Collingwood Canadian Whisky on Nottawasaga Bay

Collingwood (40% alc/vol.) Canadian Whisky Review

October 15, 2011

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Dark fruits, Concord grapes, roses and spring flowers with a rich and creamy mouthfeel. Split cherry firewood with earthy rye and tingling hot pepper. Floral & Fragrant. ★★★★

The crystal waters of Nottawasaga Bay are among the purest in the world. Although the bay is wide – so wide that looking across, water meets sky at a landless horizon – a map tells us that Nottawasaga Bay is just a bump, an indentation at the foot of Ontario’s giant Georgian Bay. In turn, Georgian Bay forms but an arm of gargantuan Lake Huron, third in size among the Great Lakes. Together the five Great Lakes hold 6 quadrillion gallons of water. What does a number like that actually mean? In simple terms, it’s about one-fifth of all the fresh water on earth. Each year some of this water – originally melt water from glaciers that departed some ten thousand years ago – trickles a thousand miles downstream to the Atlantic Ocean. It’s estimated that for each of these ten thousand years about 1% of the remaining water has made this journey to the sea, a journey that includes a dramatic 100-foot plunge over Niagara Falls. And as this water flows out to help rejuvenate the ocean it is itself replenished by rain and snowfall and the thousands of pristine fishing creeks that feed from the Canadian Shield into The Great Lakes.

Why tell you this? Simple. Whisky, some would say, is all about the water, and the water that becomes Collingwood Canadian Whisky is drawn from Nottawasaga Bay.

Collingwood Canadian Whisky? If, from the name you guessed that this new whisky is distilled in Brown-Forman’s Canadian Mist Distillery in Collingwood, Ontario, you’d be right. Like Canadian Mist, Collingwood is triple distilled in the copper-rich columns and doubler at the forty-some-year-old distillery. Then, as for Canadian Mist, the spirit is aged on site in white oak barrels from Brown-Forman cooperage in Kentucky. But that’s the end of the similarities. When the nascent Collingwood whisky is finally mature it is blended according to an entirely new recipe. Then there’s another twist: After the whisky has been matured and blended, and is seemingly ready to go, staves of toasted maple wood are added to the stainless steel marrying vat to further mellow the whisky. Unusual? Yes. A first for Canadian whisky? It most certainly is.

From two spirit streams at Canadian Mist distillery any number of whiskies can be matured and blended. A base whisky, distilled from a mash of locally grown Ontario corn and malted western barley, shows hints of chocolate among its cereal flavours when it first comes off the still. But after spending at least three years in ex-bourbon wood, it develops the mild, silky smooth signature of this distillery. The other spirit, from a mash that is rich in rye, is brawny, brash and anything but smooth until the white oak barrel has had time to polish off the edges. These are blended together after three years ageing to make Canadian Mist, one of America’s best selling mixing whiskies.

But what would happen, Brown-Forman master distiller Chris Morris, and Canadian Mist master distiller Harold Ferguson asked themselves, if we aged this whisky a little bit longer? It was to be the start of something truly unique in Canadian whisky. Making great whisky takes time and altogether from conception to finished product, Collingwood was more than three years in development. However, it’s release, shortly after the success of another Morris creation, a maple-finished Woodford Reserve bourbon, has created some confusion as to genesis of the idea for Collingwood. The folks at Brown-Forman, which owns both Woodford Reserve and Canadian Mist distillery insist that Collingwood was more than three years in the making. Call it a happy coincidence.

But why a maple wood finish? Well what could be more ‘Canadian’ than maple? Maple is the quintessential symbol of Canada; its leaf is on our flag and its distinctively flavoured syrup on our pancakes. Maple charcoal has long been used to make Tennessee whisky. What better place than Collingwood to introduce maple wood mellowing to the Brown-Forman lineup? And who better than Ferguson (who has since retired) to do it? Having guided Canadian Mist for forty years he knew exactly what the distillery and its spirits were capable of producing.

And so Brown-Forman Cooperage in Louisville, Kentucky set to making a batch of 100% sugar maple barrels which they toasted, not charred, then disassembled and shipped as staves to Collingwood, Ontario. There they were submerged in the vat containing the fully mature blended whisky that would eventually become Collingwood. You can almost see them floating, toasty side down, like the flor cap on a maturing fino sherry.

Neither Morris nor Ferguson is saying exactly how long this toasted maple stayed in the vats, other than to reveal that it was not more than a year. But once the maple wood mellowing had produced its desired effect, the whisky was loaded into one of Mist’s dedicated fleet and trucked to Louisville, Kentucky for the final step – bottling.

