Gibson's Finest Sterling Edition Canadian Whisky photo

Gibson’s Finest Sterling (40% alc/vol)

November 22, 2011

Share

Rich and creamy mouthfeel with a plethora of sweet fruits and berries, citric zest and pith, a nuttiness, black pepper, and hints of spirit. Soft Corn. ★★★★

Gibson’s Finest whiskies are among the most sought-after by whisky-loving visitors to Canada. And Canadians working abroad have been known to use their visits home to supplement their private stockpiles back in their host country. Why does Gibson’s inspire such loyalty? Quite simply, it’s the quality of the whisky. Since it first began releasing whisky in Canada, in the 1970s, Gibson’s has stressed the importance of properly ageing its whiskies. But from time to time, as demand has outstripped production, this has also resulted in shortages. Still, Gibson’s steadfastly refuses to take any shortcuts with its ageing processes.

American visitors who have tasted Gibson’s whisky just shake their heads when they learn that it is not exported into the U.S. But with such a large home market eager to buy all it can make, why would Gibson’s even think about exporting it? If that’s the case, then why not make more of it, you ask? Well, it turns out that plans are underway and Gibson’s at long last will be test marketing at least one of its whiskies in the U.S. by the end of this year. But nothing is that easy. The real dilemma is that it takes twelve full years to age a twelve-year-old whisky. You can’t just suddenly crank up production to address surges in demand. In fact, for the past several years Gibson’s has deliberately stifled demand for its flagship 12 year old in order to have enough whisky to keep at least a trickle flowing until more of its whisky reaches maturity. Fortunately, it seems that this crisis has passed and Gibson’s 12 year old is now readily available across Canada.

This is not the first time that Gibson’s has faced serious supply shortages. In 1987 demand for its twelve year old had grown to the point that it significantly exceeded the supply. Faced with the unpleasant prospect of having to disappoint their customers, brand managers in charge of Gibson’s decided on a temporary measure. They decided that the company should create a special edition to fill the gap. Thus, Gibson’s Sterling Edition was born.

Knowing that their customers had come to expect a certain creaminess and specific oaky tones, the blenders pulled out all the stops. Even though they did not have sufficient 12-year-old whisky in the warehouses, they were determined not to settle for a lesser product. So, although the resulting Sterling Edition did include some younger whisky, this was balanced off with plenty of well-aged spirit, some of it up to 25 years old, in fact. Thus, when it was introduced, Gibson’s Sterling was every bit as tasty as – and some said even better than – the original 12-year old version. The shortages of the late 1980s have passed and these older whiskies no longer find their way in Gibson’s Sterling, but the Gibson’s blenders have certainly worked their magic to maintain the quality.

Gibson’s Sterling Edition was so well received by Canadian whisky drinkers that a temporary measure became something of a Gibson’s staple. In fact, when the supply of 12-year-old whisky finally returned, the company decided to turn their stop-gap special edition into a permanent member of the Gibson’s family. Gibson’s blenders developed a recipe that would continue to express Sterling’s rich and creamy mouthfeel and flavourful palate, albeit with younger, and more readily available whiskies. Like all of Gibson’s whiskies, Sterling is aged in first fill Bourbon barrels from Kelvin Cooperage in Louisville, Kentucky.

Gibson’s Sterling is a little less expensive than the ever-popular Gibson’s 12 year old, so many people think of it more as a mixing whisky. And while it’s true that it is a great mixer, it is also quite suitable to sip neat or on ice.

Nose: Sweet and fruity. There’s lots going on here, although it’s gentle and just a little bit restrained. Mild and slightly floral caramel notes evolve into sweet lemon candy, then Grand Marnier, pear juice, Welch’s grape juice, and purple grapes. An uncommon note – berries that last right through to the finish – adds some interest. A faint smell of plastic accompanies sweet rye spices and fresh water plants. And to finish it off, a slight nuttiness wafts up together with just a hint of spirit.

Palate: The luxurious Gibson’s mouthfeel returns: creamy with a slight slipperiness and kind of waxy. Although there are many fruity notes, the fruit – sweet soft yellow apples, berries, just hints of black prunes, and suggestions of cherry ice cream – does not overwhelm the palate. Caramel and barley sugar add sweetness. There are even some hints of marshmallow, but the palate quickly moves to citric zest. A slightly bitter oaky pull underlies hints of walnut, not so much the nut itself, but the walnut’s bitter skin. Black pepper notes fade quickly, leaving a pleasant warmth behind and, as with all good mixers, there is a trace of spirit.

