Gibson's Finest 12 year old Canadian whisky

Gibson’s Finest aged 12 years (40% alc./vol.)

November 21, 2011

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Crème brûlée, oak, cedar, spicy pepper, cloves, citric zest, black fruits, strawberries and cream. Masterfully balanced and seamlessly integrated. Rich & Oaky. ★★★★

For decades, Gibson’s whiskies have been distilled, aged, blended, and bottled at the Schenley distillery in Valleyfield, Québec. But late in 2008, most of the blending and bottling moved to the Hiram Walker distillery in Windsor, Ontario. Still, the Gibson’s reputation is such that distillery employees in Valleyfield talk proudly of their past association with Gibson’s and at least one of them quietly squirreled away a stash of Valleyfield bottles when it was announced that production was about to be moved to Windsor. Meanwhile, workers at the Hiram Walker distillery exhibit similar pride at the coup of having snagged the Gibson’s contract.

Knowledgeable whisky fans are equally impressed with Gibson’s Finest. Judging by internet chatter, Gibson’s 12 year old is one of the most sought-after treasures of American cross-border whisky shoppers. That’s right; for now, Gibson’s Finest whiskies are available only in Canada.

The Schenley distillery in Valleyfield has a rich history. Just before the First World War began, Maple Leaf Brewery (at that time known as Gold Lion Brewery) set up business in an old biscuit factory in Valleyfield, changing ownership a number of times in the years that followed. In 1938 Quebec Distillers Company bought the old Maple Leaf Brewery and began producing industrial alcohol there in 1939. All through the Second World War this distillery was used to ferment potatoes, grain and molasses to make alcohol for industrial and military uses.

The end of the war brought more change when U.S.-based Schenley Industries bought the distillery in 1945. Rather than update the facility, it built a brand new, state-of-the-art distillery on the site with deep roots in the history of Canadian distilling. By 1969 the new plant had distilled over 1 million barrels of spirit from Québec-grown corn and other local grains.

In 1990, United Distillers, which was a subsidiary of Guinness, purchased the Schenley distillery. Then, in 1997, Guinness merged with another company to form Diageo. Two years later, Diageo sold the distillery, which it had re-named the Valleyfield Distillery, to Canandaigua Brands. But there was a condition to the sale. As part of the agreement Valleyfield would continue to produce distillate for Diageo. Whew! But that’s not all.

In 2008, Canandaigua, (now operating under the name of Constellation Brands) decided to consolidate production at their plant in Lethbridge, Alberta. With this development, Diageo bought back the Valleyfield distillery and signaled its intention to use the plant exclusively to make distillate for VO and other Diageo whisky brands, along with several non-whisky spirits.

But what about Gibson’s, the brand we started with? Gibson’s has its own history of acquisition and new ownership. The Gibson’s brand was purchased from Diageo by its current owner, William Grant and Sons, late in 2002. In 2009, when Gibson’s got squeezed out of its first Canadian home at Valleyfield, Grant contracted the production of Gibson’s whiskies to Hiram Walker, specifically to their Windsor distillery, where it is still made today.

But there’s more to this distilled and blended history! It’s common knowledge that one of the benefits of making whisky by vatting an assortment of different specialty whiskies is that a shift in distilleries can be accommodated simply by adjusting the blending recipes – if that is even necessary. But remember, 12-year-old whisky doesn’t just appear overnight. Fortunately, Gibson’s had been laying down Valleyfield whisky in its own barrels for future use. So even though the whisky is now blended and bottled at the Hiram Walker plant in Windsor, Gibson’s still has plenty of Valleyfield-distilled whisky on hand to maintain the flavour profile.

Nose: Dusty rye and fresh water start things off, most noticeably, even before you swirl the glass. An early fruitiness is soon displaced by aged oaky notes and red cedar. The wood does not overpower, but there is lots of it. Right after the first swirl: caramel custard, butterscotch, and hard candy take over before the fruit returns with SweetTarts, apple juice, hints of red cherry and black fruit, and then slowly, distinct strawberries and cream. Putting your nose deep into the glass brings little whiffs of spirit and something vaguely like sweet shellac. Strong suggestions of dry tobacco leaves followed by milder suggestions of dry grain impart greater depth to an already engaging nose.

Palate: Sweet and silky, but with lots of bitter citric zest, fresh-cut wood, spicy white pepper and hints of tingly ginger ale. The woody notes are restrained but persistent, and although the pepper is hot with tinges of cinnamon and cloves, it integrates flawlessly with the wood and traces of burnt sugar. All this balances magically against an underlying citric bitterness and vaguely tannic orange pekoe tea. The most skilled blenders sign their work – the so-called ‘house style’ – but in invisible ink. A weighty body and creamy slightly slippery mouthfeel merge with toffee notes and burnt sugar to turn earlier impressions of caramel pudding to crème brûlée. Fresh fruit and inklings of rye spices including cloves and Christmas pudding round it out. And then there is just a touch of molasses, almost like dark rum.

Finish: Medium long, hot and peppery, some sweetness, limes, crème brûlée fading to nothing while the pepper lingers.