Nose: Very expressive, though not overly complex, with dried dark fruits, spring flowers, fragrant roses, sweet peaches, pink lemonade, dark cherries, yellow banana candy, dry split cherry wood, fruity-sweet pipe tobacco, and some hints of earthy rye. A deep whiff can detect just suggestions of spirit, so yes, it’s “sippin’ whisky,” but you can mix it just as well.

Collingwood is much more demonstrative than Canadian Mist; in fact the two are nothing alike. Mist has more cereal notes and is sharper, while Collingwood is rounder, heartier, and ever more fragrant. While Collingwood is fruity whisky, the recently-released Canadian Mist Black Diamond is even fruitier on the nose. Black Diamond has more aromas of butterscotch, but by comparison, seems almost grassy.

Company promotional material tells us: “You don’t need a crown to rule,” comparing Collingwood to Canada’s best selling whisky. But the comparison ends with the challenge, for Collingwood’s nose is much bigger than that of Crown Royal, but without Crown’s bourbon notes, vanilla, or frankly, its elegance. They are entirely different whiskies. In fact, on the nose, there is no whisky that resembles Collingwood, and yet it is so decidedly Canadian whisky.

Palate: Juicy, luscious, and rich with a toffee-like mouthfeel. Earthy rye comes right to the fore, as does hot and tingly chili pepper on a bed of ripe black cherries, cooked peaches, and sun-baked purple wine grapes. There is a sweetness to the palate, but it is not so much imbued with caramel as it is with fruit sugars and pancake syrup (though not maple syrup), and a hint of vanilla. The roses, so distinct on the nose, abandon the palate altogether, or are pushed aside by the fruit. Eventually, pepper, with only hints of rye spices, comes to dominate the palate. The whisky has a certain muscular meatiness to it with hints of something like peach pits tugging just gently at the sides of the mouth. Citric notes, more zesty than pithy, help keep Collingwood’s lusty body in balance.

Finish: A long, lingering peppery glow.

Empty Glass: Cherries, Concord grapes, the vaguest chili pepper and sweet cinnamon, hard candy. Sweet, rich and robust.

The result of thousands of years of slow melt, the ice-age waters of Nottawasaga Bay still contain a hint of their origin. Although now mixed with snow-melt and precipitation, traces of this glacial past remain. When you taste your first Collingwood, remember that a little bit of what you are drinking began as glacial melt some 10,000 years ago, and has rested since in the largest solera* system in the world – The Great Lakes. Savour it.

Collingwood was released in February 2011 in just 4 U.S. states: Florida, Kentucky, Louisiana, and Texas. More markets will be added later in the year and plans are firmly in the works to bring Collingwood home to Ontario by late spring or early summer. Sign me up for a case! The suggested price at American liquor stores is $26.99

Highly recommended. ★★★★

$32.95 at LCBO

Collingwood Canadian Whisky in bottle

*So what exactly is solera?
Particularly with sherry, but occasionally with other beverages as well, vats or barrels of the finished liquor are only partially emptied for bottling. Then, immature liquor is added and allowed to mature with the remnants of the previous batch. This goes on for batch after batch and is called a “solera” system. Thus the bottled liquor is a mix of liquids of many ages. The solera process originated in Spain where they often have stacks of barrels cascading one into another, adding new sherry to the top barrels while draining mature sherry out of the bottom ones for bottling. Thus some of the original sherry remains in every bottling. Similarly, as water flows out of the Great Lakes it is replaced by fresh precipitation in a millennia-old solera-like equilibrium.

Collingwood 21-year-old rye is reviewed here.


Comments

42 Responses to “Collingwood (40% alc/vol.) Canadian Whisky Review”

  1. John Velocci:

    I can’t wait for it to show up at the LCBO.

  2. [...] One of the best and most unique new whiskies in Canada is being distilled in Collingwood, just a couple of hours north of here – but thanks to its popularity south of the border, you can't buy it in Ontario. Yet. [Canadian Whisky] [...]

  3. Shaggy:

    Definitely something different for a Canadian. I would say the maple wood in this Collingwood has as dramatic of an effect on the whisky as the sherry casks have on CC Sherry Cask or the cognac barrels have on CR 16, while being something entirely different than either of those.

    It’s a good whisky for sure, but in the $20-30 range gets _strong_ competition from Forty Creek Barrel Select and Canadian Club Sherry Cask (IMHO).

    Thanks for the review!

    • Mike:

      Interesting comparison, Shaggy.

      I’m going to try Collingwood but I wish they would let the product speak for itself instead of taking digs at Crown Royal. Somewhere else I read the Brown-Forman guy saying, “People have figured out by now that a fancy bag and bottle doesn’t make a good whisky.” Spoken by the guy with one of the fanciest bottles in the industry!

