So What Exactly is the Flavour of Real Canadian Rye Whisky?
Follow canadianwhisky.org as it Goes on the Road to Find Out
With notebooks at the ready, eager to try whatever was placed in front of them, fifteen malt whisky aficionados gathered recently at Victoria’s Grand Pacific Hotel to taste a range of classic Canadian rye whiskies. Their goal? To identify the flavours rye grain contributes to Canadian whisky.
The session began with tasters synchronizing their palates with a brilliantly well-balanced and rye-rich Canadian blended whisky, Crown Royal Fine De Luxe from 1963. Most notably, this whisky, in addition to the luxuriant corn-derived mouthfeel, showcases the full range of typical rye spices – cloves, nutmeg, cinnamon, ginger; – the breadth of undefined fruitiness; sweet floral notes bordering on pansies, violets, and lilacs; and an almost fragile brittleness found only in Canadian rye. Great rye supported by great corn and barley whiskies.
Deconstructing Canadian rye then began with WhistlePig Rye, a fine example of unmalted Canadian rye. No other grains are used to make WhistlePig so the flavour is 100% unmalted rye. It’s a big whisky, exhibiting typical rye flowers, and fruits, but especially rich in rye spices including cloves, nutmeg, and cinnamon. WhistlePig is a hugely voluptuous whisky that, frankly, is just a little bit rough around the edges and in need of some balancing corn or barley to broaden its palate. But here are found the typical unmalted rye nose and palate: spices first, with fruit and flowers continually poking their heads through. So rye, it seems is all about spices, fruit, and flowers.
To get a full appreciation of the effects of malting on rye grain, the tasters next sampled Lot 40 from Corby Distillers. Lot 40, which has been off the market since the late 1990s, is distilled in a copper pot still at Hiram Walker’s plant in Windsor using malted and unmalted rye. Yes, Lot 40 is spicy, but rather than the dominant spiciness of WhistlePig, Lot 40 exhibits more fruity and floral notes, expressing, most particularly, large and delightful aromas of lilacs and spring flowers. Sweet and rich, on the palate it tastes more than anything, like rye bread. Malting, it seems brings out the flowers.
Armed with this new-found information the group next sampled Wiser’s Legacy, a new whisky, released in 2010, but based on a century-old original J.P. Wiser recipe that incorporates both malted and unmalted rye. Wiser’s Legacy demonstrates the blender’s art at its zenith, with its enormously broad palate featuring the full rye whisky spectrum. Legacy displays unmalted rye spices directly front and centre, but also showcases the fruitiness and the floral notes that the process of malting brings to the fore.
So what else did these tastings and discussions reveal about Canadian rye? In Canada, “rye” has been synonymous with “whisky” for several centuries. Rye is the defining flavour of Canadian whisky. North Americans drink more Canadian rye whisky than all other whisky styles combined. And rye flavours can also be extracted from oak. Oh yes, and speaking of flavour, in the right hands a little rye can go a long, long way.
But will this tasting session be repeated? Not exactly. However, canadianwhisky.org will present a similar tasting in Toronto on May 14 at The Spirit of Toronto held at Roy Thomson Hall. The organizers have already lined up some very spectacular vintage Canadian ryes to tantalize your tastebuds. See you there?
For full details of the Victoria rye tasting session and to read reviews of Wiser’ Legacy, WhistlePig Rye, and Lot 40, visit www.canadianwhisky.org