Seagram's VO Canadian whisky

Seagram’s VO (40% alc./vol.)

March 2, 2012

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Much nuance, many hints. Pepper, ginger and other rye spices, ripe dark fruit, earth, dry grain, floral notes, vanilla, cedar, Fruity & Spicy. ★★★

The year was 1913, and Joseph E. Seagram was busily working on a special project in his Waterloo, Ontario distillery. To celebrate his son’s wedding, Seagram was developing a special blend of his finest whiskies for him. And thus, the V.O. legend was born. Let’s hope the folks at Diageo, who now own the V.O. brand, remember that date and release a special centenary edition for us in 2013.

Seagram’s Waterloo distillery was eventually closed in 1992, a victim of industry consolidations. Since then V.O. has been produced at Diageo’s distillery in Valleyfield, Quebec, with some spirit components coming from other plants. Although flavourful and multi-faceted, V.O. is best served as a mixing whisky, its spirity whiffs and ginger notes complement a dry ginger ale.

Nose: Closed at first, then slowly opening into mild rye notes with a hint of spirit. Fresh farmyard smells, earthiness, cigarette ashes, suggestions of dry grain, and a vaguely floral essence give it an organic feel. Then a slight sweetness and ripe fruitiness develop into hints of cream sherry, followed by more mild floral notes. Soon some woody notes arrive, not obvious, but noticeable, with cedar and newly-cut lumber. This is not an overly expressive whisky. Yes, V.O. certainly has plenty of aromas – wood, sweet rye spices, dry grass, and vague notes of pickles, but although they are varied they could never be described as prominent.

Palate: Starts hot with pepper and alcohol. An appealing bitterness lingers under the full gamut of classic rye notes, including earthiness, freshwater plants, hints of pickles, a flash of flowers, and lots of baking spices – cardamom, nutmeg, ginger, and then some ginger ale. But there is a contradiction in that it is alternately dry at moments, then sweet and creamy. The slight caramel-like sweetness never cloys, but nicely frames shades of bourbon-like vanilla pod. The hot pepper develops into a real burn. Although it has the spirity notes of a classic mixing whisky, the body has a pleasing weight. And though there are ripe fruits, it never becomes overly fruity. If it sounds like there is a lot going on here, there really isn’t. There are lots of flavour suggestions, but it’s really not very complex. The zestiness feels good – almost tannic in its astringency and there is a rewarding underlying woodiness. Vague hints of apple juice are the first really well-defined flavour and are followed by some sweet citric notes. Pleasing.

Finish: Medium to short. Peppery with some heat, and sweet with a citric bitter zest that fades fairly quickly to nothingness.

Empty Glass: Barkeep’s Sunday morning, tidying up after Saturday night at the local bar. Very faint hints of beer, a slight sourness, and cigarette ashes then grain, mild caramel, a bit of wood, dry grass, hints of vanilla, and a slight dustiness.

There’s a long history of whisky knowledge being blended with a mix of lore, tradition, and myth, not to mention commercial hype. Writing in 1809, American distiller Samuel M’Harry said the industry was filled with as many myths as untruths. And the meaning of the letters V.O. is one such example. Although evidence to date is not definitive, some claim V.O. means Very Old, while others insist on Very Own. I’m not sure why everything has to be explained, but lacking solid information let’s just enjoy a rye and ginger and acknowledge there is a vaguely ordinary controversy here, of minor proportions.

LCBO price – $23.00.

Recommended ★★★

A Century of Seagram’s V.O. historical exhibit is announced here.


Comments

60 Responses to “Seagram’s VO (40% alc./vol.)”

  1. tim:

    I do choose VO over other ryes in a similar price range – and I don’t mind sipping it straight – nice strong rye dominates with a light creamy/sweet undertone.

    VO’s moment in the spotlight (and the reason I first purchased it) was because of it being Alice Cooper’s choice of liquid poison back when he couldn’t remember one night to the next. VO can be seen on the cover of “Lace & Whisky”

    http://images.uulyrics.com/cover/a/alice-cooper/album-lace-and-whiskey.jpg

    I recently opened a bottle of VO GOLD and it was even easier going down… claims to have longer/special aged rye.

    Think I’ll put on the LP at the end of the day and pour myself a nice tumbler of VO.