  4. Requiem:

    Collingwood is at the LCBO now ($29.95). Just arrived, apparently.

    • Darko Vusir:

      Picked up a bottle today. I’m looking forward to trying it.

  5. Requiem:

    Jeepers, I don’t know about this one, Davin. A long metallic aftertaste that makes me feel like I just flossed with tin-foil.

    The nose is indeed fruity, oakey, and promising, but the finish just undermines what is a passable whisky.

    I’m going to stow this one at the back of the cabinet and try it in the late autumn. Perhaps after I crush some maple leaves underfoot I’ll be better able to appreciate this maple-enhanced whisky.

    • Davin:

      It’s unusual, no question, but I did not detect any off notes. You’re probably right to put it away and come back to it later.
      Davin

  6. Blair Phillips:

    Happy to see this is now widely available at the LCBO. It’s an outstanding addition and at this price it’s a steal. I personally find it’s quirkiness refreshing and original. By the way, nice pair of articles in December’s issue if Whisky Magazine!

    • Davin:

      Quirkiness – yes, that’s the word. It really is quite in a class by itself. Just shows that innovation is alive and well in Canadian whisky. Thanks re: the articles.

  7. Thomas:

    was in Canada for holidays, 14 days round with a rented car…in niagara on the lake went in an LCBO and seen this bottle. only by seeing this fantastic modern but also classical design, i known it must be something fine!
    now back in Austria, and i tasted it, and what can i say? simply fantastic, a fine and fantasic whisky. will miss him when the bottle is finished!!
    where can i buy it online?
    OR better, is there anybody out there who would buy for me this whisky and post it austria?

    • Davin:

      Hi Thomas,
      Probably it would be best for you to try a liquor store in the U.S. Wally’s Wines, Binny’s or Drink Up New York each have mail order services.
      I’m glad you like Collingwood. It is a very innovative new Canadian whisky.

    • Tim:

      Hello Thomas,

      I am an old Ontario boy who now lives in Bavaria.
      I am trying to get Canadian Whisky regularly flown in to Munich. If it works I might be able to stock up on a few extras. My Dad just brought me some Forty Creek – Barrel Select (he was supposed to have bought me the Double Barrel), Wiser’s – Special Blend (He was supposed to have bought me the Small Batch)and Gibon’s Finest 12yrs. What can I say he is 72 and thought I shouldn’t be spending so much on Whisky. He is coming again in two weeks for Christmas and the Collingwood is on the list.
      Let me know if you are interested.

  8. Nabil:

    Davin,

    Looking at the photo and reading the tasting notes, you could be convinced that Collingwood is a cologne or a deodorant rather than a whisky. I don’t think they did themselves any favours with the packaging. However the notes do point to an interesting whisky.

  9. Jay:

    Pretty damn good rye. After the tenth drink it still tasted great. I like the so called “quirkiness” taste.

  10. John Forster:

    This is from a scotch enthusiast, not been keen on so-called rye.
    Tried Collingwood recently out of curiosity.
    Not being eloquent, I’ll skip to the end: Collingwood is great and I’ve served it to friends who are keeners on ‘rye’ via ‘blind tastings’ so they did not know what they were getting. Without exception, they also thought Collingwood was excellent.
    Together, we’d say it has a pleasant depth, suitably complex enough for you to go, “Hmmm, now THAT’S worth having again.”
    Served with a few drops of water or MAYBE 1 cube.

  11. Cory:

    Defintly worth a try for something different, I am enjoying it as we speak.

  12. Jack:

    Picked up a bottle after speaking to the LCBO staff about it (always on the look out for a new Canadian Whisky) and wow. I love it. Different in a great way. I agree that its nice to see innovation in Canadian whisky and I hope it continues. Love it. Be picking up more of this for sure.

  13. [...] Collingwood A new flavour from an established distillery, Collingwood took Canada by storm in 2011. Loads of robust rye notes have been bolstered by extra time spent in a marrying vat with staves of toasted maple. The result? A fruity, spicy quality unmatched in any other whisky. On sale now for $27.95. [...]

  14. Mike:

    Got a bottle of this for Christmas & I must be the only one here who doesn’t like it. Even my wife who loves rye made a face sampling it.
    I’m almost tempted to pour it down the sink. If I wanted sweet, I would have bought a liqueur.

    • Paul:

      Mike, I have to agree. I picked up a bottle for Christmas entertaining, and wasn’t a fan. Throwing a couple maple logs into the Canadian Mist vat, and dressing it up in an oversized cologne bottle, wasn’t enough for me.
      I will say, from a pure marketing standpoint…well done!

