Friday, August 9, 2013

Canadian and Irish Whisky Fans:

Stop writing me to tell me that I just don't understand Canadian and Irish. I do. These are different styles to the Scotch, bourbon and rye that I most enjoy. The problem is that so many that are sold in America are not different but inferior, and the only reason that many people think otherwise is that add-supported softball review blogs say otherwise. Here is my case:

I love all well-distilled whiskies, whether they be from Japan or Kentucky, and made out of rye, corn or barley. The best examples show craft in distillation that displays the true flavor of the grain, as well as in aging that displays the depth of secondary flavors that aging in wood can bring. This is almost guaranteed in "straight" American whiskey, due to legal limits on distillation and entry proof, as well as the mandate to age in fresh barrels. Single malts similarly have pretty stringent parameters that dictate at least some minimal quality. However, the regulations on Irish and Canadian are less stringent, and so companies that would like to make more profit have used the following maneuvers that uncritical fans have accepted as "the style," such

  • Large proportions of relatively flavorless, but cheap high proof grain whisky = less or off-putting flavor
  • Terribly re-used, but cheap oak = makes the age statements nearly meaningless, especially in cold climates, ending very little barrel character or age notes
  • Low ABV, because water is cheap = less flavor

What these all have in common are that they are cost-saving measures, not "part of the style." I say there are very nice Irish and Canadian whiskies, but almost to a one the better they are, the more likely they are use more malt (or rye/corn if Canadian), fresher barrels and to be presented at higher proof.

The issue, for me, is that these good ones are hard to find and expensive in the Northeast US, whereas the cheap ones cannot usually compete with straight American whiskey which has no neutral spirits, or caramel color. Many good, cheap options are also to be had at reasonable proof.

An exception to this would be the Alberta-sourced Jefferson's 10 year rye which is $35, new oak, 94 proof and 100% rye: more like this is what distillers could do in Canada. In Ireland, more single malts or pure pot still whiskies (Redbreast, Green Spot) , or at least more reasonable blending (Middleton).

Shitty Canadian or Irish whiskeys would be acceptable if they were at least cheap, but as it stands, the US market is full of over-marketed, whisky-flavored vodka. I think that buying a 750ml bottle of Jameson is like buying 250ml of decent whisky and 250 each of Everclear and water. But rather than being angry about this, consumers have become so convinced by advertising above urinals that they actually defend the stuff and send me hatemail.

Anyway, as I responded to a recent commenter, you can all rest easy: as I buy all the whisky for this blog myself, and work pretty hard to make it, I'll not be spending any of it on this stuff in the forseeable future.

On to more positive thougts and reviews: I have some Wild Turkey American Spirit, Talisker DE/10/18, and Hirsch 25 rye open, so I think we should have some pleasant reviews coming.


  1. Hey Ryan. I have been a follower of your blog for quite a few months and would like to take the time to let you know that you are a terrible snob and I will no longer support and share your posts in due to this sole post. I always appreciated reading your opinion in the past, be it in agreement or not, I respected it. However this post shows a piece of character that is unacceptable as a professional blogger and networker and is the last time I visit this page. Hopefully you will be enough of a man not to delete this post and perhaps find a way to take in negative criticism to help you in the future.

    1. Of course i will not delete this, but I have to disagree: if I were a snob I would look down, on or think less of, people who like certain, especially inexpensive things.

      No where did I say this, and hope I did not imply it; I'll happily throw back a Jameson with friends who like it and enjoy myself, but if pressed to comment on the whisky, I would say it is overpriced. It is more that I am critical of a number of producers who I think are selling inferior product at high prices, and who spend more on marketing than cooperage and aging.

      Anyway, I'm sorry to lose you as a reader, but I have to stand by my point that, preferences aside, the vast majority of US-available Irish and Canadians are really not as well made by any objective standard as similarly priced American, Japanese or Scotch.

      I would like to thank you for joining the discussion, but I think that your resorting to name-calling has really left me unable to.

  2. That's unfortunate that you feel that way Alex. Everything that Ryan said is true. Whiskies that are not "straight", and are therefore adulterated in some way, are considered inferior to a "straight" and pure whiskey. This is common knowledge in the Bourbon/Rye world.

    The alternative is sort of like getting a nice bottle of wine, adding 1/3 more water to it, and another 1/3 Welch's grape juice, and saying that it's just a different style of wine that Ryan hasn't acquired a taste for.

  3. Hey Ryan,

    Did I miss something? Since when did someone have beef with you or your writings, reviews, opinions, etc.
    I agree with 100% of everything you said about Irish and Canadian whiskeys.

    My #1 rule when purchases whiskey is it has to be 86 proof or higher. (with certain exceptions *cough*)
    So by defacto, most Irish and Canadian whiskeys will be eliminated from my purchasing.
    If this makes me a snob, so be it. The sad truth is there are SO many whiskeys out there and so little time (and money).
    It doesn’t hurt to be a little selective. It’s ok to have morals and rules to live by.
    I want to live in a world where all my whiskey is at least 86 proof.
    Until that happens I will spend my time/money where my morals are. Nothing less than 86.

    In addition, the price is also a huge factor as well.

    I commend you for even reviewing the occasional Irish / Canadian whiskey.
    You are doing the whiskey blog world a huge information service by taking on the occasional Irish / Canadian whiskey.
    Knowledge is power.

    As always, keep up the good work.

    1. Thanks, Nick. Actually, I think I was being bothered and oversensitive about the comment by Alex above, coming after a few rather similar comments about the Jameson Black Barrel. I like to occasionally editorialize in any case, to break up the reviews.

      Anyway, I hate to make a hard and fast rule, but I think your 86 proof one is pretty reasonable. I found the Balvenie 21 pretty nice, but can not think of another sub 43% whiskey from any country that I truly enjoyed. Funny what a 3% difference makes.

      Thanks for reading!

  4. Hey Ryan,

    Obviously rules are meant to be broken. I will allow myself to purchase deviate from my self-imposed guideline only on the rarest occasions.

    For an experiment, go into a quality liqueur store looking to buy something new that you’ve never tried before.
    Serious consider buying it until you get to the fine print and see 80 proof and then put it back and buy something else.
    There are hundreds of bottles that I want to try & buy but they are all 80 proof. With that said there are thousands of spirits that DO meet my criteria so I will buy them.

    There are whole sections of the spirit community that are largely 80 proof. Irish and Canadian whiskeys are largely 80 proof. Blended scotch whiskey is largely 80 proof. A lot of single malts are 80 proof. A lot of ryes are at 80 proof. Some micro-distilleries and NPD are 80 proof. It's all about money. If these companies were allowed to sell it at 70 proof (and still meet the current criteria) don't you think alot of them would "dumb" it down to 70?

    Proof makes all the difference.

    With that said, no one is stopping you from buying 80 proof.

    Anyways, debates are healthy and encouraged in the Whiskey World.

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