Bison Ridge Canadian Whisky 2012

Bison Ridge Special Reserve 8 Year Old (40% alc/vol)

April 5, 2012


Buttery caramels offset refreshing bitters in an oaky, peppery, and weighty libation. Mouth warming, spicy and oh so smooooth. Simple and straight forward yet amply full-flavoured. ★★★★

Geo. Jet and I are Facebook friends. We met in 1998 on the now-silent MALTS-L discussion board. Not long after, I discovered his Canadian whisky site, a Yahoo group called “Beauty Eh?” It puzzled me to learn that Geo., a well-respected connoisseur and avid imbiber of the finest single malts, was such an enthusiastic fan of Canadian whisky. It turns out that when your palate is as refined as Geo.’s  liquid in a glass holds sway over words on a label.

When we met face-to-face in Las Vegas, Geo., and a number of his fellow “PLOWED Ringleaders,” sat in the midst of several hundred open bottles of the rarest and most sought-after Scotch single malt whisky, and extolled the virtues of Canadian Club Chairman’s Reserve, Canadian Masterpiece, Crown Royal XR, Lot No. 40, and their Holy Grail: Bush Pilot’s Private Reserve. With reverent affection they had dubbed that one “BPPR.”

A couple of weeks ago a message from Geo. arrived in my Facebook mailbox. “I just found a new CW on the shelf at Binny’s. It’s called Bison Ridge Special Reserve 8yo, imported through Minnesota by Crosby Lake Spirits. You’ll love the marketing mumbo jumbo about its “prohibition style blend”. Yet another ploy to cash in on the popularity of Boardwalk Empire, I guess. 
It is actually a fairly decent whisky for the price, $20 USD. A decent enough hit of rye with bags of buttery vanilla and oaky notes with smooth rounded edges. Sort of like the Chardonnay of CW.”

Well if Geo. liked it, I had to try it, and by George, once again he was right. Tara Gadzik from Crosby Lake Spirits Company was only too happy to oblige and a bottle was soon winging its way to my U.S. parcel service. Yes, it’s Canadian whisky, but Bison Ridge is not available at retail in Canada, nor any of the shops I frequent in Upstate New York.

According to Crosby Lake’s promotional material “During Prohibition, a very limited stock of the finest aged whiskies was smuggled across the border to meet the demands of whisky connoisseurs in America. We are now introducing our select blend from the 1930s to consumers around the world who appreciate incredibly smooth whisky. Taste Bison Ridge and see why the wealthy citizens paid the bootleggers so handsomely to get their whisky!” Of course the stock market crash of 1929 put paid to the booming smuggling industry, but who’s to quibble over dates some eighty years later?

Our whisky comes from Canada,” Tara tells me, “and is aged for 8 years in American Oak. We’re very proud of its maturity as it dwells in a category that is led by products aged for only a fraction of that time.  Our blend is an homage to the whiskies of the 1930s and has a smoother, more round taste.

Without question the whisky is smooth – very smooth – and that gorgeous, round mouthfeel is complemented by flavour galore. Not an overly complex whisky, Bison Ridge sticks to the basics and at $15 a bottle scores very well as an everyday drinking dram. Johanna Ngoh, executive producer (and founder) of the Spirit of Toronto whisky show has posed the question: “Do we really keep our best whiskies to ourselves?” Let’s take a sip and find out.

Nose: Sweet caramel, hints of wet clay. Simple, yet rich and expressive.

Palate: Sweet buttery caramel, hot pepper, and refreshing bitters with a hard rye edge. The bitters fade quickly leaving hints of clean oak to linger as the weighty whisky becomes very pleasantly mouth warming with a lovely slatey middle. Slowly, subtle rye spices permeate the pulsing pepper then fade away to nothingness.

Finish: Medium. Citrus pith with hints of caramel.

Empty Glass: Black licorice, caramel, maple syrup.

This is not a Canadian whisky style found commonly in Canada. There is a corps of American drinkers who tend to favour sweet voluptuous whiskies – versatile whiskies that they can sip, shoot, or mix in a cocktail. The Canadian palate leans more towards crisp, clean wood and subtle vibrancy. Bison Ridge most certainly caters to the former.

So do we keep our best whiskies in Canada for ourselves as Johanna wonders? Undeniably, we do have some pretty wonderful drams that never make it across the border. Still, America and the rest of the world also have scrumptious Canadian whiskies that we just can’t find on Canadian liquor store shelves. Bison Ridge Special Reserve fits this category to a T.


Suggested retail price: $14.99 (U.S. only).

Canadian rye whisky - Bison Ridge Reserve - Crosby Lake Spirits


21 Responses to “Bison Ridge Special Reserve 8 Year Old (40% alc/vol)”

  1. portwood:

    Not being a whisky veteran I don’t understand why there is so much quality product distilled in Canada that is not available in our own market. Is it due to the state controlled retail monopolies?

    If private liquor shops existed in Canada would they carry more local product, and would this encourage more micro/craft distilling?

    • Davin:

      I am not really sure. Perhaps there is more entrepreneurial spirit in the U.S. and people buy Canadian whisky then bottle it under their own label. The population of the U.S. is ten times that of Canada so distribution in just a few states can be very profitable.

