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Alberta Springs Canadian Whisky

Review: Alberta Springs Canadian Whisky (92/100)
a review by Chip Dykstra (Aka Arctic Wolf)
Posted on January 12, 2012

I tasted my first bottle of Alberta Springs in the fall of 1988 when I was gifted a bottle on my birthday. It came in a cool wooden box, and it proudly proclaimed its ‘Alberta’ heritage. It was also I believe, back in those days, a pure 100 % rye whisky. My love for rye whisky was cemented, and for years the Alberta Springs was my favourite whisky. Of course things may change over time, and in the early to mid 90s Alberta Distillers Limited (ADL) began to distill some corn as well as rye in the blend. They still blended to the same taste profile, but, when I look back at my whisky preferences, it was a remarkable coincidence that during this period of the brand’s development I fell out of love with the whisky. Whether it was my preferences which had changed, or whether it was the blending change, to me the whisky just wasn’t the same. Of course, when you are in love and then fall out of love the crash is hard to take. I began to avoid my beloved Alberta Springs and found other whiskies to take its place.

Twenty some years later when I began to write about whisky, one of the perks I received was a private tour of the ADL Distillery where I met Rick Murphy, the Production Superintendent. He explained the heritage of Alberta Springs to me, how it started as a pure rye whisky, and how economics dictated a move to rye and corn in the 90s. But, he also steadfastly maintained the whisky is currently (and has always been) very much a rye based whisky with a consistent taste profile. He then explained how his computerized dials and gauges in the distillery, and his quality assurance tasting panel, ensure that the flavour does not change as the mash bill may change slightly over time. He even made it clear to me that the Alberta Springs is one of his most favourite whiskies. (I think he was trying to tell me that I had better give the brand a second try.)

So I decided that it was time to reacquaint myself with a lost love. A whisky which 20 to 25 years ago was, bar none, the love of my whisky life, and one which I felt had jilted me for corn in the mid 90s. It is always dangerous to purposely seek out the one who has jilted you, but curiosity has gotten the best of me, and I wonder what I will find.

In the Bottle 4.5/5

As you can see I did not quite crop my photo quite correctly, but I believe it captures the Alberta Springs bottle presentation sufficiently well for me to talk about it. The cool wooden box is gone (a victim of economics), but the look of the whisky is still solid. The bottle is rectangular providing an ergonomic shape which is designed to allow more bottles to be packed into a shipping case with less breakage than round bottles. The labeling looks nice and professional, and ADL smartly wraps this label around the side of the bottle to impart a little information about the aging of the whisky on the extra surface area of the sides of the bottle. A round plastic decal is placed above the label depicting a vignette of an old mill with a water wheel and the Rocky Mountains in the distance.  If the bottle was corked I would have given it a perfect score.

In the Glass 9/10

I poured out a small sample of Alberta Springs Whisky into my glass and began with a look at the whisky before I began to nose it. It is a golden amber coloured spirit with light coppery highlights in the glass. I gave my glass a tilt and a slow swirl and discovered an oily sheen on the inside of my glass which gave up long droopy legs which moved slowly back down into the whisky.

The initial nose from the glass is of a spicy rye which carries scents of tobacco along for the ride. There is a nice presence of oak and a touch of vanilla but the spicy rye is dominant. As the whisky decants the tobacco gains a little steam and a ripe sweet and sour fruitiness is evolving from the rye which is also filling the air with scents of ginger and cardamom. A few baking spices evolve as does a gentle touch of corn which rounds out the nose and makes this whisky a treat to sniff.

In the Mouth 55/60

The initial mouth-feel is slightly dryish as the whisky begins with flavours of dusty rye and light flavours of caramel toffee. The oak is present and brings forward some light orange peel and vanilla as well as hints of tobacco which are not as firm in the flavour as they were in the aroma. I taste a light mustiness, and  I taste a hint of honey sweetness. The mustiness and the light sweetness do not build up in the glass, they just sit back content to accent the other flavours without trying to steal the show. As the glass breathes, the oak and rye spices seem to build which heats up the mouth and also brings tantalizing glimpses of lightly sour citrus zest, ginger spice and ever so soft hints of cinnamon and cloves. You have probably guessed by now that my reunion with Alberta Springs Canadian Whisky is going very well indeed.

I added an ice-cube to the glass and the fruity spiciness of the of the rye is dampened somewhat. What remains is a dusty dry rye which really appeals to me. I then also added just a splash of ginger-ale, and that added touch of sweetness was darn near perfect for relaxing in the evening by the fireplace.

In the Throat 13.5/15

The finish is moderately long and dry and features lots of full-bodied rye flavours in the exit. Hints of green tobacco flavour compliment the rye, and a faint touch of caramel sweetens the finish. The finale is a creeping warmth of spiciness that fills the back of the mouth and warms the top of throat just enough to give you that nice satisfying feeling of a whisky well appreciated.

