Caribou Crossing Single Barrel (40% alc./vol. (80 proof))
Creamy vanilla, a dusting of rye spices, bursts of citrus and a veritable tsunami of fresh-cut wood. Soft Corn. ★★★★★Caribou Crossing is the first single-barrel Canadian Whisky produced by a major whisky company since the 19th century. That was the time when people would arrive at Canadian distilleries with jugs to be filled straight from the barrel. The now infamous Bush Pilot’s, from the late 1990s, was also bottled one barrel at a time, a fact that contributed to its legendary status among the whisky cognoscenti. Caribou Crossing Single Barrel, from the Sazerac Company/Buffalo Trace, now advances this concept further, drawing its very best whisky from an inventory of over 200,000 barrels produced for it by several prominent Canadian distilleries.For Caribou Crossing, Sazerac’s Master Blender Drew Mayville selected the most mature and flavour-rich of these barrels and oversaw the bottling of each individual barrel. Each barrel has its own unique subtleties so identifying each barrel with a number on the package would help whisky lovers find bottles from different barrels and be able to compare them. Since this is single-barrel bottling, there are no laser codes on the bottle to help the more obsessive find different batches.“Our goal was to put forth the highest-quality whisky available and to give consumers a new way to look at Canadian Whisky,” Mayville said when he introduced Caribou Crossing earlier this year. “We are very proud of the end result and hope these new products will foster a greater appreciation among consumers for what Canadian whisky can be.” If market acceptance is any indication, Mayville seems to have achieved his goal quite nicely. Not only has Caribou Crossing won accolades from prominent whisky writers, it has sold well enough that a second batch was soon required to replenish empty shelves.Speaking at Tales of the Cocktail in New Orleans, Sazerac’s home town, earlier this year, Mayville said that he wanted to use Caribou Crossing and another new Sazerac whisky, Royal Canadian Small Batch, to re-define the Canadian whisky category. That may be a little bit hopeful, given the large number of other high quality connoisseur whiskies coming out of Canadian distilleries these days. Even so, Caribou Crossing certainly raises the bar for current U.S. releases. Mayville has promised to keep the momentum going with more new and exciting Canadian whisky expressions. OK, Mr. Mayville, that’s a promise; we’ll hold you to it.Nose: Rich rye spices, vanilla, and butterscotch with lots of dark fruit. Stewed prunes and a hint of spirit. Elements of Cognac.Palate: Soft, creamy corn, with prunes, spice, and citric pith. Hot pepper, and just a touch of rye spices complement a bitter citric middle. Refreshing citric notes abound, though the palate stays creamy throughout. Slight hints of clean oak on first tasting simply tease the tongue, but soon fresh-cut wood and tantalizing red cedar envelope the palate. The influence of corn is obvious here in the smooth robust body, but rye notes poke through also with their fruitiness, together with that rye-specific essence of fresh-water plants. What starts out as a “nice” palate becomes more and more interesting as pleasing tannins, peppery spices, and ripe red fruits slowly emerge from the vanilla creaminess.With single barrel whisky the balance won’t always be perfect, and here the creaminess slightly swamps some of those scrumptious oaky notes. Still, it’s spectacular whisky. That untamed quality—and the fact that there will never be another one exactly like it—are two of the main attractions of single barrel whisky. An experienced blender’s hand might have given a bit more definition to this whisky, but then it wouldn’t be single barrel whisky, would it?Finish: Medium. Some tasty woody notes come out after a few minutes, but there is not much spice and no pepper until the end when it joins the tannic oak in a dry and spicy crescendo.Empty Glass: Surprisingly little, but for hints of caramel and fresh-sawn lumber.Very Highly Recommended. ★★★★★Caribou Crossing is not yet available in Canada, but the folks at the Sazerac Company teasingly advise Canadian whisky lovers “to wait and see.” $50.00 at liquor stores across the U.S.Royal Canadian Small Batch review here.