Seasoned Oak: J.P. Wiser’s Canadian Whisky

In the J.P. Wiser’s Rare Cask Series, Seasoned Oak is the latest release. It’s been on the shelves (Ontario-only) for about three months now.

It is 19-years-old. For the other specs, the Toronto Whisky Society (Brian Vanderkruk) has done a good job to resume things concisely, which you can read here.

The ABV is 48%, so higher than usual for Canadian whiskey. 18-year-old corn and rye whiskies were married for a further year in barrels made from staves allowed to season for four years in the open elements.

In past generations such open-air drying was typical of barrel production, but the period must have varied. In an early-1900s cooperage article linked in this post of mine, it is stated, see pp. 81-82, that the mills air-dried the staves for six months and the distilleries completed the process with 15 day’s kiln-drying.

Perhaps most bourbon today is aged in barrels made from kiln-dried staves that don’t receive any outdoor drying. At least, that’s my understanding from many years immersion in the U.S. bourbon scene and early visits to Kentucky.

The corn spirit is Double Distilled base whisky and the rye, Star Special, a rye mash whisky distilled at a low proof in a column still and then a pot still.

(The standard J.P. Wiser’s expressions are typically blends of the Double Distilled and Star, the same rye spirit not given a second run in the pot still. The pot still is more or less like the U.S. doubler-stage for bourbon or straight rye).

Just as for regular J.P. Wiser’s 18-years-old, barrels that formerly held bourbon or Canadian whisky are used for that aging period of Seasoned Oak. The seasoned oak phase proper is charred virgin wood, similar to bourbon barrels in the U.S. But it’s only one year out of 19, therefore, in terms of maturation.

I’d guess only a little Star Special is blended into the base whisky as Seasoned Oak has mainly a grain whisky character IMO. It’s similar in this regard to J.P. Wiser’s 18-years-old.

Hence the body is light and fairly clean or neutral. One review I read stated “acetone”, which can be a “distillery” or straight character, but I didn’t get that.

Yet, there is a spicy cocoa top-note that must come from the extra year in naturally-seasoned virgin oak. The 20 extra dollars for the expression are paying for that, and the extra proof.

Is it worth it? Some reviews are head-over-heels in love, others less so. I’m kind of in the middle. It’s interesting, I’m glad I bought it, but it’s not superlative. For me, the current Lot 40, which uses the new charred barrel, is where the action is. AFAIK it is 100% Star Special, not blended with Double Distilled, and benefits from the early and uniquely complex maturation charred new wood imparts.

The best Canadian whiskies regularly available in the market today are the revamped Lot 40 and Canadian Club Chairman’s Select 100% Rye. Both are straights for all practical purposes, and the results show.

For those wedded to the more traditional Canadian style, Seasoned Oak will appeal due to its age and unique character.