Oh, Canada. When will you start sending some of your good whisky south of the border? I know you make it up there, and I know you keep most of it for yourselves. Meanwhile, the hapless American whisky consumer sees an attractive bottle of “Canadian Rye Whisky” on the shelf for a bargain-basement price of $15 and snaps it up. “It’s got rye in it,” he thinks, “so it can’t be all bad!”
Now, when Canadian whisky bottles (many of which are actually bottled in the US from tanker trucks of the stuff) say “rye”, they mean it has “some” rye in it, unlike a bottle in the US that says “Rye Whiskey” which must have at least 51% rye grain in the mash. That’s not necessarily a good or bad thing, just a major difference between Canadian and American rye whisky. J.P. Wiser’s is made at the Hiram-Walker & Sons distillery in Windsor, Ontario, and the brand is owned by Corby Distileries. I can’t find any recipe information online, but it’s basically a blend of corn, rye, and other grains distilled on a continuous column still and aged for at least three years in oak barrels (apparently ex-bourbon ones) and bottled at 40% ABV.
For $15 you can’t ask for much, but if you want to see what real Canadian rye is all about, Corby’s own Lot 40 is a fantastic introduction, and so far my favorite Canadian whisky. It’s also made with 100% rye grain (some of which is malted), and that’s what I call rye. I think it’s amazing that Lot 40 and J.P. Wiser’s are distilled at the same facility and yet show such a wide gap in quality. As always, you get what you pay for (Lot 40 is around three times the price of JPW) but after tasting it and mixing it, I think J.P. Wiser’s could cost $2 for all the good it does my cabinet.
Nose: Toffee or butterscotch. The nose is fairly faint, which some might call “smooth” while others might call it “bland”. There is sweetness, but it has an artificial bent. Of rye, there is nary a sign.
Palate: Lightly sweet, and so “smooth” that there is neither much tongue burn nor much flavor. A faint cereal note, a manufactured caramel note, and.. that’s all, folks.
Finish: Short. A reprise of the palate, with still no hint of rye character. A slight chemical bitterness – like the residue on new plastic – forms the tail end of the finish.
With Water: At this ABV and lightness of character, water isn’t warranted. Indeed, adding it only heightened the artificial sweetness, now like bottled corn syrup.
Overall: It is perhaps not fair to rate this whisky neat. It was likely not intended to compete with single malt or straight bourbon. Still, with the word ‘rye’ on the label you’d expect a little spice or something. The sweet flavors are artificial, and the whisky flavors so light as to be ignorable. I suppose you could mix drinks with it, but unless you’re allergic to flavor, a similarly-priced bourbon is likely to give you more bang for your whiskey buck in any cocktail. It says “Quality is something you just can’t rush” on the bottle, which leads me to wonder if this whiskey was made in record time.