Masterson’s Straight Barley Whiskey (46% alc/vol)
Slippery and sweet with earthy herbal turns that range from freshly ploughed fields through dusty straw, cooked corn cobs, fennel, cilantro, and dill. Hot white pepper accents sour green apples with herbs de Provence. Vague cinnamon and ginger trickle onto hot eggy crème brulée. Creamy oatmeal fades into a faint cereal sweetness. Very unusual. ★★★★★If Masterson’s Straight Rye is any indication, the people at 35 Maple Street are masters of niche marketing. They know how to identify unserved premium markets and fill that gap. Also known as The Other Guys this highly successful firm of winemakers is a spin-off from California’s long established Sebastiani wine family.Wine is still their core business, and now they are supplementing this with ultra-premium spirits, including Bourbon, gin and Masterson’s Canadian whisky.Released two years ago, their Canadian rye was a huge hit with consumers and critics alike. Now they have bottled two new Canadian whiskies for upscale whisky lovers. One of these is a luscious 100% wheat whisky. It’s simply wonderful.This review, though, introduces the other new Masterson’s and what is likely a first anywhere in recent times. This 12,800 bottle batch of whisky is made from 100% un-malted barley. That is a very unusual grain bill and the whisky itself is just as unusual with its emphasis on earthy notes, herbal essences and dustiness.That dustiness - some call it mustiness - is the flavour of barley that has been milled in a hammermill. Scottish distillers use roller mills that crush the grains, leaving the barley husk intact. In Canada, however, we use hammer mills which shatter the grain and its husk, releasing large amounts of the signature barley-husk favour. As part of a blend it adds corn cob-like flavours. By itself, it can be very powerful and quite unusual.Frankly, it’s a love-it-or-hate-it whisky and I love it. The dusty, almost musty wet hay notes will not please everyone though. But, like lapsang souchong, Laphroaig, cilantro or Roquefort, it is a taste worth acquiring. It is so rare in the whisky world to find a genuinely new tasting experience. Yet that is exactly what Masterson's Straight Barley Whiskey is, so savour it.Nose: Dusty, with sweet and sour sauce, delicate flowers and candy pastilles,Palate: Oily, almost greasy with red peanut skins, marzipan and white chocolate. A lusty earthiness is smattered with grain dust, corn cobs and wet hay. Strong herbal essences ride right through blistering hot pepper and sour citrus peel. This is a day spent pitching hay – do they do that anymore? – with the sweet scents of a feed store, green half-wet bales and dusty old straw. And then there is an almost barley-sugar-like sweetness energized by tingling pepper on your tongue. Floral essences return, woven into sweet estery acetone. Lots of substance. Complex, yes, and complicated too.Finish: Dry grass with a slight lingering mustiness and wet leaves. Earthy with lots of tingling pepper and very long lasting tones of wet hay.Empty Glass: Loaded with unusual, unfamiliar notes amidst fennel, oatmeal porridge, weetabix cereal, dry grain, hints of oak, sweet pipe tobacco, faint caramel, lime juice, and tomato sauce.This 100% pot distilled all unmalted barley whisky is one very unusual dram. Take some time and warm up to it.Very highly recommended ★★★★★$85.00 at New Brunswick Liquor Board, $100.00 at SAQ & LCBO. (coming soon)Masterson's Straight Rye Whiskey is reviewed here.Masterson's Straight Wheat Whisky is reviewed here.