I should learn by now that big-league Canadian whisky and I don’t really mesh. While learning about drinking, I did not come to value “smoothness” (a term that has a nebulous definition when it comes to whisky) above all, including above flavor. Furthermore, after several ill-spent college years drinking overly-sweet stuff like Smirnoff Ice and neon-dyed “Schnapps” (an insult to actual Schnapps), I developed an aversion to cloyingly-sweet beverages of all kinds, especially when accompanied by the flavor of grain neutral spirits, which have a distinct flavor and aroma of glue or industrial solvents. So when I taste something like J.P. Wiser’s Canadian Rye and I get overly-sweet, glue-flavored, “smooth” whisky that costs so little to produce that they can make a profit at $15 a bottle, I tend to react poorly.
Along comes a bottle that offers to turn the tide: A $55 bottle of Canadian blended whisky with 18 years of aging under its belt. I mean, it’s a great value but not dirt-cheap, and you can’t fake 18 years in oak. There’s not a lot of information online about the whisky itself. It’s a Hiram Walker brand previously known as Wiser’s Very Old. It is a blended Canadian whisky, meaning a blend of grain whiskies (rye optional). The components are mashed, distilled, and aged separately, and then blended together in batches for bottling. The 18 is bottled at an anemic 40% ABV.
I dropped the $55 and figured that if nothing else, it would make a forgettable sipping whisky that wouldn’t object to an ice cube on a humid summer evening…[Update 9/12/2017] An interesting discussion thread on Connosr popped up in the comments below, if you’re curious. As a result of that discussion, I should clarify that Wiser 18 contains NO RYE in its mash bill, unlike many Canadian blends, and is entirely or *almost* entirely corn whisky, distilled to a high proof, and aged in refill ex-bourbon. I say “almost” because the recipe is not necessarily set in stone, and could vary over time. It was also pointed out to me in that thread that it’s possible to get a “bad bottle” of Wiser 18, and that may have happened to me here. I’m not inclined to spend another $55 to find out. If I can get a bad bottle, so could any other customer.
Nose: Glue. After a rest in the glass to disperse any aroma of adhesives, the nose is suggestive of rye but contains a lot of vanilla and heavy, syrupy sweetness. Somewhat cloying, like a heavily frosted cinnamon bun on a sweltering hot day. Also, banana bread, corn pudding, and a ghostly echo of that glue (think grade-school rubber cement).
Palate: Syrupy body. Rye bread up front, complete with toasted caraway seed, plus rye grain cinnamon and clove. The sweetness is suffusive, but not quite as cloying as suggested by the nose. It’s also not very nuanced – try to imagine eating a spoonful of white corn syrup out of the bottle.
Finish: Short. As soon as I swallow, the whisky’s character evaporates. There might be a whiff of vanilla and clove left behind.
With Water: I hesitate to add any water at all, but a few drops release an amped-up wave of bakery spices before settling back into cloying sugary-ness. The palate is unchanged, as is the finish. No water needed here.
Overall: I would have assumed that 18 years in oak would have at least added some oaky complexity or mellowed those weird glue notes into something nuanced. Tasted blind, I would have said this was American rye at 4 or 5 years of age that had been watered down to 30% ABV and had corn syrup added to it. None of that is true, but that is the impression left upon me by my three attempts to appreciate the “Tradition of Quality and Craftsmanship” promised by the label.
At the risk of reawakening the tired NAS discussion, I’d like to point out that this is a good example of advanced age on the label not equating to quality in the glass.
I honestly don’t know what I’m going to do with the rest of the bottle. I can’t think of any cocktails that this would improve. Coke, maybe?