Yeah, yeah: the immediate association with Canadian whisky is extremely light, inoffensive stuff designed to roll over in a cocktail like an obedient terrier. That's not everything the nation's hooch has to offer, though.
As a case in point: we have what may be not just one of my favorite Canadian whiskies, but one of my favorite whiskies, period: Lot 40. In truth, I picked up the bottle purely because of the hype surrounding it. It regularly tops "best of" lists and won the 2015 Canadian Whisky Awards in a blind test.
Granted, Lot 40 winning a Canadian Whisky award sounds a bit like a Civic winning an award for "Best Honda," but the blind test gives it some solid street cred in being top among (by my count) at least 58 other bottles to earn medals. And the judges asked to participate include a lot of reviewers who I know taste a ton of stuff and can be trusted to sort good from bad.
I'd heard about Lot 40 simply from internet buzz. Any topic I'd clicked on about Canadian whisky, there was at least one guy in there who vociferously hailed Lot 40 as the reigning champion of the category. Now, after gleefully buying my second bottle, I can say for sure that I've become one of those same dudes. I tell everyone I know about this who's willing to listen.
What bothers me about most ryes we make in the US is this: if you label something a "Rye Whiskey," it doesn't mean that it's all rye, just a majority—even if that majority is only 51% of the total mashbill. As a result, a lot of these "barely legal" ryes always taste to me like bourbon, since almost inevitably the second-most dominant grain is corn. But here with the Lot 40? It's 100% rye. Not only that, but the master distiller Don Livermore maxes out the production process to enhance the taste of the rye itself. With the Lot 40, you're actually getting a real rye that tastes like rye. It sounds like a common-sense description of what we should expect as consumers, but it's puzzling how rare such a thing actually is on store shelves when you start looking for it.
I think you'll taste the difference from the "barely legal" ryes from the very first sip. What hits you immediately is an utterly explosive spiciness that's almost like pop rocks going off in the mouth. There's cinnamon and clove from the rye and wood, followed by a development of milk chocolate. At times, the spirit throws off wisps of lemon grass, fennel, and coca-cola in a nice combo of sweet + herbal. It's all over the place in the best of ways, and it's that effervescence that keeps me coming back. Patient and conscientious tasters will be rewarded here for sure!
In the finish, the Lot 40 has the telltale sourdough nature of rye, but it's balanced out with some citrus oil and cayenne pepper that goes on and on. You never get the sense that this spirit is ever giving up at any point in time, and the spicy finish leads naturally back into the next sip. Before you know it, your bottle has a serious dent in it. The spirit is always firing on all cylinders, and it took me several, several tastes before I felt like I was confidently able to articulate everything I was experiencing.
So, the price: Lot 40 is bound to be (probably) the most expensive Canadian whisky on your shelf, but this is one of those cases where you can absolutely see where the money goes. In my opinion, it competes more than successfully with the gamut of 10 and 12-year single malt scotches in terms of giving you real craftsmanship and undeniable character. And for a lot of people chasing great tastes in spirits, I don't feel like $40 is too much of a hard sell.
With all that said, get this. If you've wanted to try an honest-to-god, no-bullshit, real-deal rye, I can't think of a better product to hurl your money at.