Black Velvet Deluxe (40% alc./vol.)
Creamy caramel and hot pepper. Ripe dark fruit, citric zest, fresh-cut wood and hints of spirit. Mild rye spices – cloves, cinnamon, ginger. A bit understated. Spicy Rye. ★★★☆Alberta’s three distilleries could not be more different in their approaches to making whisky. Although they mash at least four different grains, Calgary’s Alberta Distillers, for example, focuses primarily on whisky made from rye grain since this is what grows in that part of Alberta. On the other hand, besides just a tiny bit of rye for flavouring, Highwood Distillers makes its whisky mainly from wheat, the grain that is most readily available where they are located in High River. But with barely an ear of dent corn grown within a thousand miles (1,600 km), Black Velvet Distillery still favours it, along with rye and a bit of barley malt, as the main component of its whiskies. Why? Tradition. That’s how distiller, John S. Napier, first formulated Black Velvet back in 1951 at the original plant in Toronto, Ontario.Most Canadian distilleries make more than one flavouring distillate, and Black Velvet is no exception, distilling one from a corn mash and a second from rye. What sets the Black Velvet line of whiskies apart, though, is how they are blended and aged. In a process they call “blending at birth” the Black Velvet blenders mix newly distilled base whisky with two-year-old corn flavouring whiskies and two-year-old rye flavouring whiskies. These are then put to age for three years in used bourbon barrels. The folks who make Black Velvet believe that this method creates a better marriage between the component whiskies. Apparently millions of drinkers around the world agree.A matter of appearancesAlthough mash bills and distilling practices tend not to change, most distillers find it beneficial to “refresh” their presentation from time to time. For years, in Canada and around the world too, Black Velvet was known for its black cylindrical packaging. Was the Black Velvet tube a marketing device to set Black Velvet apart, differentiating it from a sea of quality mixing whiskies? No, nothing quite so logical.As it happened, there was a time when the Manitoba government insisted that all whisky bottles were to be covered to protect sensitive eyes from the ghastly sight of the demon drink. Distillers, perhaps rolling their own eyes, dutifully complied by wrapping paper around their product before shipping it off to government liquor stores. But an unexpected rush order from the Manitoba Liquor Control Commission caught Toronto’s Black Velvet without its custom wrapping paper. However, the packaging department had easy access to a good supply of cardboard tubes. So the soon-to-become-iconic black tube was used to take its place. For years afterwards, Black Velvet sported a black cylinder, as it still does in the European market.Nose: A bit closed. Faint ripe fruit and dusty rye, with a hint of ginger ale, nutmeg and allspice, and dark rye bread comprise the first whiff. But Kraft caramel soon takes over, followed by more dark fruit, sweet fruit, oranges, apple juice, and, after a few minutes, butterscotch toffee, and Juicy Fruit™ gum. Acetone and vague hints of spirit make a brief appearance in the middle. Then, after a few more minutes, some fresh-cut wood emerges along with vague hints of pickles and dusty dry rye grain.Palate: The first sip brings creamy sweet caramel, hints of burnt sugar and instantly glowing hot pepper, rounded out by a slight fruitiness. The earthy quality of some ryes just barely pokes through along with suggestions of rubber – or is it ripe black fruit? Although not an overly fruity whisky, a slight citric zestiness keeps it fresh. Most of the whisky in the bottle is just three years old but the early arrival of fresh-sawn wood marks it as a decidedly Canadian whisky, as does a restrained oakiness throughout. Hot pepper is the keynote but this is tempered by undertones of cloves, ginger and cinnamon, balanced by toffee, with suggestions of dark fruit and lots of grapefruit zest.Finish: Medium and fading. Hot pepper, slightly citric and sweet, with some dark fruit and bitter lemon towards the end.Empty Glass: Flowers, wood, caramel sweet, vague hints of dry grain, rye, stale beer, very dusty.$23.00 at LCBO.Recommended. ★★★☆History of Black Velvet and its distilleries (Gilbey, Diageo/Valleyfield, Schenley, Palliser) here.Black Velvet 3 year old (US) reviewed here.Black Velvet Reserve 8 year old reviewed here.