Empty Glass: Faint oaky tones, fresh-cut wood, burnt wood, vaguest caramel, prune juice, sultanas, Chinese plum sauce, ginger, and cloves.

$27.00 at LCBO.

Highly recommended★★★★

Gibson’s Finest 100th Grey Cup Limited Edition is reviewed here.
Gibson’s Finest Sterling Edition is reviewed here.
Gibson’s Finest Rare 18 year old reviewed here.
Gibson’s Finest Rare Bourbon Cask reviewed here.


Comments

34 Responses to “Gibson’s Finest aged 12 years (40% alc./vol.)”

  1. Stephen Kennedy:

    Hi Davin.

    Thanks very much for this review.

    Wow!

    I’d had Gibson’s many times, thanks to my father-in-law, but only as a mixed cocktail.

    Just recently though, a friend of mine who knows I’ve begun to branch out from being a straight scotch enthusiast to explore all whiskies invited me over for a Gibson’s. The aroma of butterscotch and flavour of creme brulee you mention just bowled me over and I was smitten.

    Much to my wife’s dismay ;) I’m going to have to keep trying it to discover all those other flavours and aromas.

    Thanks again.
    Stephen

    • Davin:

      Hi Stephen,
      I am glad you enjoyed the review.
      Yeah, I am a big Scotch lover too but there is something special about some of our own Canadian whiskies as well, and Gibson’s is one of the greats (three of the greats if you include their 18 year old and the Sterling). If you want something Scotch like (at Canadian whisky prices) you might want to try Canadian Club Sherry Cask. It reminds me of some of the wine finished Bruichladdichs.
      Enjoy your discoveries!
      Davin

  2. T.G. Fisher:

    I live in Arizona. Good Canadian rye is hard to find. I have to drive to Texas to get Wiser’s. I’d like to know if Gibson’s has a distributor in the U.S. Does anyone know?

    • Davin:

      Hi,
      Sorry to say, there is not enough Gibson’s to go around yet, so it is not exported to the U.S. I know they are working on getting the supply up, but it takes 12 years to make 12-yer-old whisky. I know they would like to expand into the U.S. as soon as they can assure a steady supply.

  3. joe r hawley:

    what a fine whiskey but can’t get in u.s.
    help,
    joe

  4. aleksandar:

    i have one botle of gibsons whiskey 12 but buyed 1981. so 42 years old.

    • Davin:

      Hi Aleksandar,
      Yes, there seem to be a lot of older bottlings floating around out there. Unfortunately, with whisky, the only years that count are the ones before the whisky is put in the bottle, so even though you bought it in 1981, it is still 12 years old. Now if it was wine, that would be a different matter!
      Gibson’s make great whisky, so I hope you will enjoy it some day.
      Davin

  5. Yello to Mello:

    This is interesting. I don’t know if I like it or not. :o

    I followed through this review on my 3 session with it and IMO it’s pretty accurate.

    I bought a mickey of this to try, I was more curious of the 18yo and may still get it. I just think that the nose on this 12yo is weak. Davin does a good job at describing it but its seems dominated at times by pure alcohol. It takes more patience to get to the wood and fruits.

    On the other hand the palate has these big spices that I like! I don’t remember having a whisky with spices quite like these and lasts throughout the finish (as noted in the review of course).

    I’m still uncertain.

    • Davin:

      Hi YtM,
      Ahh . . . you are picking up those same shellac and spirit notes that I did, but you’re not quite sure what to make of them. Some people think a little bit of spirit is quite desirable in a whisky. You’ll notice that some of them have a lot and some just a little. People who are most familiar with malt whisky sometimes take a bit of time to warm up to these notes.

      I have had the good fortune to taste the base spirit for Gibson’s 12 year old before it was put into barrels. Anybody who thinks there is neutral spirit in Canadian whisky would have been shocked at how much rich flavour there was in it. It was drinkable (just) as is. The dominant notes of the higher abv base were bubblegum and chocolate fudge. Particularly, the chocolate was really powerful. It had a spirity feel, but not flavour. Somehow, the magic of 12 years in barrels has taken the edge right off those notes and replaced it with woody notes and something like shellac or maybe a hint of resin. Notes like these ones are not common in malt whisky, but they add yet another dimension to the palate and nose of many fine Canadians. I find that Gibson’s 12 is best revealed by a mini-Glencairn glass – the so called Perfect Dram. Another trick to get all the nuances – and the blenders use it all the time – is to dilute the whisky 50:50 with water and suddenly you can smell a whole range of aromas, including the whiffs of shellac and spirit. Keep an open mind; each new tasting experience only serves to expand your repertoire and your palate.

      Davin

      • Yello to Mello:

        I might try some water in this as you suggest Davin. You are also correct that it takes time to warm up to certain whiskies. After a long break from CR deluxe, I am finding I kind of like it when years before it was amongst my least favourite whiskies and I stayed away from it.

