coke. Don’t assume the former is better.
A couple of the deluxe Crown Royals are somewhat comparable to JP Wiser’s 15 Years Old but still not as good.
I hope the next batch retains the same qualities. On verra.