JP Wiser's Hopped Whisky (40%)
Fragrant aromas of burlap, sweet fall flowers and dry brown hay lead into burnt caramel, searing spices and ripe orchard fruits. A long juicy finish with a slight bitterness, hints of IPA hops and citrus pith. ★★★★☆An innovative new whisky that is showing up on LCBO shelves across Ontario is exactly what the label suggests – Wiser’s whisky made with a whiff of hops. Not the bitter hops of IPA beer, but aromatic, floral, herbal, nutty hops that entwine in perfect balance with similar qualities in the whisky.This is not the first whisky ever made with hops. From time to time, early distillers in Canada and the US would use hops to improve sanitation in their fermenters. Hops have natural antiseptic qualities. It's the flavour though, that today's distillers are after.Although Wiser’s Hopped is bottled at 40%, its robust flavours will have you looking at the label to make sure. It tastes a lot bigger than that. And if the current craze for heavily hopped beers has given you ideas of what hopped whisky should taste like, get ready to be pleasantly surprised. The powerful bitter notes I had anticipated are held well in check by strong just-burnt caramels and a hearty deluge of hot spices.The sweet caramels that cushion the jolting blow of those spices leave ample breathing room for a broad range of fruity flowery fragrances. Hints of milk chocolate on the nose linger right into the finish along with searing hot spices and soothing caramel. A base of new canvas or burlap gunny sacks knits it all together.Over the past few years several small US distillers have added hops to their processes to bring new flavours to their whiskies. Tennessee’s Corsair distillery, New Holland Brewing, in Michigan and California’s Charbay have each released hopped whiskies to critical acclaim and commercial success. Quantities though, are very limited and accordingly, they come at premium prices. Now, Dr. Don Livermore, the master blender in North America’s largest beverage alcohol distillery has turned his hand to hops. The result is a whisky that is accessible both to the palate and the pocketbook.With two degrees in brewing and distilling, the first a master’s, the second a PhD., Dr. Don is considered one of the leading whisky scientists in the world. He knows his enzymes from his esters. First and foremost, though, Dr. Don is a consummate craftsman. No one brings more craft to the whisky table than Dr. Don. So, when he set out to make hopped whisky, he didn’t simply throw some hops in the mash, hoping that through trial and error he would eventually find the best approach. Instead, he studied the flavours and their nuances, then decided to approach hops differently than most distillers do.Massive hops flavours are all the rage these days for making beer. Brewers making Pale Ales and India Pale Ales (IPA) especially, use hops to add intense bitterness, flavour and aroma. Depending on when in the brewing process the hops are added makes a big difference. The earlier in the process, the more bitterness they contribute. Floral, herbal and grassy notes tend to boil away fairly quickly.Brewers who want bitter beer add the hops early on, while those looking for more complex character wait until later in the process. Some, who want to introduce the sweetest and broadest flavours and aromas from their hops use a process called “dry hopping,” where the hops are added after the beer has cooled. This is Dr. Don’s approach. By adding hops late in the process he eliminates almost all of the bitterness while bolstering Wiser’s characteristic floral sweetness and herbal notes.Wiser’s Hopped is an after-dinner sipping whisky, a mixing whisky for highballs by the pool, and it brings extra depth to Manhattans and summery fragrances to a whisky sour.Highly recommended. ★★★★☆$28.95 at LCBO.