  15. JJ:

    I got a bottle for Christmas too. I grew up on Georgian Bay, so my daughter thought it appropriate. I’m a Crown Royal fan, but I must say this stuff is okay. Different in a goofy kind of way. You can sure taste the maple.

  16. BrianL:

    I love it (except for the plastic pour insert). It is my favorite Canadian (and in my top 10 of all spirits under $40 US for that matter).

  17. REB:

    Have a new favourite. Though Crown and most recently the exceptional Forty Creek will still be stocked, this will take a very nice position in the Bar.

  18. Yello to Mello:

    I first tried this a few weeks ago and I was impressed. Another good whisky in the $30 category. Interesting how this one has some mixed views but more are praising.

    • Davin:

      Yes, i liked it right off the bat. It is not a “typical” Canadian whisky, if there is such a thing, so some people are surprised by the flavour. I think they have done a really great job with it though.

  19. Justin:

    I absolutely love this whisky. I’m always on the lookout for a new Canadian whisky, and I love when distillers decide to try something different. Distilling is an art, and sometimes experimenting produces some of the best art. Some people seem to have a certain resentment to Collingwood and it’s atypical distilling process, but I revel in it. It has a terrific nose, palate, and finish, and I always want to go back for more. Contrary to what a few others seem to think, in my opinion the bottle looks great. Still doesn’t beat Wiser’s Small Batch, Legacy, or 18 Y.O. for me, but for $30 I’ll gladly get another bottle down the road.

  20. McKinney:

    Collingwood has finally made it to Georgia. I saw it this week at one of my finer local package stores and picked up a bottle. One of the things I like about Canadian whisky shows here: it’s different. It isn’t like any of the Forty Creeks, it isn’t like Wiser’s 18yo, it isn’t like Caribou Crossing, it isn’t like Cask No.16, but it’s still Canadian. I’m not a big fan of standard big volume Canadian whiskies, but many of the experiments and more artisanal releases are simply beautiful, including those I mention above and this one. Considering Brown-Forman has given us the always interesting and usually stellar Woodford Reserve Master Collection offerings, including a maple finished bourbon, I think this fits in well with their unique approach to extending their whisky lines.

    • Davin:

      Thanks. I couldn’t agree more.

  21. Andy:

    3 months ago I tried Collingwood and found it too sweet, overmellowed and unbalanced. Today I tried it again and it tastes a bit better on the palate than what I remember…but the finish tastes like warm pepper moving to notes of tobacco and cherry…exactly like a 99 cent Century Sam cigar that I remember trying 20 years ago. This one may just not be for me.

    • Davin:

      Hi Andy,
      Funny, I was just talking about this today with Johanne McInnis from the Saint John Whisky Tasting Society. People such as Johanne and I, who like Collingwood, really like it, while others just can’t get their heads around it. We decided it was the “Laphroaig” of Canadian whisky. – love it or hate it, but no half measures.

  22. Jaymz Weiss:

    I live in Northern Ontario &amp I can’t get this without driving South a few hours, however with that said, since trying this stuff, I’ve made a trip every 3 months or so to stock up. It’s truly amazing, very smooth and for some great reason you don’t get a hangover!!!!!

    • Davin:

      If your closest LCBO is a few hours south, then it’s worth the drive, but if there is a closer one you could ask them to order it for you.

  23. Jaymz Weiss:

    reading the comments dissing it make me laugh. must be haters from other companies because I’m Canadian, we know our Whiskey. Let it be known that it’s the only alcohol I consume (I hate drinking beer/wine/coolers). Do yourself a favour and at least try it if you’re looking for a SMOOTH glass of rye. if you prefer your whiskey to taste HARSH or BITTER then stick to the standard kinds (available in Canada at regular price) like; Crown Royal, Canadian Club, Alberta Premium, Wiser’s, Gibson’s…

    • Davin:

      I really like Collingwood. As you say it is different from a lot of other whiskies, though recognizably Canadian whisky. However, some people prefer the more traditional flavours. I call this the Laphroaig of Canadian whisky – you love it or you hate it when you first try it, but eventually you come back to it.

  24. Robert Jordan:

    I am stoked to try this whisky. I finally got the bottle that i picked up while in Nova Scotia after the Toronto airport lost my luggage. Must be a tough little bottle to put up with the punishment.