    Thanks Davin.

  2. Davin:

    Hi Tim,
    That’s fantastic! I did not know that about Alice Cooper; thanks for pointing it out to me.
    Cooper’s VO looks about the same vintage (1970) as the big bottle in the picture above. (The tasting notes are from a 2010 bottling though, like the little one in the picture.)
    Yes, VO Gold has more flavouring whiskies used in the blending process.

  3. Jimmy:

    Just stumbled across your website/blog and have to say that I’m loving it. I’ve been into whisky for about 3 years now, mostly Scotch and bourbon since I’m now living in the USA. This V.O. review made me pretty nostalgic since along with Seagram’s 5 star it was the brand my father drank. One quick comment, as a Manitoba boy I have to point out that V.O. was produced at the Gimli distillery along with Crown Royal, 5-star, and Canadian 83 not at Valleyfield. In Manitoba the bottles came with a label proudly stating that they were Manitoba products. Did this change or does V.O. get made at both distilleries now? Keep up the great work and I look forward to learning more about new Canadian releases as you post them.

    • Davin:

      Hi Jimmy,
      Now that Diageo owns both the Valleyfield distillery and Gimli there has been some movement of the brands. As far as I know, Canadian 83 is still one of the most popular whiskies in Manitoba, but it is made at Valleyfield in Quebec, as are VO and 5-Star. The Gimli plant now focuses on Crown Royal although it may make some of the components of VO as well. VO, of course, was one of the original Seagram’s whiskies originally produced at their distillery in Waterloo, Ontario.

      • Jimmy:

        That’s interesting about all the brand movement. I wonder how long before all the stock laid down at Gimli for V.O. is used up. I think it’s good if Gimli is going to exclusively distill crown royal. I feel like the lack of a strong association between the various Canadian whisky brands and the distilleries that produce them hurts the perception of Canadian whisky. Gimli is a pretty town, it’s right on lake Winnipeg and I feel like the distillery can become a magnet for tours considering the popularity of Crown Royal.

        • Davin:

          Hi Jimmy,

          They might still make a little bit of whisky for VO at Gimli.

          Touring a distillery is not nearly as easy as it is in Scotland or Kentucky. In Canada we have health & safety regulations, insurance policies/regulations, and unions that make it very difficult to get. Gimli does group tours but not for individuals and not for people who just show up. The only other distilleries that have tours are Kittling Ridge and Glenora. Canadian Club has a tour but they do not let you into the distillery itself, just the old offices. The distilleries are so far apart in Canada that you can’t have a distillery route and they are big industrial complexes and not particularly safe if you don’t know what you are doing.

  4. Lovins:

    I have a bottle of VO that is at least 71 years old,not to mention the 6 years its already been aged. If anyone is interested in purchasing this wonderfully aged adult beverage,please let me know.I’m sure someone out there would love to have a wonderfully aged whisky.

    • brandon:

      I’d like to have it. Price??

  5. marilyn orr:

    Can one bottle of Seagrams VO be shipped from Ohio to New York state?

  6. dennis bowman:

    I have a bottle of Seagrams VO that has been exposed to temperatures over 120 degrees and below 30 degrees for the last year or two. Should I toss it or is it still good?

    • Davin:

      Why not taste it and see?

  7. PETER:

    I HAVE 2 UNOPENED FLASKS OF V.O. ONE IS FROM 1960, THE OTHER FROM 1961. ARE THEY STILL GOOD OR WORTH ANYTHING?

    • Davin:

      Hi Peter,
      If they are still sealed and the fill level is fine, and provided they have not been stored in some toxic environment, they should still be good.
      To establish a value check e-Bay for comparable whisky or look at the archive at whiskyauction.com. I think you will find that like most old Canadian whisky, they have not appreciated very much and your best value is obtained by sharing them and the memories of them with a few close friends.

  8. Davin:

    In the neighbourhood of $35 to $65 depending on who buys it.

  9. Rich Irwin:

    I purchased a 1.75 liter bottle of Seagrams V.O. after not buying it for 15 or so years, and I was extremely disappointed – I will not buy it again. 15 or 20 years ago, it stated it was “Aged 6 years” on the bottle. Not now. The taste is completely different, it was like I was drinking something cheaper like Canadian Mist or Black Velvet. Too bad, I guess theyre cracking it out so fast these days they dont want to spend the time and trouble to make a good product. V.O. use to mean Very Old, now it means Very Overpriced (for what you get).

