Wiser's Legacy Canadian Whisky photo

Wiser’s Legacy Canadian Rye Whisky (45% alc./vol.)

July 16, 2010


John Philip Wiser, distiller. Born October 4, 1825, Trenton, New York; died April 30, 1911, Prescott, Ontario. Legacy: Wiser’s family of great Canadian whiskeys and now a brand new one.

The history of Canadian whisky is rich with characters, and in the lore, two stand head and shoulders above the rest: Hiram Walker and J. P. Wiser. Both were born in the United States, Walker to a New England family that still considered itself British, and Wiser to German parents. (Mea culpa: In Dave Broom’s World Atlas of Whisky I somehow managed to identify Wiser as being of Dutch descent; sorry Dave, it’s Deutsch, not Dutch).

Along with their fellow early distilling luminaries, Thomas Molson, Henry Corby, William Gooderham, James Worts, and Joseph Seagram, these two men developed the Canadian whisky recipe into what it is today. But whisky’s history is too easily forgotten; it gets left behind, lost in the language of corporate takeovers, mergers, profit maximizations, and efficiency schemes. So Canadian whisky buffs should take heart that J. P. Wiser’s successors have renewed interest in the founder’s legacy with the release of a new Wiser’s whisky. They call it ‘Legacy’, based on an original J. P. Wiser recipe that really showcases the rich but rugged rye flavours of an earlier time.

Wiser’s Legacy has only recently arrived in stores, and current LCBO inventory levels show there is not a lot to go around. Call me suspicious, but that could just be LCBO testing the market. Legacy is packaged in the same substantial, square, decanter-like bottle as Wiser’s 18 year old and it has the same laser-engraved wooden stopper. For a full review please come back to canadianwhisky.org in a couple of weeks, but in the meantime let me offer this brief introduction to see how it compares with a range of other Canadian whiskies.

Wiser’s Legacy is loaded with fresh-cut wood, sweet lemon, hot pepper, and really hot peppermint, along with the whole panoply of hard-to-define rye spices. Above all else, this is spicy rye whisky, reminiscent in its rye bread flavours and fragrances, of the much-vaunted Lot 40, which came from the same 12,000-litre copper pot still at the Hiram Walker distillery in Windsor, Ontario.

While the complex rye notes hit you right off the bat in Lot 40, it takes a couple of moments for them to develop in the Legacy, and if nosed immediately after Lot 40, the Legacy shows hardly any rye notes at all. But there is more than rye here, for there is something about Legacy that also reminds you of another relative newcomer, the oh-so-expressive Wiser’s Small Batch.

Wiser’s fans will remember the Special Edition Wiser’s Reserve, which at 43% alc./vol. gave Canadian whisky connoisseurs hope that Wiser’s was listening to them. Wiser’s Reserve has been phased out over the past couple of years to be replaced by the similar, but bigger, spicier, almost candied Wiser’s Small Batch, with the alc./vol. now raised a smidgen more to 43.4%. Legacy, which is bottled at 45% alc./vol., shares an ‘enhanced’, quality found in the Small Batch, that is more than just the contribution of a couple of extra points proof. Legacy is also closer in colour to the reddish-amber Small Batch rather than the bright, oat straw colour of Reserve.

There is ample fresh-cut lumber in Wiser’s Legacy, but without the definition found in Wiser’s 18 year old. Legacy is also much hotter than the 18 year old, and shows a lot more of the rye baking spices—ginger, cinnamon, nutmeg.

But if the Legacy has candied elements, why not compare it with two other candied Canadian whiskies, Cask 16 from Crown Royal, and Alberta Distillers’ Tangle Ridge? Although ‘candied’ sounds good in tasting notes, Wiser’s Legacy and Crown Royal Cask 16 could not be more different. Both exhibit an almost syrupy sweetness, but tasted head to head, Cask 16 is all about fruit—ripe peaches, dried apricots and ripe red grapes, with hints of floral perfume. Wiser’s Legacy though, is more about spices and rye. Yes, there are apricots in Legacy, but its fruitiness is more reminiscent of dark or dried fruits—ripe purple plums and prunes.

Tangle Ridge too, is another whisky-world apart. Though very sweet and beautifully peppered, its dark fruitiness is just a tiny bit over the top as is the sweet, un-bourbon-like vanilla. A balancing bitter lemon helps pull Tangle Ridge back from the sweetness brink, while the citric notes in Legacy push a range of distinct flavours to the fore.

So if its distinctive sweetness is not similar to other Canadian whiskies’, perhaps the rye notes are, as we have already noted with Lot 40. Let’s try another head-to-head tasting, this time with the hard-rye stalwart, Canadian Club Reserve.

Again, compared with Legacy, this is a very different whisky, though they are both distilled at the Hiram Walker distillery in Windsor. They share the rye spiciness, the cloves, ginger, cinnamon and nutmeg, and both are peppery. In this pairing, though, the Legacy goes in the direction of dark fruit, rich rye grain, and heavy rye bread notes while the Canadian Club Reserve is more austere with some astringency, and a stoniness akin to wet slate. Reserve is mixing whisky, Legacy, a sipper.

