Wiser’s 18 years old, aka Wiser’s Very Old (40% alc./vol.)
Wood, wood, wood, but ever so complex with hot pepper, baking spices, butterscotch, vanilla, rye grain, tobacco, cigar box, sour-dough, and dried baking fruits ending in a citric zestiness. Rich & Oaky. ★★★★★Wiser’s are without doubt some of the finest whiskies made, anywhere. Does it matter that Wiser’s is now on its third distillery? Not at all. This is Canada and as long as the distillers remain true to their recipes and distilling practices great whisky can be made in any number of distilleries. That’s one of the benefits of dividing the spirit into its components, leaving them to draw flavours in from the wood, and then re-blending them to an exact formula. Not that this is a science. No, blending whisky is an art and nowhere is this art more evident than at Wiser’s.In any case, Wiser’s original distillery in Prescott, Ontario, is gone without a trace. The Wiser family home, later converted to a retirement lodge, also is no more. The radiant stained glass windows that renowned Prescott glass artist, Harry Horwood, made for J. P. Wiser’s home are now on display at Upper Canada Village in Morrisburg, Ontario. Operations in Corbyville, Ontario, at first rejuvenated with the arrival of the Wiser’s brands, have now been consolidated at the Hiram Walker distillery in Windsor. No matter. Indeed, Wiser’s is one of just a handful of brands at the zenith of Canadian whiskydom; fitting it should now be made in Canada’s oldest operating distillery.Nose: A complex nose in which many nuances peek out from under a veil of woody cigar box, pencil shavings, and fresh-sawn lumber. Abundant rye grain and rye spices are nuanced by hints of toffee, lime peel, and some sour-dough rye notes. This is the traditional, hard, crisp, peppery rye that Canadian whisky is famous for. As your nose becomes accustomed to the rich oakiness, new complexities make their presence known, among them suggestions of vanilla and both sharp and soft fruits: kiwis and prunes.This whisky takes you to two very different places at once. Its dry grass, fresh water, and vague hints of pine recall a fall day on the Canadian Shield. But then its leathery redolence of burley tobacco leaves brings to mind the late-August aromas of the kilns in Tilsonburg, Ontario. A sharp, dry pungency—glue stick—predicts tannins on the palate, and from start to finish it’s oak, oak, oak.Palate: Initial notes of burnt toffee, butterscotch, pepper, and hot spices are quickly overtaken by fresh-cut lumber and pulling oak tannins. The whisky warms your throat while a sweet, teasing fruitiness introduces hot, spicy, rye grain notes and an underlying citric bitterness. Very tasty indeed.From start to finish, fragrant wood really dominates but is balanced by an ever-present white pepper with all kinds of flavour combinations coming and going. It’s a very complex whisky and very active. Sweet vanilla, barley sugar, a hint of salt, pepper, and hot zesty spices engage the palate in the middle. A rye fruitiness with sweet dried baking fruits is eventually overtaken by torrents of hot ginger, peppery heat, and that typical Canadian cleansing bitter zest. As the tannins settle down they provide counterpoint to a rich and creamy mouthfeel. Simply spectacular.Finish: This is a whisky that starts full speed ahead but after the last swallow, it’s in no hurry to depart. Hot, peppery notes with some early citric zest give way to oaky tannins which then fade into a restrained sweetness. The rye grain barely whispers its generic fruitiness and there is a cinnamon-like feel but without the cinnamon flavour. The rich oakiness remains right to the end with a warming spiciness before a final return to a citric bittersweetness that is utterly ambrosial.Empty Glass: Fresh-cut wood with slight butterscotch toffee notes, somewhat sour, and vaguely fruity.It’s a complete puzzle that more Wiser’s whiskies are not exported abroad. Sukhinder Singh at London’s The Whisky Exchange, named Whisky Magazine’s Online Retailer of the Year at the 2010 Icons of Whisky dinner in February, has no Wiser’s whiskies on his shelves. Singh told me recently that he could sell as much Wiser’s whisky as he could lay his hands on, but he just can’t get it in England. And that’s good news for us whisky lovers here in Canada where there’s more than enough to go round. That is, as long as the folks in Wiser’s head office don’t catch on.$50.00 at LCBO.Very highly recommended★★★★★A new Wiser's Legacy whisky review posted here April 30, 2011 to mark the 100th anniversary of the death of J. P. Wiser.Wiser's Red Letter 150th Anniversary Edition is reviewed here.Wiser's Red Letter 2013 Release is reviewed here.Wiser's Legacy is introduced here.Wiser's Small Batch is reviewed here.