The Afterburn 9.5/10

The love affair has returned, although it would be disingenuous to claim that the Alberta Springs is now my favourite whisky again. I have many ‘favourite whiskies’ now, as my palate has expanded and my experiences with other styles of whisky has given rise to many love affairs.

However, as I relax in the evening with my Alberta Springs Whisky and a well placed ice-cube with just a splash of ginger-ale, I must admit this particular love affair is hard to beat.

You may read some of my other Whisky Reviews (click the link) if you wish to have some comparative reviews.

_____________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Suggested Recipes

The Alberta Splash

I am going to suggest two ways to enjoy this whisky, neither of which is very original; but both of which are very delicious!

Alberta Springs on Ice

2 oz Alberta Springs Canadian Whisky
2 Large Ice-cubes

Add the Ice-cubes to a rocks glass
Pour the Alberta Springs over the ice
Enjoy!

Canadian Whisky Splash

2 oz Alberta Springs Canadian Whisky
2 Large Ice-cubes
Splash of Ginger-ale
Slice of Lime

Add the Ice-cubes to a rocks glass
Pour the Alberta Springs over the ice
Add a splash of Ginger Ale
Garnish with a lime slice
Enjoy!

_____________________________________________________________________________________________________________

As always you may interpret the scores I provide as follows.

0-25 A spirit with a rating this low would actually kill you.
26-49 Depending upon your fortitude you might actually survive this.
50 -59 You are safe to drink this…but you shouldn’t.
60-69 Substandard swill which you may offer to people you do not want to see again.
70-74 Now we have a fair mixing rum or whisky.  Accept this but make sure it is mixed into a cocktail.
75-79 You may begin to serve this to friends, again probably still cocktail territory.
80-84 We begin to enjoy this spirit neat or on the rocks. (I will still primarily mix cocktails)
85-89 Excellent for sipping or for mixing!
90-94 Definitely a primary sipping spirit, in fact you may want to hoard this for yourself.
95-97.5 The Cream of the Crop
98+ I haven’t met this bottle yet…but I want to.

Very loosely we may put my scores into terms that you may be more familiar with on a Gold, Silver, and  Bronze medal  scale as follows:

70 – 79.5    Bronze Medal (Recommended only as a mixer)
80 – 89.5     Silver Medal (Recommended for sipping and or a high quality mixer)
90 – 95         Gold Medal (Highly recommended for sipping and for sublime cocktails.)
95.5+            Platinum Award (Highest Recommendation)

10 Responses to “Alberta Springs Canadian Whisky”

  1. Catherine Temoin said

    I was wondering how a corked bottled with the original seal still in place would taste 44 yrs later? My husband purchased a 26 ounce bottle of Alberta Springs Sipping Whiskey complete with the wooden box in excellent condition. Is there anything you could tell me about the price of this whiskey or if it would now be considered a collectors item?

    • I have no comment on the relative value of the spirit which you possess, but I can tell you that as long as the cork has remained in good condition the whisky should taste pretty much the same as when you bought it 44 years ago.

      Cheers

  2. CBrown said

    Wow, great choice. Definitely one of my preferred everyday whiskys. Classy, elegant and great bang for the buck. I was curious when you reviewed the Centennial as to whether it might be a worthy contender for the Alberta Springs.

    Really nice to see you mixing this up with the heavy hitters and the everyday joes duking it out for top spot!

    Chris

    • The great thing about doing my tastings for my Advent Countdown in a blind format was that my group had no preconceptions about any of the whiskies. As indicated in my review, I have for a long time loved this whisky, and I was very pleased when my Rum Chums came to the same conclusion that I did.

      Cheers!

  3. Keith said

    Did you ever get a chance to try the 2005 Alberta Springs 25 year release, celebrating Alberta’s Centennial birthday?

  4. otto said

    Mmm! We used to call it sipping whisky back in the late 70’s and early 80’s when it still came in wooden box. Turned my dad onto it from Gibson 12 Year old. Didn’t they make a 20 year old back then usually around Christmas? I am sure that I used to buy one for my dad who died in 84.
    Good reviews! I am looking forward to trying the new Alberta Premium Dark horse?? or Black horse??. Have you tried it yet.

  5. Bill Smith said

    I have a bottle of Alberta Springs old time Canadian whisky that was sold in 1967. The bottle is stilled sealed and not been opened. I am wondering if it has collector value and / or whether it would still be drinkable after aging for 44 years?

    Can anyone help here?

  6. Kevin said

    I am in agreement with Chip here.This is my favorite Canadian whiskey so far. Incredibly smooth, rich and complex. Would pair nicely with a cigar. I am giving it 9.5/10. At $23.50 at the LCBO in Ontario, it’s a steal!

 
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