Alberta Premium 30 Year Old Limited Edition®
January 10, 2012
Reader Advisory: This whisky is so voluptuously robust yet delicately delicious that the urge to wax poetic is impossible to resist.
Crisp clean oak and fresh red cedar, ripe fruit, butterscotch, vanilla, grapefruit pith, simmering spices, and dusty rye. A quick explosion of flavour followed by a slow, complex reveal. Rich & Oaky. ★★★★★
Let’s turn the clock back 28 years. It’s Rick Murphy’s first day on the job at Alberta Distillers. Among the many things he sees for the first time that day, he notes a batch of charred white oak barrels filled with 100% rye-grain whisky that has already been maturing for two years in the Calgary warehouse. “One day …” he muses, as keeps returning to those quietly resting barrels for the rest of his career.
But back to the present day. Thirty years is a long time for spirit to spend in a barrel, and given the arid climate of Alberta, the angels who call on distillery warehouses have been quite enthusiastic during their regular visits. Fortunately the dry Alberta air encouraged those angels of the west to take more water than spirit, leaving behind truck-loads of rye-rich flavours which have grown robust and muscular as they matured in a bath of vibrant spice and smoothing toasted oak caramels.
In 2007, Murphy and his staff finally decided it was time to re-gauge the ageing whisky into fewer barrels to keep the levels in the individual casks high for a final four years of maturation. Then, after thirty full years of ageing, with just enough spirit remaining to bottle 700 12-bottle cases of the world’s oldest 100% rye-grain whisky, Murphy determined that bottling time had finally come. And it really has been worth the wait.
When Murphy arrived at the Alberta distillery in 1983, without knowing it he began to write his own chapter in a history that went back to 1946. That’s the year that Max Bell and Frank McMahon decided to build the distillery in a province where an ideal climate for growing rye grain, produced abundant annual crops. It took a couple of years for production to come on line, but since then the plant has produced more 100% unmalted rye-grain whisky than every other distillery in North America combined. Almost all of it is sold exclusively in Canada. Even today, Alberta Distillers remains the largest producer of pure rye whisky and the largest customer for Canadian rye grain in the world.
But can the 30 year old live up to the standard already established by Alberta Premium® 25 year old? Let’s start with the basics.
Although the standard Alberta Premium has no age statement, all the whisky in the bottle is at least five years old. The nose is rich in caramel and typical sweet-and-sour Canadian rye. Hints of flowers and the faintest inkling of spirit confirm both its youth and its rye heritage.
The 25 year old, on the other hand, reveals the clean oaky notes that are the hallmark of well-aged Canadian whisky. The now-sold-out 25-year-old version also exhibits a ripe black fruit element not found in its younger sibling.
Matured for 30 years, the brand new limited edition shows an enormous breadth of nose and a crisp, oaky fruitiness that toddles in with an almost austere elegance.
The palates diverge even more.
The youngster is bright and fresh with oranges, citric zest, grapefruit pith and a panoply of sweet spices, pepper and caramels.
The 25 year old begins with bountiful oaky notes right out front. But these are the exotic woody tones of real Québec Grade C (the tastiest) maple syrup, and nothing like the harsh, drying, unpleasant tannins of over-aged Scotch or Bourbon. Peppers and zingy spices zip across the tongue leaving sweet fruits and hints of caramel behind.
This is super whisky that just keeps getting better because by age 30, the palate simply explodes with flavours. That said, the 30 year old is, surprisingly, no more oaky than the 25. Neither is it as sweet or as fruity. Although both are rich in cedar and spices, the 30 year old is hotter, cleaner and lingers even longer. It also exhibits a pitchiness just hinted at in the 25. Certainly, both are genuine works of great craftsmanship, but the 30, if it is even possible to do so, somehow manages to exceed the 25.
Here now, are the details for Alberta Premium 30 Year Old Limited Edition.
