Word is out that Wiser is releasing in B.C. its Union 52 Canadian whisky, part of its Collector’s Series. Reports indicate it blends a 15 year old base whisky with the last barrel of a 52 years old (!) Highland malt scotch whisky. Here is the listing from the B.C. liquor authority.
This is an instance, but particularly expressive, of blending the Canadian way. A base whisky, which I’d assume is not neutral but mild in character and aged 15 years, is married in this case with a very long-aged 100% barley malt, pot still Scotch. The proportions of the blend were not revealed but I’d think relatively little of the malt was used given its rarity and well-matured character. That is, a little will go a long way to informing and enriching the base.
One could do this as well with some very old bourbon, or batch rye whisky (the more typical addition in Canada), even rum. The result won’t taste like any of those on its own, it will taste like a blended whisky, a Canadian method handed down since the late 1800s.
It may surprise some to think that Canadian whisky can result from combining a Canadian-distilled and aged whisky with an imported Scotch malt. But that is perfectly within the Canadian tradition albeit you won’t see it done every day with a 52-year old malt.
There is an example from another whiskey tradition where a foreign and domestic whiskey were blended. In the 1930s Jameson of Ireland launched in the U.S. a blend of well-aged Irish (pure pot still) whiskey with a presumably much younger batch of American whiskey. It was called “Irish American Whiskey”, an ostensibly appealing name in the American context.
If I read/interpret the label right, in that case they blended 25% 20 year old Irish pot still with 75% U.S. straight whiskey. But the idea is similar, which is to marry a base which can benefit from an impactful addition with a smaller amount of powerfully-flavoured malt, rye, or other whisky.
Jameson’s advertising at the time stressed that the product was neither Scotch, nor Irish whiskey, nor rye or bourbon, but a unique taste. AFAIK, the product wasn’t marketed past about 1939, perhaps because by then enough aged stocks of U.S. bourbon and rye were available, that is following restoration of distilling in 1933. It’s hard to know though, and maybe had the war not intervened the product would have taken off.
Anyway the logic of this kind of blending is very sound. Whisky is made from cereal grains and e.g., a bourbon mash typically consists of different grains provided it is at least 51% corn. Pot still Irish, called now single pot still, contains both malted and unmalted barley and used to contain small amounts of other grains too – including rye. Grain (base) whisky – Scots, Irish, Canadian, American – often is made, or was, from a mix of grains.
Combining different whiskies from these sources simply extends the idea (IMO) of a whisky mash bill of mixed grains. All that matters anyway is that you get a good result – therein lies the blender’s skill. Wiser’s master blender is renowned for his expertise. For Union 52, the unusual nature of the malt addition, not so much being a barley whiskey but being Scottish-distilled and in particular very long aged, will surely lend a unique stamp.
I hope some of the product will reach Ontario, I’d love to try it and was surprised at the price, about $70 which isn’t a lot considering the rarity of 52 year-old malt whisky entering the bottle.
Note re images: the first image above was sourced from Twitter today, the second from the Pinterest website. All intellectual property therein or thereto belong solely to their owners or authorized users. Images are believed available for educational and historical purposes. All feedback welcome.