Thursday, 11 September 2014

Spirit Log: Lot No 40 and Centennial Limited Edition Canadian Rye Whisky



















Lot 40 is the highly acclaimed single pot still Canadian rye whisky that I collected back around Christmas time. I was sold on the pretext that it is said to be comparable to scotch whisky… in some ways – though particularly to those who aren’t connoisseurs of scotch whisky. It seems Canadian whisky enthusiasts are jumping up and down about it, since the whisky of their great nation is often disparaged as being mixer fodder. Well, if this represents an outstanding example of what they have to offer, I have to try it, don’t I, if only to see what comparable to scotch means.

Lot 40 is produced in Ontario, and is the rebirth of a brand that, while noted for its quality, wasn’t able to survive on the market the first time around. It seems the prevailing opinion is that people weren’t ready for this kind of Canadian whisky. Far be it from me to comment on long term whisky trends, but I find it hard to believe a quality product could be considered too good to survive – if indeed it is a good quality product.

Well apparently, the time is right and the people are now ready to stump up 40-50 dollars Canadian for this new 43% 2012 edition.

Nicely presented, the bottle comes complete with a cork stopper, which is a nice touch for those of us who appreciate a nice single malt, while the bottle itself shows a diagram depicting the production process which is partially obscured by a modern but tasteful label that has been posited at a jaunty angle. Then there was an extra bit of bumf – another label – looped over the top. So far so good.

In terms of colour, Lot 40 appears to be much darker than you would expect of a single malt scotch – to the extent that I would actually compare it to a blend, though it is perhaps richer and more luxurious looking than that – in fact, it positively shimmers in the glass.

On the nose… yes, that’s the smell I have come to associate with Canadian whisky. Lacking the terms to describe my olfactory senses, I have to say I don’t know what that consists of, but it is what it is. At this stage, I am struggling to see how anyone could mistake this for scotch – other than the people who aren’t aware that not all whisky is scotch.
Lot 40 in the glass


It’s when you get to allowing that luminous liquid to frolic on the pink lawn of your tongue [when the hell did I write that?] that you (or at least I) get some idea of what all the fuss has been about. I’m still not saying it’s anything like scotch, but there is definitely a complexity here, far greater than my admittedly limited experience of Canadian whisky has thus far revealed.

How much is the quality of whisky down to complexity though? I’ve certainly counted lack of complexity as a negative before, but oftentimes something can just be a pleasure to drink… and if there’s complexity but no balance… well, I would expect it wouldn’t be a pleasure to drink – and if it isn’t a pleasure to drink… who’s going to want to drink it?

What I’m getting down to here is that while there is a great deal going on, on first impression Lot 40 lacks the subtletly to be truly great. It doesn’t wear its extra 3% alcohol too well and there is a sour bite that I suspect (though can hardly say for sure) is the result of aging in virgin oak casks – which I’m sure you’re already aware, is quite rare in scotch production as it is felt the virgin oak imparts too strong an influence on the mellow, malted barley. Curiously enough, some scotch distilleries have started releasing virgin oak aged expressions, so that’s one to try in the  future.

Now, I’ve noticed a lot of respectable whisky bloggers like to try their samples with a little water, to see if the spirit opens up any. It is supposed to, and in some cases it is said to improve the spirit, while in others it may not. I’ve made it no secret that this is lost on me (unless you’re talking about cask strength), but in the spirit of professionalism, and given that I felt the Lot 40 struggled a little with it’s strength, I thought I would add a little drop of water one time.

Sadly the result was that, once again, I felt I’d ruined a perfectly acceptable glass of whisky. No, I know my opinion is that the Lot 40 isn’t perfect, but neat is far superior to the watered down shadow of a dram it became with water. I’m just going to say, once and for all, this is the last time I try adding water to my whisky – except in the case of particularly strong cask strength editions. 50% ABV and below remains neat, above that I will [maybe] try a little water – but definitely not the liberal amounts some books suggest. Stop ruining my whisky!

Now, I’m coming to understand that you should never judge a whisky on first impressions. That may make a mockery of all those tasting sessions and festivals, but I have found it to be almost unequivocally true that whisky ‘opens up’ after the bottle has been open for an indeterminate amount of time. It can be months or merely weeks, but whatever it is, it really seems to work.

