As whisky consumers in the United States, we are at a serious Canadian whisky disadvantage, and most of us don’t know it. The largest proportion of Canadian whisky available for purchase in the United States (both by volume, and by number of brands) is adulterated slop imported via tanker truck and bottled for sale in plants in the US. Think of it this way: Imagine if the only scotch available to you in bars or liquor stores was Johnnie Walker Red Label and Cutty Sark. Want a single-malt or a well-crafted blend? Better go to Europe to buy it. That’s the situation with Canadian whisky. The few quality spirits that emigrate from Canada (such as Forty Creek products) are relatively hard to find in stores, especially the limited edition whiskies.
The reason I bring this up is not to criticize the Canadian Whisky industry, but rather to highlight the reason that whisky drinkers in the US have a hard bias against Canadian whisky, and thus have a strong misconception that all Canadian whisky is both “light” in flavor and low in quality.
Is Pendleton Blended Canadian Whisky, imported and bottled by Hood River Distillers in Oregon, here to save US drinkers from a fate of tepid grain-heavy adulterated brown vodka? (Note that Hood River Distillers recently purchased craft spirits hero Clear Creek Distillery, makers of McCarthy’s Oregon Single Malt Whisky). Alas, no. Pendleton, like Canadian whisky “8 Seconds”, is riding a curious wave of Canadian whisky popularity among rodeo fans. Their marketing materials, website, and bottle iconography are rife with references to cowboys, bucking broncos, and “life on the trail.” Why is Canadian whisky filling the apparent void in Western-appropriate whisky? I have no earthly clue.
As befits a product that puts demographic over quality, the whisky is a largely undisclosed blend of bulk Canadian whisky, brought to bottling proof (40% ABV) using “glacier-fed” spring water from Mt. Hood in Oregon. Under “facts” on the companies web page, you can find out that the whisky was aged in oak (really?) and “Each bottle prominently features the rodeo’s famous bucking horse symbol and Let’er Buck slogan.” Oh. Well, now I’m sold!
Nose: A lot of rye spice, almost too much. Heavy caramel, slightly chemical.
Palate: Very thick, creamy. Indeed, syrupy. Maple syrup (Seriously? Way to stereotype, Noob), a veneer of cinnamon and clove, and a dose of high-fructose corn syrup.
Finish: Medium length. Sweet and syrupy again, like allspice-infused corn syrup. Unfortunate chemical twist at the end, like aerosol.
With Water: Water adds some vanilla, but the nose becomes cloying. Thins the body somewhat. Makes the rye spices clearer on the finish.
Overall: Well. This is about 200% better than Ellington Reserve 8 year, but it’s still very sweet, and has a chemical aftertaste that I’m not fond of. Of course, it’s intended for mixing, but wouldn’t you prefer to mix your cocktails with something that tastes good on its own? I wouldn’t buy it. It’s not as wholly bad as many of the other bulk Canadian whisky products sold in the US, but it’s not a reason to warm to the market segment.