        As you compare to someone being used to malt whisky, there has been something else I noticed. In the past few weeks I have been drinking mostly Canadian whiskies. I always hear the phrase when speaking of a good Canadian whisky is praised: ‘it would be even better if it wasnt tasted amongst a bunch of scotches.’

        A few days ago I noticed the opposite. I had a Dalmore 12 in between a few Canadians and I found it sub par for a highly respected single malt of how I remember it. I concluded I wasn’t used to that sort of ‘sweetness’ of Highland malt and why I was preferring Canadians more. Obviously similar instances happen when some people haven’t tasted a heavily peated malt in a while.

        • Davin:

          Hi again,
          I’m not suggesting one style of whisky is better than another, just that when people have a lot of experience with a particular style there is a tendency to look for certain markers that may not be there in other styles. If that makes any sense ;-)
          Davin

          • Yello to Mello:

            Hi again Davin,
            Nah, I knew you werent implying that. I was on a different ‘experience’ concept.
            I had it with some water yesterday and it had maple syrup on the nose. I agree with your rating on this one. I really like the spices. I’ll soon taste the 18 year.

  6. Mike:

    Very interesting notes about the base spirits. It’s good to get some inside knowledge instead of a steady stream of erroneous assmuptions. Listening to some Scotch and bourbon connoiseurs, one might be led to believe that Canadian whisky is little more than cheap vodka with a bit of rye thrown in. Of course we know this is not the case…

    Gibson’s does tend to come across as a little more “sprity” than some other Canadians, particularly the Sterling edition. That is one of my least favourite whiskies so far. But my last experience with the 12 year old was quite positive. Big on cream caramel notes. The 18 year old is really good, as I recall. Baked apple and brown sugar come to mind.

  7. sylvio:

    Hi,

    I have a gibson’s finest 12 year old, 1979.

    Do you have and idea for the price value.

    Thank’s

    • Davin:

      Hi Sylvio,
      It would be in the neighbourhood of $25 to $50.

  8. Deborah:

    Just curious about the recipe of the Gibson’s 12 vs the Sterling. I did a side by side tasting of both recently and as I’ve bought the 12 most times, I’m familiar with its sweeter side. When I’ve left the glass warm in my hand and nose it, I invariably get the scent of toasted marshmallows! That sweetness made me wonder if there’s more corn in the 12 than in the Sterling which had a cereal top note, a lightness and a spicy burn on the fade. Any ideas?

    • Davin:

      Hi Deborah,
      These recipes are guarded quite closely and I do not know the details.
      Davin

  9. [...] Balvenie, and many other whisky and spirit brands), and direct those who would like to know more to this post on the excellent website Canadian Whisky that gives the whole [...]

  10. Lawrence St.Onge:

    I lived in Nitro 3 miles East of Schenley distillery …Back in the 50,s and 60,s we got strong smell of working grain from Schenleys at times…

    • Davin:

      Yeah, I used to live near a brewery. Sometimes you just wanted to stand outside and breathe.

  11. Stephen Harper:

    Paid $16US (regularly $19) for the 1.14l duty-free bottling at Pac Can Duty Free in Blaine WA yesterday, crossing northbound into BC. That seems like an exceptional deal.

  12. Davin I have only one word WOW for Gibson’s Finest. smooth is not the word whatever your doing keep it up.

  13. meet:

    i love gibson

  14. Jose Assunção:

    Se em Portugal á alguma loja que tenha á venda whisky Gibson’s? se não como o poderei adquirir

  15. Mike Fiskehaven:

    Back in 1985 while living in Canada I was introduced to this rye of Gibson’s and just recently I found it in Bemidji MN. Was I ever suprised and greatly pleased. What a treasure to uncover.

  16. Davin:

    Depending on whether yu are in Canada or the U.S. it is worth anywhere between $20 and $50. It’s great whisky. Why not open it and enjoy?

  17. Roger:

    people who love scotch might wanna go for this – i have enjoyed this with a little bit of water

  18. Sailor Joe:

    Very hard for me to waiver from this brand. This has become my staple; though I hate to admit that since I enjoy experimenting with other brands. I have no idea what Gibsons does to make their stuff so tasty but everything I tried so far from them has been a slam dunk.

    Creamy and and goes down easy. Smooth.

  19. Dan:

    A fair review, and an excellent history lesson! Sampled this last night – another ‘Value Added Promotion’ from the LCBO. As with the White Owl, it had this acetone, nail polish remover scent on the nose, although once I let it sit in the glass and open up, it became much, much more enjoyable (unlike the White Owl). I still prefer the Danfield’s 21, though.

  20. Quinton:

    I have an unopened bottle Gibson’s Finest Canadian Whiskey that is aged 12 years and bottled back in 1968. Is this bottle worth anything?

    • Davin:

      Probably $50 to $60. Drink it. It’s great stuff.

  21. DannyD:

    Running the risk of being mobbed i simply hate this whiskey,i cant put my finger on why but i simply cannot drink it.

  22. Erin:

    My hubby and I honeymooned in Scotland this year and went on a 4 day whisky tour…now we want to explore Canadian whisky…Can you recommend a good one?


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