Although Lot 40 is certainly the most distinctive rye-based whisky to come out of Canada in recent years, Alberta Premium is far and away the best known, in part because of prizes won by its delightful younger mixing version. But it is the 25-year-old Alberta Premium that really showcases the essence of great Canadian whisky.

Compared to the nutty Legacy, Alberta Premium 25 year old is dusty rye. Alberta Premium has aged gracefully in its 25 years, and next to it, Wiser’s Legacy seems a real swashbuckler. The clear but subtle oakiness, the balance, complexity, and the breadth of palate of Alberta Premium 25 year old contrast sharply with the hot, cloves-and-cinnamon spiciness of Wiser’s Legacy. There is an austere, astringent quality to the old timer while the more youthful Legacy is robust and, like the Wiser’s Small Batch, very expressive.

This is not the first time Wiser’s has issued a ‘legacy’ bottling. The equally delicious Wiser’s Red Letter was released in 2007 to celebrate the 150th anniversary of a young J.P. taking charge of Charles Payne’s Prescott, Ontario, distillery, eventually making it his own. Thus began the legacy that is captured in this new complex Canadian rye whisky.

Wiser’s Red Letter Rye was made from an original Wiser’s recipe as is the new Wiser’s Legacy. The original Red Letter was a best seller, but Wiser died before he was able to put the Legacy recipe into production. Next to today’s Legacy, the modern Red Letter holds up very well indeed. It has an almost bourbon-like quality, and is big and spicy, with an emphasis on pepper. Hints of cinnamon turn to sandalwood in the middle. The Red Letter is rich and full, retaining all its elegance. Legacy on the other hand is big and brash, not even remotely subtle. Next to Red Letter, Legacy is loaded with dark fruit and sweet baking spices.

Right now American whisky Blogistan is all a-twitter about a new bottled-in-America, Canadian rye whiskey called WhistlePig. It’s very good stuff, this WhistlePig, very good. Although Wiser’s Legacy, and WhistlePig, are both single-distillery whiskies, the American standards of identity define Legacy as a blend and WhistlePig as a straight rye. WhistlePig is much more perfumed than Legacy and is laced with vanilla. Tasted head to head, in a couple of words, Legacy is fruity rye, compared with WhistlePig’s bourbon-like vanilla, and Lot 40’s spicy rye.

When it comes to wine, I am not a fan of the big ‘fruit-forward’ trend in reds nor of ‘oaky’ chardonnays. It just makes them a little too much and a little too easy to ‘get’. No I prefer elegance, nuance, and complexity to audacious, in-your-face accessibility. But whisky can handle big flavours without losing its identity, and so it is with the heavily oaked Wiser’s 18, the bourbon-like WhistlePig, and the ‘rye-forward’ Wiser’s Legacy, and while we’re at it, Lot 40 too.

Since this is just an introduction to Wiser’s Legacy I’ll save the scoring for the upcoming review, but for now, I’d recommend it as excellent sipping whisky, following close on the heels of the seriously under-priced Lot 40, Wiser’s 18, and Alberta Premium 25 year old.

At $85.00 (since adjusted down to $50.00) it may take a special occasion for people to buy their first bottle of Legacy, and that may explain the conservative initial LCBO inventory. But this is very special whisky, and for the whisky connoisseur, a must-have that will quickly become a repeat buy.

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 18 year old is reviewed here.

Wiser’s Red Letter 125th Anniversary Edition is reviewed here.

Wiser’s Red Letter 2013 Release is reviewed here.

Wiser’s Small Batch reviewed here.


23 Responses to “Wiser’s Legacy Canadian Rye Whisky (45% alc./vol.)”

  1. patricia barille:

    My husband has been raving about Wiser’s for years. He recommends it to everyone here in Florida. He’s a Manhattan drinker and says that Wiser’s is the best.

    • Davin:

      Your husband clearly knows his whisky.

  2. Yello to Mello:

    Davin, I was talking to someone today who mentioned how good Wiser’s 18 was. However, he doesn’t really follow whisky these days and last time had Wiser’s was many years ago. I asked if he knew anything about Wiser’s Legacy and he then called it ‘Wiser’s 24 year Legacy’. Was there ever such thing as that and are these products (the 24yo and this NAS) similar? If not do you know anything about this 24yo?

  3. Canadian Whisky of the year for me… bar none.

    • Davin:

      Hi André,
      Yeah, it’s pretty good whisky.

  4. pete mulder:

    hello there

    My name is pete mulder i live in welland ontario yesterday i was at the lcbo picked up a bottle of wiser’s small batch whiskey which is my choice of drink now. This is my problem, i put the bottle in the freezer (like always) i do not like ice anyhow 4 hours later when i went to have a drink the wiskey was partially frozen. This is not right now i hope the lcbo will exchange this for me but i thought i would let you also know.

    thankyou pete mulder

    • Davin:

      Hi Pete,

      That must be one mighty cold freezer! LCBO will take the bottle back, I am sure, as long as you have your receipt. I think they recently introduced a 30-day limit on returns, but I have never had a problem with them.

