In recent years, Canada has shed some of its lingering whisky stigmas. Historically speaking, Canada has been most commonly associated with some not-so-great blends. While the country has been producing high-quality whisky for decades, the world didn’t seem to notice until Crown Royal Northern Harvest Rye was named as the “world’s best whisky” in the 2016 edition of Jim Murray’s Whisky Bible. Flash forward to 2021 and another Canadian whisky — Alberta Premium Cask Strength Rye — was named as the “world’s best whisky” in the same publication.
This brings us to one of the most confusing aspects of Canadian whisky — the word “rye.” At some point, Canadian distillers began using rye in their mash bills to add a peppery element. This led to Canadian whisky being referred to as “rye whisky” even though all the expressions in question didn’t necessarily fit the criteria of American rye (>50% rye in the mash bill). Today, some drinkers still use “rye whisky” to refer to the spirit, regardless of the amount of rye included.
It’s confusing, to say the least. To make things even more tangled, there actually are a fair number of Canadian whiskies that fit the criteria of a classic rye whisky.
Part 1: The Taste
For this blind taste test, I picked eight of the most well-known Canadian rye whiskies and ranked them on flavor alone. As always, there were a few surprises. Here’s the lineup I settled on:
- Canadian Club 100% Rye
- J.P. Wiser’s Triple Barrel Rye
- Pendleton 1910 Rye
- Long Stock & Barrel 16
- Masterson’s 10 Year Straight Rye
- Lot No. 40 Rye
- Crown Royal Northern Harvest Rye
- Alberta Premium Cask Strength Rye
Let’s do this thing!
The nose is totally complex with scents of dried cherries, raisins, candied orange peels, caramel, and slight spice. When I sipped it, I found flavors of clove, cinnamon, toffee, vanilla beans, slight floral notes, and spicy rye at the end.
I really enjoyed this whisky for its complexity of flavors and lasting rye spice.
A lot is going on with this whisky’s nose. There are notable aromas of vanilla beans, sweet malts, and a nice wallop of spicy rye. From there, I got flavors of butterscotch, oak, dried fruits, and more white pepper. The finish is clean and perfectly spicy.
The nose is a bit light. Maybe I expect too much from a rye whisky, but all I noticed were scents of oak, cinnamon, and just a hint of vanilla. No pepper to be found. The palate featured flavors of brown sugar, more oak, and toasted vanilla beans. The finish is all cracked black pepper.
The nose is surprisingly bland for a rye whisky. There’s a hint of vanilla and oak, but not much else. Sipping it revealed some butterscotch and more vanilla, and a pretty bold kick of peppery rye.
This is definitely a whisky for fans of peppery rye as it’s definitely center stage.
The nose is filled with aromas of caramel corn, vanilla beans, pipe tobacco, candied pecans, and a slight hint of pepper. The palate reveals hints of sweet honey, chocolate fudge, butterscotch, cooking spices, and a nice spicy, peppery kick at the very close.
The first aromas I noticed were mint, caramel, dried cherries, and sweet grains. Sipping it revealed slight oak, buttery caramel, dried fruits, and a very slight hint of cracked black pepper at the very end.
It’s complex, well-balanced, and mellow.
The nose was so fragrant I had to go back multiple times to find dried fruits, honey, buttercream frosting, fresh mint, and a spicy backbone. Drinking it, I found flavors of maple candy, almond cookies, butterscotch, and nice, gentle, peppery rye spice.
This is an exciting whisky that will require multiple samplings.
Now, this is a spicy nose. I noticed scents of cloves, cinnamon, cracked black pepper, caramel, and dried fruits. Sipping it brought out fruity flavors, raisins, buttery caramel, vanilla, and a nice finish of sweet fruits and slight-peppery rye.
Part 2: The Ranking
Things get wild and wacky when you do a blind taste test. This, in particular, is why I consider them to be the best possible way to rank whisky.
8) Canadian Club 100% Rye (Taste 4)
Average Price: $20
Canadian Club is most known to modern drinkers as the whisky Don Draper enjoyed on Mad Men. This expression from the well-known brand definitely isn’t the same one enjoyed by the ad man. Made with a mash bill of 100% rye grown in Alberta, this is spicy, peppery whisky for fans of super-bold, rye-based whiskies.
