Gibson's Finest Bourbon Cask photo

Gibson’s Finest Rare Bourbon Cask (40% alc./vol.)

January 17, 2011

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Creamy, soft, round and smooth. Fresh-cut wood, caramel, and vanilla. Hot peppery spices, a slight saltiness, and gentle citric zest. Mildly floral and fruity. Soft Corn. ★★★★

The Scotch Whisky Association (SWA) can be exceptionally protective of anything to do with the word “Scotch,” fearing that other products will try to trade on its good name, and damage its reputation in the process. Thus, while Scotch whisky labels may proudly display the words Amarone, Bordeaux, Bourbon, Burgundy, Madeira, Port, Sauternes, Sherry, or any number of other protected geographic designations on their labels, there would be sheer apoplexy at SWA headquarters should someone release a non-Scottish whisky with a label bearing the words “Scotch Cask.”

So we can understand why the Scottish firm, William Grant and Sons, owners of the Gibson’s brand, chose to call this particular whisky “Bourbon Cask” despite the fact that it was matured in casks that had previously held Scotch. In truth, almost every Canadian whisky is matured in Bourbon casks; it is the use of Scotch casks that differentiates this one.

Now the Scots don’t have a problem declaring that their Innis and Gunn beer was aged in Canadian casks, undeterred by the fact that these casks almost certainly had the same Bourbon heritage as did those used for this Gibson’s whisky. But who’s to explain the logic of an organization that thinks the word “Glen” is synonymous with Scotland? So, even though it was matured in Scotch casks, by the time this fine Canadian whisky hit the shelves at the LCBO, it had been dubbed “Gibson’s Finest Rare Reserve Bourbon Cask.”

William Grant and Sons, makers of Glenfiddich, The Balvenie, and Grant’s Scotch whiskies, acquired the Gibson brand and maturing stocks from Diageo in 2002. The new owners injected fresh vigour into the brand, and as so often happens, also sought to put their own particular stamp on this prestigious Canadian whisky. So when the LCBO came calling, looking for something exclusive for their October 2006 whisky promotion, Grant’s quickly came up with an idea for two special Gibson’s whiskies. One would be finished in new oak, reinforcing the vanillas already found in Gibson whiskies, and the other would be finished in casks from one of Grant’s Scotch distilleries. What a novelty, and frankly, what a good idea. The resulting whisky is a creamy, ultra-smooth Canadian, with absolutely no rough edges.

Nose: Faint dry fresh-cut wood that gradually grows stronger, adding hints of flowers, corn whisky, and caramel as it does. Initial suggestions of vaguely sweet vanilla swell to a virtual vanilla ice cream crescendo. Hints of dusty rye precede cloves, allspice, and ginger, then berry jam and dark fruit, whiffs of spirit, and a hint of plastic.

Palate: Starts off sweet and bland, almost boring in fact, but patience is rewarded with hot peppery spices and truckloads of fresh-cut lumber. The heat and the wood play nicely off each other. The full-bodied mouth-filling creaminess becomes so rich with vanilla, toffee, and caramel that the sweetness borders on cloying. A slight but pleasing astringency, with hints of oak and bitter citric zest, manages to correct that, but would have been welcome a few seconds sooner.

Although the Bourbon casks used to finish this whisky might more correctly have been called Scotch casks, notes of both Bourbon, and vanilla come across surprisingly clearly. Or is that simply corn whisky shining through? More subtle nuances include sweet red fruit, vague whispers of chocolate, and a slight saltiness. What complexity it has is certainly understated. Rather, a luxuriant, smooth mouthfeel almost monopolizes the palate. But of course, the concept of “smoothness” applied to whisky is as much a matter of what is not there, as what is.

Finish: Medium to long. Sweet and peppery with a slight tannic pull. The caramel and hints of pepper and rye spices linger and linger until a final touch of bitter lemon cleans it up.

Empty Glass: Fairly expressive with wood, a hint of wood smoke, caramel, wet forest, sour rye, a suggestion of pickles, and a slight hint of Chinese sweet-and-sour sauce.

Long since gone from LCBO but sold for $24.05 when it was in stock.

Highly Recommended. Collectable. ★★★★

Gibson’s Finest 100th Grey Cup Special Edition is reviewed here.
Gibson’s Finest Sterling Edition is reviewed here.
Gibson’s Finest 12 year old is reviewed here.
Gibson’s Finest Rare 18 year old is reviewed here.


Comments

3 Responses to “Gibson’s Finest Rare Bourbon Cask (40% alc./vol.)”

  1. Mike:

    I wish I tried this while it was around. I did try the New Oak version and it was quite good. It is indeed confusing that the back of the label states, “bourbon casks that previously held Scotch whisky,” or something to that effect.

    It’s interesting to note that William Grant & Sons owns Innis & Gunn and Grant’s blended Scotch. Thus you have Scotch matured in ale casks, ale matured in Canadian whisky barrels, Canadian whisky aged in Scotch casks…talk about cross-pollination.

    • Davin:

      Yes, the ultimate in re-cycling!

      I think William Grant & Sons sold their interests in Innis & Gunn a few years after this whisky was released so they are separate businesses now.

  2. Adam:

    Great stuff. I bought a bottle on a whim, and now regret not having purchased more–apparently, it won’t be available anymore.


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