Bison Ridge Special Reserve 8 Year Old (40% alc/vol)
Buttery caramels offset refreshing bitters in an oaky, peppery, and weighty libation. Mouth warming, spicy and oh so smooooth. Simple and straight forward yet amply full-flavoured. ★★★★ Geo. Jet and I are Facebook friends. We met in 1998 on the now-silent MALTS-L discussion board. Not long after, I discovered his Canadian whisky site, a Yahoo group called “Beauty Eh?” It puzzled me to learn that Geo., a well-respected connoisseur and avid imbiber of the finest single malts, was such an enthusiastic fan of Canadian whisky. It turns out that when your palate is as refined as Geo.’s liquid in a glass holds sway over words on a label.When we met face-to-face in Las Vegas, Geo., and a number of his fellow “PLOWED Ringleaders,” sat in the midst of several hundred open bottles of the rarest and most sought-after Scotch single malt whisky, and extolled the virtues of Canadian Club Chairman’s Reserve, Canadian Masterpiece, Crown Royal XR, Lot No. 40, and their Holy Grail: Bush Pilot’s Private Reserve. With reverent affection they had dubbed that one “BPPR.”A couple of weeks ago a message from Geo. arrived in my Facebook mailbox. “I just found a new CW on the shelf at Binny's. It's called Bison Ridge Special Reserve 8yo, imported through Minnesota by Crosby Lake Spirits. You'll love the marketing mumbo jumbo about its "prohibition style blend". Yet another ploy to cash in on the popularity of Boardwalk Empire, I guess. It is actually a fairly decent whisky for the price, $20 USD. A decent enough hit of rye with bags of buttery vanilla and oaky notes with smooth rounded edges. Sort of like the Chardonnay of CW.” Well if Geo. liked it, I had to try it, and by George, once again he was right. Tara Gadzik from Crosby Lake Spirits Company was only too happy to oblige and a bottle was soon winging its way to my U.S. parcel service. Yes, it’s Canadian whisky, but Bison Ridge is not available at retail in Canada, nor any of the shops I frequent in Upstate New York.According to Crosby Lake’s promotional material “During Prohibition, a very limited stock of the finest aged whiskies was smuggled across the border to meet the demands of whisky connoisseurs in America. We are now introducing our select blend from the 1930s to consumers around the world who appreciate incredibly smooth whisky. Taste Bison Ridge and see why the wealthy citizens paid the bootleggers so handsomely to get their whisky!” Of course the stock market crash of 1929 put paid to the booming smuggling industry, but who’s to quibble over dates some eighty years later?“Our whisky comes from Canada,” Tara tells me, “and is aged for 8 years in American Oak. We’re very proud of its maturity as it dwells in a category that is led by products aged for only a fraction of that time. Our blend is an homage to the whiskies of the 1930s and has a smoother, more round taste.”Without question the whisky is smooth – very smooth – and that gorgeous, round mouthfeel is complemented by flavour galore. Not an overly complex whisky, Bison Ridge sticks to the basics and at $15 a bottle scores very well as an everyday drinking dram. Johanna Ngoh, executive producer (and founder) of the Spirit of Toronto whisky show has posed the question: “Do we really keep our best whiskies to ourselves?” Let’s take a sip and find out.Nose: Sweet caramel, hints of wet clay. Simple, yet rich and expressive.Palate: Sweet buttery caramel, hot pepper, and refreshing bitters with a hard rye edge. The bitters fade quickly leaving hints of clean oak to linger as the weighty whisky becomes very pleasantly mouth warming with a lovely slatey middle. Slowly, subtle rye spices permeate the pulsing pepper then fade away to nothingness.Finish: Medium. Citrus pith with hints of caramel.Empty Glass: Black licorice, caramel, maple syrup.This is not a Canadian whisky style found commonly in Canada. There is a corps of American drinkers who tend to favour sweet voluptuous whiskies – versatile whiskies that they can sip, shoot, or mix in a cocktail. The Canadian palate leans more towards crisp, clean wood and subtle vibrancy. Bison Ridge most certainly caters to the former.So do we keep our best whiskies in Canada for ourselves as Johanna wonders? Undeniably, we do have some pretty wonderful drams that never make it across the border. Still, America and the rest of the world also have scrumptious Canadian whiskies that we just can’t find on Canadian liquor store shelves. Bison Ridge Special Reserve fits this category to a T.★★★★Suggested retail price: $14.99 (U.S. only).