      From what I’ve seen, selection is much greater in Alberta than in other provinces but I don’t know if privatization helps craft distillers, especially those with small outputs.

  2. kallaskander:

    Hi Davin,

    is it only to my ears that this sounds a little close to Buffalo Trace?

    And looks rather close as well?

    I mean the presentation not the whiskey in itself of course.


  3. Mike:

    I live in Ontario, and had a chance to buy this in Minnesota. I drink it over ice, and really liked it. Too bad I can not buy it here. I did pay $18.99 for this in Plymouth, MN.

  4. Bob:

    I hope I’m not exposing trade secrets but I believe Bison Ridge Special Reserve is the same whiskey as Total Wine’s exclusive, Ellington Reserve. I bought the Ellington early this year in Tucson and packed one in the car coming home. When I got back to the Chicago suburbs I chased my guy at Binney’s to get it. He told me he couldn’t ’cause it is exclusive to Total Wine. Then I saw the Bison Ridge on the shelf “oh yes that’s a new one for us.” Really, well its bottled in the same place as Ellington Reserve with the same seals and cap and is also 8 years old and the color is the same. I bought it and did a side by side taste test at home…gotchya. Great stuff and a super buy!

    • Davin:

      Could be, but don’t be too sure. There are only so many bottling plants so it is no surprise that various brands are bottled in the same place. Also, some smaller producers avoid the expense of re-setting the bottling line by using the same bottle as another brand does. It is very expensive to re-jig the line for a different bottle so unless volumes are large it’s best to use something it’s already set up for.

  5. Allan:

    I have fallen in love with Rye whisky and saw that Canadian whisky was or may still be mostly rye. In the US the rye whiskys say they are rye and often give a percent rye. So, what percent rye is Bison Ridge? It is very nice and I can also taste a hint of rye at least.

    • Davin:

      American ryes are matured in brand new oak which is hugely flavourful – vanillas, caramels and so on. For this reason it takes a lot of rye to show through the barrel flavours. Canadian whiskies are matured in a mix of barrels, many of them already used, so a much smaller amount of rye (or whatever grain) is needed to get the full grain-flavour effects.
      This is why Canadian whisky can be so complex – it gets flavour from many sources while American ryes are often big, bold (and yes, beautiful) without the subtle complexities of some Canadian whisky. As to the actual amount of rye spirit used in Bison Ridge, I am not certain.

  6. georges fuma:

    bonjour ,j’ai l’habitude de boire du bourbon jack daniels et la, j’ai éssayé un wisky clen back canadia special reserve blend ,que j’ai trouvé extra ,pas agréssif et rond en bouche acheté en ESPAGNE 0 LA FRONTIERE en trouve t’on facilement ,?? ou faut’ilaller dans un ecave à wisky ou les prix ne seront peut’être pas les mèmes !merci et bonne fêtes

    • Davin:

      Bonjour Georges, Je pense que Bison Ridge est disponible aux États-Unis seulement.

  7. Kenneth Morreale:

    I had your wonderful product at Christmas. NH state stores have none. Can you tell me how to obtain more.
    Thanks Ken Morreale.

  8. Robert:

    Just found a bottle in the Sherwood Park, Alberta “Wine and Beyond” store. Can’t wait to test it out.

    • Davin:

      Let us know what you think.

      • Yep, I just found one at Liquor Depot in Brentwood, Calgary. $33 aint bad, so now I have to have an occasion to pop it open too.

  9. Kenwa:

    Sold! I cross-referenced your ratings with my store’s availability (Totalwine of Maryland) — they don’t carry any of your 5- or 4.5-star, but they have 4 of your 4-star: CCR10, BRSR8, FCBS, and CRB. Of those I’ve had (and enjoyed) the Forty Creek (thanks to Hansell), but today I’m looking for something smoother with a better possibility of satisfying both me (single-malt Scotch, American/Bourbon, Irish) and a 7&7-drinking buddy (yes yes, I just looked it up, lets not go there). And the Bison Ridge sounds promising, so thanks for posting your observations. (Which I found googling Cowdery’s site for “Canadian”.)

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  12. George Jetson:

    Incredibly, it’s almost 4 years later and I am just now reading this review. I’m unearthing bottles from the move in preparation for Ardbeggeddon (referenced in your second paragraph). Last night, I found my opened bottle of Bison Ridge Special Reserve 8yo and poured a few fingers into a rocks glass with an ice sphere. I had forgotten how silky smooth and, in your words, voluptuous it was. So I decided to circle back and see what you had written about it.

    Whisky notes aside, I gained perspective (spot on by the way) on the differences between the sensibilities of the Canadian palate and those of CW imbibers in the US. Also, I was humbled by your very kind words in the introduction. It is amazing to see today’s renaissance, after all of the attempts by CW producers over the last three decades, finally get a handhold on diversifying and elevating what it is to be CW.

  13. Axton j Cranston:

    I will pay to have this shipped to my address in Ontario, email avoidhotmail at yahoo dot com.

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