  10. Dror:

    I have seagram’s v.o. seald buttle from 1966.
    Is it good to drink or the flouveris gone?
    How much is it worth?

    Dror

    • Davin:

      As long as the seal is intact and the level is good it should still be fine to drink. It is worth somewhere around $30.00, as long as you can find a buyer.

  11. Ken:

    I was just given a Texas Mickey of Seagrams V.O. Canadian Whisky, sealed and dated 1968 on the seal, was wondering if it ages in the bottle??

    • Davin:

      Officially , no, but some people, including me, believe that oxidation and chemical interactions can slowly improve the flavour (over decades, not years). Sadly it does not increase the value which for Canadian whisky remain fairly static over time.

      • Dave:

        I also just acquired 2 – 133 1/3 OZ sealed bottles of Seagram’s VO from 1967 – Seal intact and in the box with the pump. Would this be of value to anyone? E-bay does not allow the sale of alcohol. Are there any other resources out there for potential buyers???

        • Davin:

          Unfortunately, the value does not go up over the years. You are better of just to drink it.

  12. shirley:

    I received my first bottle of V.O. Gold for a birthday present (a milestone…one better off not mentioning!!) I can’t get over how smooth and silky it is! It has definitely won me over to the chagrin of the two regular V.O. bottles on my shelf!! (I’ll serve that to guests!)

  13. Arlene Bolte:

    I came across what looks like a book, the title of which is Auto Purchasing Problems Simplified. When opened, there are the words, “To The Finest People On Earth-Our Friends” on the inside left cover. On the inside right sits an empty Seagram’s V.O. bottle with a date of 1960 on it, along with two glass shot glasses which have golden rims. I suppose these were given out years ago by distributors. Is there any way you could trace an old promotional item like this?
    Thanks in advance!

    • Davin:

      Hi Arlene, Yes, it sounds like a promotional gift but these things come and go and there really is no way that I know of for tracking down their origins. Sounds interesting though. Sorry.

  14. Ron Litwiller:

    What have you done to exquisit label on the VO bottle the new one looks like it comes out of a thrift shop , I have been enjoing this drink for many years and proud to
    show it off, I will cotinue to purchase VO but i am not impressd with the new label Ron Litwiller

  15. Ron LeGrow:

    The new VO label is not to my liking and a clear glass bottle?

  16. Shaun:

    I have inherinted a bottle of V.O. that was purchased in 1974. This is by far the best whiskey I have ever had. Don’t change a thing!!

  17. michael:

    I have a bottle of Seagram’s 83 bottle in 1970 is there a value for or should I just break the seal and drink it with friends?

    • Davin:

      Break the seal and drink it with friends. It’s worth about $30 or so IF you can find a buyer.

      • RON MAYER:

        MICHAEL…I WOULD BUY THAT 83 OFF YOU IF IT IS THE THUMB DIMPLED BOTTLE.

  18. Yann Boucher:

    I have that old VO my grand-father gave me … never open with the sticker on it… the date …. 1979!!!
    I don’t want to sell it but I wonder how much it worth.

    • Davin:

      Hi Yann, Old bottles of whisky do not go up much in value. Yours is probably worth somewhere around $30, maybe a bit more to the right buyer. Go ahead and open it. You are drinking great whisky, but not a priceless antique.

  19. Remember that tweet I asked you abouta bottle dating 1971, I forgot to say it was a 1,14l opened bootle and about 4/5 left. I tasted it and it was quite good.

    http://t.co/6bDdryYT (label)
    http://t.co/BIyzv3E1 (neck with the 1971 on it)

    Is there any danger drinking it if it was open (and it tasted quite good) ?

    Thanks!!

    • Davin:

      I would never drink whisky that was open when I found it. You do not know what may be in the bottle. Old VO is not worth much money. If it was me I would pour it out.
      Davin

      • It’s my mother-in-law’s bottle, she had it since then, it’s not something random that was found somwhere no one knows about…

        My concern’s was more on the alteration or quality of the liquid, could it deteriorate to the point of being a danger for the health ?