So while I was able to accept the complexity of Lot 40 at first, it was a few weeks before the sharper edges appeared to mellow out to produce a far more rounded and balanced spirit. All the negative elements I described previously… were still there, but they had actually begun to add to the experience, and make their contribution to Lot 40 deffo being my number one Canadian whisky. But how long would it last?

As the bottle approached the bottom, it was time for a direct comparison with another Canadian rye that I picked up on our last trip there, Highwood Distillers’ Centennial Limited Edition.

So what have we got here then?

The Centennial comes in a really tall bottle with a utilitarian black label. It is bottled at 40% and comes replete with a story about the master distiller being set a challenge and deciding to use only winter wheat or something. I forget now, I found it quite boring. I do wish distillers would give a bit more information about their product, but sometimes it’s like they’re merely pretending to give information like, tell my why? What was it supposed to achieve? Why is it interesting?

It is supposed to be a limited edition, but there’s no information as to why or how many bottles were produced, or anything really. Limited edition, limited information.

Highwood Centennial in the glass
For the appraisal of the Centennial, let me refer you now to some notes that I made.


Lacks any kind of sweetness or sharpness, leaving me with the impression of dust and tissues. Uninteresting on entry, though growing in confidence the longer you hold it on your tongue.

And that’s about all I got? Seriously, over the course of a whole bottle, I was left with very little impression at all. If we are talking direct comparison, the Lot 40 comes out well on top. I’m not saying there was anything bad about the Centennial, I just think that, like the “story” of its creation, for a “limited edition” it is singularly uninteresting.

Let us leave the Centennial behind then, and consider the place of Lot 40 in the wider context of whisky in general. There is of course good and… not so good… in all styles and categories, so it is unfair to say single malt is better or blended scotch is worse – nothwithstanding that I haven’t tried them all yet.

Where does it fit though? Well, it is the best Canadian whisky I’ve tried so far and it is probably the most expensive though it is still cheaper than most single malt scotch at the lower end of the price spectrum. Is it better than them? It is obviously dependant on personal taste – it’s better than some, but in my opinion is it is still bested by such entry level products as Glenfiddich 12, Strathisla 12, Balvenie 12 Double Wood, Talisker 10, Glenfarclas 10, Laphroaig 10, Highland Park 12, Glenmorangie Original  and Caol Ila 12. It is preferable to Glenlivet 12, Jura and Jura Superstition and Glen Garioch Founder’s Reserve.

If you compare it to blended scotch, it tends to fare a bit better. I would say it is superior to Whyte & MacKay Special, Grant’s Family Reserve, Cutty Sark, Dewar’s 12, Grouses Black and Famous and all the supermarket varieties except Asda’s McKendrick’s. Jim McEwan’s Symphony, Ballantine’s, White Horse, and Grant’s Sherry Cask are all preferable. I only haven’t mentioned Bell’s, Teacher’s and other basic blends here because it has been a long time since I have tried them and don’t know myself where they fit in at present.

It would be nice to be able to give you some idea of how it compares with various brands of bourbon, but I have even fewer terms of reference in that regard at this point. Hopefully that will change soon, pending the results of my recent holiday in Florida… but as ever, that is for another time.

Time for a conclusion I suppose. Lot 40 is reasonably priced for those of us who are accustomed to UK liquor prices, though if you’re in Canada you might be used to getting slightly more for your dollar. That said, I’m going to advise you that it is worth a punt – to us Brits who might be interested in expanding our horizons, to Canadians who might like a homegrown product that gives the impression a little more care has gone into it, and to anyone else that’s curious about whisky. Give it as go and let me know what you think.


And that’s me for this week. The weekend comes early as I have tomorrow booked off for a trip to Alton Towers. That means I might be having a scotch tasting four-way this evening. And then – it’s a good weekend for me, this – there’s a big poker night on Saturday and I’ll be breaking out a couple of bourbons and an absinthe, so if I was to say I wasn't excited, you know I'd be lying.

I'm going to have a good one, I hope you do too. I'll see you next week.