This is a fairly aggressive whisky. While there are notes of sweet vanilla and buttery caramel, the spicy, cracked black pepper flavor takes center stage — I wish it was slightly more well-balanced.
7) Crown Royal Northern Harvest Rye (Taste 3)
Average Price: $32
Crown Royal is well-known for its high-quality blended whiskies. Its award-winning Northern Harvest Rye is a blend made with 90% rye grain. It’s well-known for its mix of spicy rye and gentles sweetness that make it well-suited for slow sipping or mixing into your favorite cocktails.
This whisky is reasonably well-balanced but actually lighter on the rye spice than I would have hoped. It’s definitely a good sipper though — especially if you’re not trying to get knocked out by black pepper.
6) Masterson’s 10 Year Straight Rye (Taste 6)
Average Price: $75
This straight rye whisky is made using a mash bill of 100% rye from the Pacific Northwest. This Calgary-produced whisky is aged for ten years in American oak barrels. The result is a nuanced, spicy, complex whisky that deserves to be sipped straight.
While it’s made in Canada, it’s bottled in California and really bridges the gap between the two whisky-loving nations.
Just like some of the other whiskies on this list, this isn’t a bad whisky. In fact, it’s a really good whisky. I just wish there was more of a kick of rye after touting a 100% rye mash bill. Try as I might, I can’t savvy out that gap.
5) Pendleton 1910 Rye (Taste 8)
Average Price: $39
Named to pay tribute to the year the first Pendleton Round-Up rodeo took place in Pendleton, Oregon, Pendleton 1910 is a 100% rye-based Canada-made whisky that’s aged for a minimum of twelve years in American oak casks. The result is a smooth, highly sippable, surprisingly low-priced dram.
This is truly a well-balanced whisky. It ticks all of the rye boxes. There’s a fruity sweetness, rich maltiness, and just the right amount of peppery rye. Still, it didn’t reach the heights of flavor that some of these next bottles hit.
4) J.P. Wiser’s Triple Barrel Rye (Taste 2)
Average Price: $25
Like Crown Royal, J.P. Wiser’s is known for its award-winning blended whiskies. One of its best is its Triple Barrel Rye. Made from whiskies aged in first-fill bourbon, used oak, and virgin oak barrels, it’s rich, mellow, and known for its sweetness to spice ratio as well as its low price.
This is a great rye for sipping and mixing. It’s well balanced with caramel and vanilla notes that pair well with peppery rye. Well-suited for a Manhattan or another classic cocktail.
3) Alberta Premium Cask Strength Rye (Taste 7)
Average Price: $79.99
Before last year, many drinkers probably hadn’t ever heard of Alberta Premium Cask Strength Rye. The world learned of this whisky and reveled in its 100% rye mash bill, crazy high proof, and multi-dimensional aroma and palate.
This is the kind of whisky that needs multiple samplings to truly appreciate. I feel like I missed some of the aromas and flavors in the midst of a blind test and I’m excited to return to it at a later date.
2) Lock Stock & Barrel 13-Year-Old Rye (Taste 5)
Average Price: $129
Another Canadian whisky that’s sold as an American product, Lock Stock & Barrel 13-Year-Old Rye is made from 100% rye before being aged for thirteen years in American oak barrels. This award-winning whisky might be a little pricy, but it’s definitely worth it with its bold rye flavor.
This is definitely an older whisky. The flavors meld together so well you’ll want to enjoy the buttery caramel and spicy rye notes neat or on the rocks only.
1) Lot No. 40 Rye (Taste 1)
Average Price: $39
Lot No. 40 Rye is one of the most well-known rye whiskies in the world. This 100% rye-based whisky is distilled using traditional copper pot stills. It’s made in small batches and is known for its rich, highly complex, extremely sippable flavor.
As I went down this list, I found myriad well-balanced, complex expressions. In my opinion, this is by far the best of the bunch. If I could only drink one whisky on this list, it would be this one.
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