Nose: Crisp clean oak and a surprisingly rich fruitiness waft into the room as soon as the cap is removed. The nose is expansive and ultra complex, with top notes of fresh berries and violets that disappear into ripe purple plums which in turn descend into musty rye. An almost marshmallow-like sweetness smacks up against pencil shavings and dry red cedar, not in collision, but in an intimate dance. Don’t try to tell me carefully managed ageing doesn’t make great whisky. A sweet generic fruitiness comes to life as first ginger, then slowly some cloves, move to the fore. Cereal rye notes of dry straw, porridge, dust, and hints of fresh-water plants, along with passing flashes of liquid shoe polish, medical adhesive tape and tarry carbolic hand cleanser remind us this whisky has been crafted, not made.
Bruichladdich’s Jim McEwan, a well-respected Scotch distiller, swears that whisky should be nosed a full minute for each year of ageing. Bah . . . showmanship. But the gradual evolution of cedar into balsam, butterscotch into maple syrup, and sweet plums into kiwi in the nose of this venerable Alberta Premium tells us he may be right.
Palate: Citric fruits, black vanilla pods, butterscotch, crisp dry timber, a sweet generic fruitiness, musty rye, and brisk refreshing citric pith turn the first sip into quite a mouthful. Then as a peppery heat builds someone rips a saw blade through a pitchy pine plank and individual notes begin to assert themselves. Butterscotch melds into a creamy, full-bodied toffee, while hot white pepper is sweetened with sparkling ginger, and fresh warm sawdust reveals resin and pine pitch. A dry, undefined, almost astringent grapefruit pith is replaced briefly by bitter dark chocolate which itself both buffers and accentuates a feeling of hot spiciness. These are the flavours of long slow ageing in carefully prepared barrels. A rich and robust creaminess deftly counterbalances the delicate fragility of this long-aged whisky. But old whisky often reveals the unexpected; here among the fruits and spices we find motor oil and cold wet slate. My notes say more, but honestly, isn’t that enough?
Finish: Long. Oaky notes linger with cedar, hints of pepper, a slight sweetness, grapefruit pith, hints of kiwi fruit and something reminiscent of shellac.
Empty Glass: Wood shavings – lots of them – along with vanilla, dust, sweet strawberries, lilacs, and charred firewood.
Even with bottling at 40% there was only enough whisky left in those barrels to fill 700 cases so distribution of Alberta Premium 30 Year Old Limited Edition will be restricted to Ontario and Canada’s four western provinces. Release is slated for June 2011 to coincide with Father’s Day. Masters of understatement, both Rick Murphy and Alberta Distillers Director of Operations, Rob Tuer, suggest a whisky this rare should be served neat or on the rocks. As Tuer puts it, “This small batch 30 year old limited edition is an exceptional opportunity for Alberta Premium lovers and whisky connoisseurs to enjoy on a special occasion.”
But honestly folks, if you must mix your whisky, please do buy the standard Alberta Premium and leave the 30 year old for us sippers. Alberta Distillers prides itself on the affordability of its whiskies and this one maintains that time-honoured tradition, a concern for those of us who fear limited availability and low pricing may lead to hoarding. Ahh, the worries of a whisky anorak.
In another nod to tradition, brand managers at Beam Global, which owns the Alberta Distillers plant and the Alberta Premium® brand, have chosen to maintain the classic Alberta Premium bottle for this limited special edition. It’s a warm familiar touch of home for a whisky that is likely the first and last of its kind.
$49.95 in Ontario and across Western Canada. (To be released in time for Father’s Day.)
Very Highly Recommended ★★★★★
Now 30-year-old spirits are special. To that end, Chip Dykstra, (spirits reviewer, and founder of The Rum Howler Blog), and I, agreed to publish our reviews of Alberta Premium 30 Year Old Limited Edition on the same day and link to each others reviews to give you, our readers, two perspectives on this spirit rather than one. To make a long story short, politics intervened, and we were unable to meet our mutual obligation to publish simultaneously. However, I am now able to provide you a link to Chip’s review so that you may have a second opinion: