Monday, October 14, 2013

Canada Week Part I: Masterson's Barley and Wheat Whiskeys

It's been a while since I took a serious look at Canadian Whiskey, and there is a growing number of whiskeys coming out of the Great White North these days, so grab a bag of milk and some poutine, it's Canada week!

Last year, I reviewed Masterson's Rye from 35 Maple, a Sonoma, California company that bottled a ten year old Canadian rye whiskey, similar to those from WhistlePig and Jefferson's Rye.  It was very good stuff.

Now Masterson's has two new Canadian Whiskeys on the market, a straight barley and a straight wheat whiskey.  Presumably, as with the rye, these were originally intended to be components of a Canadian blend until 35 Maple purchased them and bottled them as straight whiskeys. While their rye was composed of 100% rye, there is no information about the mashbill of these whiskeys, so we don't know if they include other grains as well.

Masterson's 12 year old Straight Wheat Whiskey, Batch 001, 50% abv ($65)

As you can see from the picture, the wheat whiskey (on the right) is much lighter in color than the barley. The nose is alcoholy with a distinct sesame oil note.  The palate is light and sweet without much discernible flavor other than a touch of milk chocolate and a medicinal note toward the end with just a touch of graniness underneath it.  The finish is pretty much nonexistent.  There is very little substance to this; it reminds me of some of the not very good Scotch grain whiskeys I've had.  If the Masterson's Rye came from the flavor grain elements that they use in Canadian blends, I'm wondering if this is one of the base whiskeys they add to round the blends out.

Just for kicks, I did a side by side tasting of this and Heaven Hill's Bernheim Wheat Whiskey. The Bernheim had a depth of flavor, richness and balance that was totally lacking in the Masterson's.  Between the two, my guess is that the Masterson's has a lower proportion of corn (if any) in the mashbill.  Plain wheat is just not that flavorful.

Based on both flavor and color of Masterson's Wheat, it would surprise me if it was aged in new charred oak for 12 years.  Aging in new charred oak is a requirement for wheat whiskey in the US, and given that this is labeled "straight wheat whiskey" and not "Canadian Whisky," I would think that it would have to comply with that requirement, but you never know what exceptions the TTB will make.

Masterson's 10 year old Straight Barley Whiskey, Batch 001, 46% abv ($65)

The nose on this is very nice with fruit and spice as well as some strong floral notes.  On the palate, it's light and fruity in a pleasant way but also has the raw wood notes that are common in younger craft whiskeys (think Hudson Malt Whiskey).  The finish is mostly medicinal.  This is certainly better than the wheat whiskey, and it's not offensive, but it's not good either.

These whiskeys are a real let down after the very good Masterson's Rye.  The wheat whiskey is pretty bad. The barley is okay but nothing I'd recommend.   Selling either of these poor to mediocre whiskeys for $65 a bottle is downright scandalous! 


Anonymous said...

AFAIK, straight whisky must be aged in new charred oak, but not necessarily exclusively. They could have been aged in new oak for 2 or 3 years, and then recasked into a different barrel.

sku said...

Anon, that's true, though usually the TTB requires that they list on the label if the whiskey was transferred to a different barrel (as in Angel's Envy) and of course this was most likely originally intended to be used in a Canadian blend so it's not as if they would have been thinking about compliance with American whiskey regs.

WTK said...

So once again we have a non-distiller, "craft" spirits company dredging up whatever juice they can find, putting it in a nice bottle with an inspiring label, and pitching it as the next great thing. More evidence of the end days of this whisky cycle I suppose. Thanks for warning us off Sku.

T Comp said...

Talk about taking one for the team! My family thanks you.

Justin said...

I have tried both of these and completely agree with Sku on the wheat. It had extremely little complexity or character for a ten year old whisky. I diverge in opinion though on the barley. I thought it was interesting and well done. As for price? Hard to argue that both are overpriced for their respective quality. But I liked the barley enough to want a bottle of my own when it becomes available here in my home state of "denial".

sam k said...

Just saw Davin's Canadian Whisky site, where he gives the barley version five stars, though he does say it's a love-it-or-hate-it whiskey.

Why, why do you feel the need to hate whiskey, Sku?

sku said...

To each his own, but these are not ones I feel likely to be out on a limb on.