  5. Allison:

    I have been searching the world for Wiser’s Special Old Rye as a gift for my dad who has also been searching the world for it. I have my suspicions that the Special Old Rye is no more, and has been replaced by either the Legacy name or another Wiser label. Is anyone able to help me? My dad loves this stuff!

    • Davin:

      Hi Allison, He wouldn’t by chance be thinking of Walker’s Special Old would he? If so, it is still available, at least in Canadian liquor stores.

  6. Bob:

    I have been a staunch Canadian Club drinker and have enjoyed many different blends, ie.Sherry Cask, Classic 12 Year. I also like Crown Royal Special Edition, and Cask 16. A friend recently introduced me to Alberta Distelleries, Springs and Premium 25 year, as well as Wiser’s Legacy. He simply put it that if you are going to enjoy Canadian Whisky, it should be true Rye Whisky. My question to you is this: Is there a preference amongst “rye” drinkers that you should be drinking rye and not corn blends? Similar to Scotch drinkers with single malts.

    • Davin:

      Hi Bob,

      The concept of “true rye” whisky is marketing malarky made up by people who want to promote a certain style so they can make money selling it. “Real rye,” if you are talking about traditional Canadian rye whisky has always had less than 20% rye grain in it. Usually MUCH less. Traditionally the rest was wheat although now they use corn. I know some writers say otherwise, but believe me, I have done the research.

      As far as preferences, unfortunately some people are influenced by the marketing people, but real connoisseurs trust their palates and don’t get hung up on somebody else’s arbitrary definitions. The same with single malt Scotch. In reality there are many blended Scotches that blow some highly regarded single malts out of the water. It is easy though to say you like single malts but not blends if you are trusting someone else’s palate and want to look like you know what you are talking about.

      However, tasting a good selection of whiskies blind can be quite humbling to those who think single malts or “true ryes” are superior, as a category. That said, Wiser’s Legacy is one of the best whiskies to come along in a long time, and Alberta Premium 25 is another (and so is the 30 year old.) As well, you can continue to enjoy your Canadian Club and your Crown Royal and not worry about how other people classify them.

  7. Rene' Gagnon:

    Does anyone know who was the founder of Harwood Canadian Liquors. I had a pen-pal and I was trying to find her. She was from Winnipeg 10, Manitoba, Canada. In one of her letters she told me her grandfather was the founder(her mom’s dad) and her name was Carol Harwood. Any information would be truly appreciated. I would love to find her. Thank you.

    Rene Marie Gagnon

  8. manoharan:

    i viewed a programme about Wiser’s whisky at the National Geographic channel and now i am very eager to taste this classic whisky and searching for the genuine product

  9. [...] Wiser’s Legacy introduced here. [...]

  10. Ken Johnson:

    Could you please tell me if your Wisers Rye has any carbs, fats & saturated fats? I drink it straight as a shooter and i if i have it with mix, its just water and ice.
    Very much appreciated thanks
    Ken Johnson

    • Davin:

      Hi Ken,
      Sorry, I always refrain from giving information that might be misunderstood by someone on a special diet. It is best to ask this of your doctor or a nutritionist. I just don’t want to accidentally cause someone to have a medical problem.

  11. Vik:

    Despite being “rye whiskey”, do you know if Wiser’s Legacy is indeed 51% plus corn and distilled in less than 160 proof? I ask because I am bringing Canadian Whiskey to a Kentucky born and raised relative and – rightly or wrongly – he insists that any whiskey be 51% plus corn and distilled in less than 160 proof like the bourbon’s he drinks. If not, do you know of any other Canadian whiskey that closely resembles the bourbon process? Any insight is much appreciate. Thanks.

    • Davin:

      Wiser’s Legacy is very tasty whisky.
      In Canada we do not use mash bills so the 51% concept is meaningless. If your relative insists on whisky made using bourbon processes why not just buy him a bottle of bourbon in the US?
      Imagine; enjoying whisky used to be about the flavour but the marketing people have convinced so many that process is more important than what it tastes like. Your relative is not alone in believing this. Sad, but true, so why aggravate him by giving him Canadian whisky?

  12. I have been doing genealogy research on my mothers Harwood line in Morden and Winnipeg, Manitoba , Canada. As my late grandfather claimed Harwood Canadian Whiskey was his family? I have had difficulty in finding the history and/or founder. Would you be able to assist in this information? Thank you.

    • Davin:

      I am not certain. As far as I can remember the Harwood brand originated either in Montreal or Vancouver. For sure it did not come from Manitoba.

  13. I thank you very much for taking the time to reply.

  14. Cindy:

    I am really trying to get my hands on a bottle of Wiser’s Legacy. I live in Southern California. I’ve looked at tons of liquor stores as well as BevMo’s. Any idea how I can get a bottle. This would be the ultimate surprise gift for a friend.


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