        • Davin:

          If you know where it came from and the level is good I’d guess that it is safe to drink. And probably it tastes pretty good too! Enjoy.

  20. Carl:

    My bottle of VO dates to 1943! Apparently it’s not worth much, but it is pretty cool. Don’t know if I will open itor not.

    • Davin:

      It’s very cool. Save it for a special occasion and share it with friends and you can talk about it for years after.

  21. Sam:

    I have Seagram’s v.o. Canadian Whisky from 1970 has not been open. Is this worth anything or should i trow it out? email me at Huntfamily2004@gmail.com

    • Davin:

      If the level is good it should be fine to drink. It is worth $25 or so.

  22. Thomas:

    Please say it isn’t so. Living in Nova Scotia. I was informed that there will be no more VO. How do I get more. It was my fathers drink of choice. It is my drink of choice. Very fond memories of making his drink then growing into being able to sit on thru deck after a holiday and relax with a VO. My fathers passed 2 years ago. Relaxing with him after he cooked the family feast are all good memories. Hope I do not have to start my own drink. When i heardVO was not going to be available. I was crushed but i bought all 6 bottles available

    • NESTER A:

      hey was learning English there in halifax, and was there, when i try first time VO. years aago go back to mexico. and o bought VO in UETA stores in texas..for only 10 american dlls.. really cheap..actually today i bought 2 bottles in mccallen tx,,now im drinking a delicious VO..

    • Mark:

      Hi. My Grandmother drinks VO and she told me it was no longer available at the NSLC, a worker there told her that. I thought she was nuts but I was searching their website and don’t see it on there, and now that you said the same thing I’m thinking she was telling the truth. I am now going to win the grandchild of the year award by bringing her a bottle down every time I come down from Moncton ;)

  23. Glenn:

    What is sugar contest of VO & VO Gold? Diabetic concerns. tia

    • Davin:

      Best to ask your doctor or a nutritionist.

  24. I’m wondering if anyone buys cocktail drink recipes? I have created one that I think is a winner for sure!

    • Davin:

      I can’t think of anyone who buys recipes for cocktails.

  25. Reed:

    I was going through some of my grandpas stuff and I found a pint of VO in a drawer. The tax stamp date reads 1965 and the bottle reads aged 6 years, so I’m guessing around 1959? I don’t think I’ll drink it but will save it and maybe pick up a pint of 2013 in a week or two. Hastily this whiskey be good for over fifty years old? Thanks Reed

    • Davin:

      Yes, it should still be good. Not valuable, but good for drinking.

  26. Bruce monks:

    Hi I came across a Texas mickey of Seagrams V.O Canadian whiskey Canada’s finest anyways it still has the seal on the bottle from 1967 just wondering if it is still any good or what has never been opened thanks

    • Davin:

      It should still be good and the value has not gone up so go ahead and enjoy it.

  27. [...] And what group of people was used as an example of the very sophisticated drinker of this beverage, Seagram’s V.O. Canadian Whisky? Why, the people of Madoc, of [...]

  28. Nancy:

    Hi. I have an empty bottle of Imported Seagram’s VO. The label design was adopted 10.1.40. It has the seal of the Earl of Athlone, the former Governor General of Canada. It is old, but in pretty good shape. Any idea of what it is worth?

  29. 35 years a Vo drinker ,nuff said

  30. Nicole:

    Hi there, as I’ve read a few of these comments I’m beginning to think this bottle I’ve found isn’t worth much but I’ll ask anyways. . I have a 1964 Seagrams VO 6 year old, still in its original Christmas wrapping. . I’ve researched it and cannot find it anywhere. . I was on a website and saw some years were worth a lot. . But 1964 was not on there. . Could it be worth anything more? Thanks

    • Davin:

      In Canada and the US these old bottles of VO – really any year since Prohibition – are worth less than $50 usually a lot less, and that’s if you can even find a buyer.

      • Nicole:

        Great, thank you for your time…

  31. Eric:

    I just poured some ancient VO over ice. Tastes pretty good! The bottle is like the one pictured above. I raise this toast to my friend in Chicago.

    Cheers

  32. [...] you can read it in full, complete with comments, here – showed an interesting advertisement for Seagram’s V.O. Whisky that appeared in the Ottawa Journal back in 1964, and that I was able to feature thanks to reader [...]


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