Lot 40 Rye Whisky “Green Label”

Lot 40 is a Canadian whisky marketed by Corby and made at the historic Hiram Walker plant in Windsor, ON. Until purchasing the current bottling (pictured), the last one I bought was the 12-year-old cask strength that came out about a year ago. That whisky had a good full character but was not dissimilar to the main bottling which, since inception about 20 years ago, had a marked “distillery” character.

This meant a congeneric or chemical-like note, some people would say doughy or orangey. It’s noticeable in some young craft distillery whisky, too.

The current bottling has altered the profile, a welcome change in our view. But first some background.

In a detailed review of Lot 40 in 2015, I wrote that I drank a dram or two and used the remainder in my own blending experiments. The character “neat” was too unrefined for me, although clearly many people liked it.

Lot 40 had been off and on the market in Ontario since about 1998. A “2012” version, issued that year, didn’t vary much from the earlier version, maybe a bit richer.

From information given on my personal tour of Hiram Walker a couple of years ago, and from Internet sources, Lot 40 is distilled at a traditional, straight whisky proof (below 80% ABV certainly). A column still distillate is run through a large pot still, so it’s a two-step distillation process. The mash was originally 90% unmalted rye and 10% malted rye, a formulation common in the 19th-century based on my own research many years ago.

However, for some years, the malted rye is dispensed with. Enzymatic preparations are used to ensure the conversion of starches to fermentable sugar. The process is familiar to me from brewing knowledge, as well.

The reason is malted rye can bring in unwanted microflora, bacteria and fungal activity, that can adversely affect flavour or consistency.

So now, Lot 40 is 100% unmalted rye, but is also aged in new charred oak, wood similar to that used for bourbon or U.S. straight rye. The current green label calls it “virgin oak”, and the former bottlings did not use this term. Earlier, re-used bourbon barrels were likely used in quantity, at least for part of the maturation. They are the same type used to mature both Scotch whisky and the high proof, grain (base) whisky that forms the basis of most Canadian blends.

The “green label” has been on the market for about a year now and I caught up with it recently. The legend on the tan box no longer names Michael Booth, a retired Hiram Walker distiller. Clearly the whisky has evolved since his time.

In a nutshell, this is the best Lot 40 available to date. The congeners are toned down, the whisky is sweeter and rounder, and is more a traditional, straight spirit. Yet it is still quite different to Kentucky straight rye whiskey, and different again to Canadian Club’s own green label, Chairman’s Select 100% Rye made at Alberta Distillers.

(Chairman’s Select is bottled under the historic CC name long-associated with the Hiram Walker plant, but label and distillery are now separately owned. Hence sourcing this particular version of CC from Alberta).

The main factor in the new and improved Lot 40 is, IMO, the new-charred oak. The charred interior and “red layer” mature the whisky in a way no re-used bourbon barrel can. At least this is so within a period, say, of three to eight years, the typical window to release a straight whisky.

Chairman’s Select 100% Rye has always been aged in all-new charred barrels. This “catch up” for Corby’s own flagship straight whisky can only be commended and the quality shows.

Here is the link to Corby’s website for the current Lot 40.