And now for something completely different. I’ve made fun of Canadian whisky in the past because of the slightly lax laws which allow Canadian distillers to mix things into their whisky that would make the SWA (Scotch Whisky Association) choke on its daily dram. Then along comes a product that shows the upside of such a liberal policy. Rather than try to explain exactly what’s in this, I refer you to Drinkhacker’s excellent description. Suffice it to say this is two types of Canadian rye (12 years and 6 year of age) blended with 8% bourbon (actual bourbon, purportedly Old Grand-Dad) and 1% sherry (actual sherry). Try getting something like that past the US’s TTB labeling review!
We have something unique here, people. Everyone knows that some whisky (specifically scotch) is aged in sherry barrels (some of which are “wet” with residual liquid sherry), but who puts actually sherry in the vat with the whisky? Who’s actually allowed to do that? Canadian distillers, that’s who.
Nose: A robust – dare I say, “bold”? – aroma of fungal wine caves, sweet fortified wine (duh), and soft, sweet, round Canadian “rye”. More fun than serious, this smells like a glass of something a bunch of drunk whisky people would mix together after a particularly long cask-strength tasting. You can tell there’s sherry (as opposed to sherry cask-aged whisky) in here, because the aromas are winey and with a dense, fresh, watery fruit note that one does not normally find in whisky. If you think of this like a bottled cocktail, the effect is quite pleasant, and very well-integrated.
Palate: Syrupy body. Black raisins, pine resin, soft wheat, and red wine dregs. After the initial (very tame) tongue burn, there is some malty cereal sweetness like marshmallows and coconut shavings.
Finish: Long-ish. The sherry pervades, with raisins, resinous sappy wood, and the barest reminder that this is rye: cloves. Fades without bitterness.
With Water: A few drops of water bring very sweet melted vanilla ice cream to the nose, along with a heightened sense of rye spice (cinnamon, primarily). muting the “wet” sherry notes. The palate is downright “smooth” (aka doesn’t burn) with a little water, but no new notes appear. Water is fully optional here.
Overall: I think the best way to think of Dark Batch is as a bottled cocktail, and a damn good one at that. A masterful balance of dark, resinous sherry with your typical round, sweet Canadian rye. At a very reasonable price, this is something that could form a tasty, satisfying drink neat, or as a component in some unique cocktails. In fact, it’s quite pleasant by itself on ice.
I’ve marked it “Must Try” because this defies classification, and is really something every whisky lover ought to experience. This is especially true of every whisky lover (guilty) who has ever tried to tip a little fresh sherry into a glass of whisky to see what happens. (Hint: It didn’t go well).
Thanks for another Canadian review Nathan!
FYI, we have been enjoying this one in Canada for over a year and a half now, under the name Alberta Premium Dark Horse. The only difference is that instead of using ~8% actual bourbon (required for the generous tax breaks in the US), they substitute ~8% corn whisky made bourbon-style in Canada (i.e., virgin oak, column-distilled). Should be largely indistinguishable from the Dark Batch version in the US, as they adjust the relative ratios of all components to produce a consistent taste. I gather there was a copyright issue with the Dark Horse name and whisky south of the border.
I agree, the ~0.5-1.0% direct sherry is an unusual addition, but one that seems to work well enough in this case. As you say, it works better than a home-brew style concoction.
Thanks for the comment! That’s good to know.
That’s no true about Canadian-made corn whisky being used on the Canadian version of this instead of bourbon. When it was introduced in Canada (long before it was introduced in the US) it was explicitly stated that Old Grand-Dad bourbon made up 8% of the blend.
You are right – that does seem to be case here. The first review of Dark Horse (before it was actually released) had stated Canadian corn whisky in the mix. I see now that review has been revised to say it was indeed US-made bourbon in the initial Canadian version as well. Apparently Beam-Suntory was upfront about this on release.
It’s an interesting case, as it is known that Seagram’s used US bourbon for its products destined for the US (but kept the traditional Canadian recipes intact for domestic production). But this seems to have been more common for the value brands (as described in Davin de Kergommeaux’s Canadian Whisky book).
Whilst bourbon hunting recently at the WB store near my home I saw a new rack in a corner. It was labeled DISCOUNT. I walked by to see what bottom shelf stuff they are hoping to sell. On the rack were several types of rum, a couple bottles of scotch (Talisker Storm?), some vodka, gin and some wine. Four shelves full of booze. Wyoming Whiskey, I.W. Harper and Alberta Rye Dark Batch were on the rack priced at $14.95. I did a quick look at some reviews with my phone. Your words on ARDB sold me. Just one bottle of ARDB, two of WW and several IWH. I bought the WW and ARDB. I really like this rye whisky – just wish they had more on the shelf. Thanks for this site. I visit frequently.