  25. Robert:

    Well, I’m Canadian, and as are all good Canadians, I’m a rye fan. When I first started drinking I was a Wisers Deluxe guy, and I still enjoy the stuff but I graduated to something I consider a superior, more complex and smoother product, Gibsons Finest. Gibsons finest has been my drink of choice for the last five years and I have tried many. Wisers 18 is nice but the flavor isn’t quite there for me. Gibsons rare is great and I may have enjoyed it more than the finest but I can no longer find it so I can’t really count it. Crown royal is swill, be it black, legacy, reserve, or the traditional stuff, I haven’t tried the others available but then I have no faith in the brand. Forty creek is a nice whiskey just a tad mild for my taste, although until now it was in close competition with Wisers Deluxe for my number two choice, the double barrel is also very good but a little to much like a bourbon for my taste,(I had a bad experience, call it over consumption). Centennial was fine for mixing but eh, century reserve 15 was nice but again the flavor just didn’t turn my crank. I could go on but the point is Collingwood is now my number two with Forty Creek and Wisers Deluxe vying for third. Collingwood has a remarkable flavor, I thought long and hard about the right word to describe the flavor of this whiskey and I feel remarkable suits it best. Whether you mix it or drink it neat, or perhaps with a single cube, the flavor is both unique and familiar at the same time, its warming and inviting, I would describe it as moreish but then what decent whiskey isn’t? Anyways to any one out there who hasn’t tried it, or tried it once and wasn’t a fan I say try it, or try it again. Pour yourself a nice glass in your favorite tumbler, add a cube if your unsure, and sit in your favorite chair and sip it, roll it around your mouth and really taste it, look for the familiar Canadian whiskey flavor, it’s there, but then appreciate the differentness, the subtle maple wood flavor, the spicy bite, the smooth almost creamy mouth feel, like with any whiskey most taste something just a little different but if you really take your time I have no doubt you’ll enjoy this whiskey. I know I did.

  26. Sailor Joe:

    Although very decent on it’s own, this is probably my favorite mixer. Try it with Coke Zero and the maple amazingly stands out.

    On it’s own I taste bourbon over the maple.

  27. WildBill:

    Hi, I`m a long time rye lover, Canadian rye that is. Crown Royal has long been a standard to compare other whiskies too, all Canadians know it and its classic smooth canadian rye flavour.
    This is a very interesting whiskey. Its not really even fully a rye whiskey, as part of the blend is made from a mash of corn and barley. This alone should give it a fuller, perhaps slightly smoother taste. Yet it still tastes like Canadian rye. The maple staves do something all together different, I can taste the maple right off, tho it is subtle. I have tasted a few Canadian Rye whiskies that have been flavoured with real maple syrup, these are more like liquers to me, too sweet tho ok as a after dinner “dessert” drink perhaps. This is a sipping whiskey, a young one true…is short life is noticable though not in a harsh way.( young rye tends to be quite harsh to me)I wonder what it would be like with a year or 3 in the actual maple barrels?
    Its good, very good, though was way to expensive here in B.C.. Wisers small batch is very good and a bit cheaper, though it is a very rich strong wiskey..not a traditional Canadian flavour at all(similar too C.R. Black, tho better imo)This is a traditional Candian whiskey, with a subtle twist. Its not rye trying to be Scotch, like the sherry flavoured stuff..its Candian whiskey with just a hint of maple, and fruit…quite peppery on the finish, but that I think is what hides its youth to a degree.

  28. ChuckyWhiskey:

    My favorite has been lost; Canadian Club 12 year old, replaced by Small Batch 12 year old.
    Harsher.
    I stand in my local LCBO, scanning what is available, thinking and trying reasonable alternatives.
    My list:
    Alberta Premium; the best tasting, less expensive whiskey going. However, short on lingering flavour.
    40 Creek. both regular and Copper. Just too sweet for me. Good stuff but…
    Wiser’s Deluxe; hmmm. Local to me but, terrible stuff.
    Crown Royal. No flavour. Maple; wow- too sweet. CR Black; best alternative for flavour.
    Wiser’s 18 Year Old: great! too much for my budget :(
    Centennial; gave it away; weak.
    Gibson’s. Disgusting. End of sentence.
    Dark Horse. Wow. Strong stuff. Mite try this one again. Again. strong flavour., but good stuff.
    Tonight; trying Collingwood. So far, great taste. A little sweet. Decent secondary flavour, but not there for the finish.
    I am torn.
    Maybe, someone can read what I am looking for and suggest a replacement for CC12 Classic.
    sadCCwdrinker

    • Andy:

      Have you tried Hiram Walker Special Old? It is priced at lcbo below $25 and a great sipper. I would be willing to bet this whisky in a blind tasting vs others in the $50-$100 range would do quite well.

  29. [...] Collingwood Canadian whisky is reviewed here. [...]


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