Finish: Medium. Fading on tingly peppery spices and caramel. The berry tones return together with some slightly bitter fruit. Citric notes include both zest and pith. There is something way in the background that feels vaguely astringent.

Empty Glass: Not a lot. Elements of oak sugars evoke slight aromas of rum butter, toffee, caramel, and fudge, then prune juice, wood ashes, and a slight sourness.

$25.25 at LBCO

Highly Recommended. ★★★★

Gibson’s Finest 100th Grey Cup Limited Edition is reviewed here.
Gibson’s Finest 12 year old reviewed here.
Gibson’s Finest Rare 18 year old reviewed here.
Gibson’s Finest Rare Bourbon Cask reviewed here.


Comments

13 Responses to “Gibson’s Finest Sterling (40% alc/vol)”

  1. Mike Converse:

    Can I buy silver anywhere in the US

    • Davin:

      Hi Mike,
      To my knowledge, unfortunately not.

  2. Des Jenniex:

    What is the best glass to enjoy Gibson’s Sterling? I enjoy it on its own without ice or anything.

    Thank you

    • Davin:

      If you are sipping it neat, you can use a glass that tapers in a bit at the top. The Glencairn single malt glass is good. If you happen live in Ontario the LCBO has a nice glass called “The Canadian Whisky Glass.” I like it a lot and it works both neat and with ice or mixer.

  3. paddockjudge:

    Season’s Greetings Davin,
    what a wonderful review; I didn’t want it to end.

    It was my good fortune to receive a bottle of Gibson’s as a Christmas present. This offering involved a blind choice: Gibson’s 12 year old (in a wooden box) or Gibson’s 21 year old. I was informed that these two bottles have been resting unopened for twenty-some years and that one of them may have been purchased about 27 years ago.
    I chose the 21 year old.

    When this gift was delivered to me, I recognised it as Gibson’s Finest Sterling Edition. I was excited by receiving a bottle of Gibson’s that probably wasn’t produced at the Walkerville plant (but slighjtly disappointed that it wasn’t the 21 year old).

    I immediately proceeded to CANADIAN WHISKY Reviews and was so very pleased by reading your nostalgic anecdote surrounding this blend.
    I am now satisfied with my selection and grateful to both you and my Kris Kringle for giving me a wonderful piece of Canadiana.

    Would you be able to help me find the production date of this bottling from some of its markings? I am hoping this may be from the innaugral Sterling offering.
    Whisky can almost be as enjoyable in the bottle as out – almost.

    • Davin:

      Thanks for this fascinating question. I spent some time with the man who made this whisky and he remembers it very well. His recollection is that it was made around 1988/89 to fill the gap when they ran low on 12 year old whisky.

      Gibson’s has always been about uncompromising quality so they introduced Sterling to take some of the pressure off while they waited for enough 12 year old whisky to be ready to meet demands.

      Officially Sterling was a 6 year old, because that was the youngest whisky in the bottle, but in order to maintain the quality image (and flavour) it was actually a blend of 6 year old and 25 year old. So the 21 year figure is not accurate. Someone may have done an average, but in Canada the age stated is always that of the youngest component whisky.

      And yes, your whisky was distilled at Schenley distilleries in Valleyfield Quebec.

  4. Rick:

    I went out and bought the 100 anniversary Grey Cup whisky and ended up getting the sterling whisky with the grey cup glass. Is this a packaging mistake? I was hoping to taste the special edition grey cup whisky? Or are they the same. Bought it at the local BC run liquor store and brought it home all excited, opened it and then saw the bottle looked different then what was advertised? What is up with that ? Thank you!

    • Davin:

      The 100th Grey Cup whisky is different from the Sterling. I am not sure how they are packaging it in BC. I write about whisky, but i don’t make or sell it.

  5. I have had an unopened bottle of Gibsons finest 12 year old whiskey for many years. Is there a code on the bottle somewhere so I can find out how old this really is ?

    Thank you for your time Katherine Desrosiers

    • Davin:

      If it is old, no, there is no code. However, if the level is still good then it will still be fine to drink and since these old bottles do not go up in value, that is the best thing to do. Open it and enjoy it.

  6. J.Mackinnon:

    Big fan of the sterling, I can’t seem to get it at my local LC did they stop making it?

    • Davin:

      They still make it but is sells out quickly this time of year.

      • Jordan Mackinnon:

        Thanks for the reply Davin, i just had the store check every outlet in Nova Scotia and not one single bottle to be found. I hope the hurry up with the next batch.


Leave a Reply