Chinook 5 year old Canadian Whisky (40% alc./vol.)

February 24, 2012


Ripe fruit and stewed prunes with vanilla coconut custard, blistering hot spices and a nutty cereal side accented with rose water, dusty roads and hints of oak. Fruity & Spicy. ★★★☆

Some years when the Canadian winter is at its stalest, noses are frozen, and cars greasy with slush, an arch of clouds forms over the Rocky Mountains to the west sending a hot wind named Chinook down the mountainside to melt the snow and bring warm deliverance to Calgary, Alberta. For a day or two parkas are abandoned and t-shirts donned as temperatures rise as much as 40° in a matter of hours. Truly it’s a gusty breath of fresh air. Before it passes, the Chinook not only warms the city, but signals the imminent arrival of Spring.

Chinook whisky, like it’s namesake wind, is a western phenomenon. It is distilled in Calgary and distributed throughout Alberta. Nonetheless, if its creator’s track record holds, Chinook will eventually find its way out of Alberta and across Canada and the U.S. Before we taste Chinook, let’s learn a little bit of its story.

When Ravinder Minhas, aka Dr. Bubbles of Calgary, Alberta, had his eureka moment back in 2002, his revelation was to create a craft beer that would have party goers making the simple declaration, “Damn Good Beer!” If television commercials are to be believed, when the kindly doctor learned that his first can of Mountain Crest Classic Lager was “totally flat,” to the gasping awe of two comely nurses, he miraculously revived it using a crash cart and a set of headphones. Since then Dr. Bubbles has been on a mission to enlighten Albertans about alternatives to mass-produced beverages.

Ravinder was still a schoolboy in 1994 when the retail liquor industry was privatized in Alberta. His parents, Moni & Rani Minhas, were among the first entrepreneurs to open a private liquor store there. It was a family business and in their spare time, Ravinder and his older sister Manjit helped out. In the process they learned a great deal about the ins and outs of the spirits business and set out a whole new business plan of their own.

In 1999, when they were ready to put their plan into action the bank refused to lend them start-up funds. Undaunted, Ravinder and Manjit used their own savings of $10,000 to create a line of house-brand spirits. They had an obvious retail outlet: their parents’ store, which by then had grown to become the OK Liquor Stores chain. Their initial bottlings included rum, rye, gin and vodka which Heaven Hill Distillers bottled for them in Bardstown, Kentucky. To their surprise, other liquor stores soon began carrying their Mountain Crest line of spirits and the success of their brands beyond the limits of the family business was assured.

It was the connection between production and locked-in distribution that formed the basis of Ravinder’s eureka moment. His first breakthrough came with his Alamo tequila. As a result of contracted supply arrangements with producers in Mexico he was able to maintain a steady supply of tequila, and more importantly, steady prices, during the 2002 blue agave shortage. Flush with this success, the siblings contracted with a Wisconsin brewer who, with the help of Dr. Bubbles and his headphones, produced Mountain Crest Classic Lager.

Not to be outdone by her little brother, in January, 2005 Manjit created her own beer, Minhas Creek Classic Lager. Despite the lack of histrionic medical intervention by her kindly sibling, her beer quickly became a success in Manitoba. The siblings initial $10,000 investment had now turned into a multi-million dollar beverage business. They have since bought Wisconsin’s Joseph Huber Brewery and re-named it the Minhas Craft Brewery, and more recently they have opened a craft brewery and brew pub in Calgary.

The initial success of Mountain Crest liquors was credited to the Minhas family business acumen in focusing on less expensive “value” brands but this time Ravinder did something a little different, using the resources of his own firm, MCBSW Sales Company. He introduced Chinook, a premium 5-year-old Canadian whisky that appears to have had the headphones treatment as well: It really is quite tasty.

Nose: Dusty roads turn to oak, sweet wood smoke, sweet rye spices, then breakfast cereal and toasted bread, and later, hints of fruit, riesling, and rose blossoms.

Palate: Creamy butterscotch, sweet purple table grapes, fruit, thrillingly hot chili pepper. The pepper dominates but insistent butterscotch lingers in the background. Cooked pears and cloves open into violets and fragrant orange blossoms. The oak turns just slightly bitter as tannins pull gently at your cheeks, but hot candied ginger and hints of citrus zest soon clear these away.

Finish: A medium, hot and lingering finish ends cleanly with slight bitter lemon, smatterings of oak, and citric zest.

Empty Glass: Clean wood.

$24.00 at Saskatchewan Liquors
Recommended ★★★☆


10 Responses to “Chinook 5 year old Canadian Whisky (40% alc./vol.)”

  1. Piers:

    $24 at Sask stores? nyah nyah, it’s $16 here in Calgary :D

    It’s not bad at all, in fact, it’s what I had last night, and no kidding about the empty glass, it brought me back to high school woodshop class!

    My bottle doesn’t look nearly as cool as that though!

  2. Reading your review, it seems like you found a little more sweetness than I did, (as I was quite beguiled by the clean dry rye notes).

    But I have to admit that I am very jealous that you got the nice bottle and not me. :(

    Cheers Davin!

    • Davin:

      Hi Chip,

      Yes, I got quite a bit of “dusty roads” but also found a lot of sweetness. I tasted it quite a few times in different flights. Incidentally, I learned about this whisky from you and from Piers so I am really pleased that you have both read the review and commented. I guess we all like it.

  3. Darko Vusir:

    Hopefully we’ll see it in Ontario soon.

  4. Rbinder:

    Thank you for the review. Based on some of the comments I’d be very interested in knowing the mash bill for this whiskey, which I can’t seem to find anywhere. I’d especially like to know the rye content, as I’m a big fan of rye. My current favorite is Old Overholt, 51%.

    • Davin:

      The folks who make Chinook have not disclosed the grain or grains used. I would suspect a high percentage of rye grain but do not know for sure.

  5. Shawn:

    Hey Davin who is making this for him Mountain Crest? I know they produce some bad beer but did not think they distilled grains? Last time I looked at their rye & vodka in Alberta they were getting it bottled in Kentucky.

    • Davin:

      Hi Shawn, I don’t think they have disclosed which distillery is making it. I can tell you it tastes quite different from (and much better than) Mountain Crest.

      • Shawn:

        The price is good here in AB, so I will give it a try, knowing it is better than their previous experiments into spirits. Thank you

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