I've got two somewhat unusual bottles of whisky on my kitchen table right now (that's actually my dining room table in the picture, but...): Wiser's Very Old Canadian 18 Year Old and The Antiquary 21 Years Old Superior Deluxe Scotch Whisky. The Wiser's I got at Duty Free in Niagara Falls on the way back from Steve Beaumont's wedding celebration back in August; the Antiquary was a Christmas gift (a very nice one) from John and Amy Hansell at Malt Advocate. The Antiquary was our Blended Scotch of the Year award winner for last year, and I'd been quite taken with it when we were doing tastings for the award...so John found a bottle for me. Like I said: very nice.
Anyway, these aren't whiskies you see every day. The availability of Wiser's in the States is quite erratic, but I get an e-mail every month or so asking me if I know where to buy it in the U.S. (hint: I got my bottle at Ontario Duty Free...), more than any other whisky or beer. That's why I wanted to get a bottle, because I only ever tasted the Wiser's Very Old once, a small sample amidst 8 other Canadians, and I wanted to get a clear judgment and memory of it. The Antiquary just isn't that common, and the idea of a 21 Year Old blended Scotch whisky that costs around $100 a bottle is an anomaly to most people, even scotch drinkers. So I thought I'd tee them up and take a swing.
The Canadian first, to be fair (Canadian's generally a smoother, lighter whisky, and I know The Antiquary has some peat to it). As you can see, it's fairly dark...but with Canadians, that's not necessarily significant. Canadian whisky is blended, and can be blended with a variety of liquids, including fortified wines, like port, so...color is not necessarily indicative of age. The nose is Canadian: sweet, oatmeal grainy, a hint of cookie, and just a slight whiff of sesame oil. It's oaky in the mouth, and not nearly as sweet as promised by the nose; there's spice, a dry cocoa sweetness, some light vanilla rounding a nip of char, and... Could that actually be rye? I think so, and that's a great thing to taste in a Canadian. There is some heat high in the back of my mouth, but it's not completely unwelcome. There is also a slightly medicinal taste, but again...not completely a bad thing. Very sippable as a neat dram, which is great for a Canadian. I suspect this would be a good mixer in a highball or "long drink." Not sure if it's really worth the C$44 price for me -- I'd likely buy another bottle of Evan Williams Single Barrel instead -- but it's head and shoulders above most Canadian whisky.
Now, The Antiquary. As John said in his review, expect to find a fair amount of Tomatin in this blend: they own it. Also dark, and in a 21 year old Scotch whisky, that actually means something (that it's aged...or they used some spirit caramel!). It smells summery, even at this age, like sun-warmed fields, with a whiff of peat floating in from down the valley. There's clean malt coming in as well. A soothing, promising smell. And the follow-through in the mouth is just terrific. Imagine a nice Speyside, with a gentle but firm malt base, marrying something like a Talisker to get just a certain amount of peat. It just rolls around, full on the palate but drying on the finish, not too big in any direction, reminiscent of Highland Park in its ability to ring all the bells. A wonderful dram at any time. Merry Christmas, Mister Bryson. Thanks, John and Amy!