Gibson's Finest Sterling Edition Canadian Whisky photo

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

November 22, 2011


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.


31 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.

  7. Ron Bailey:

    I would like to know if you sell Texas mickeys of Gibson
    I am looking for one for a door prize for stag and doe.

    Ron Baiey

    • Davin:

      I am a whisky writer. I do not sell whisky. You’d have to ask the company.

  8. Shaemus:

    I’m sure you’ve reviewed a thousand other whiskies since this article, but I was compelled to post.

    Firstly, a very sincere thank-you. Your review was honest, very detailed, and contained information that was new to me (and I’m a know-it-all, just ask my wife).

    And now a story:

    I live within walking distance of the (previously) Seagram’s distillery that makes Crown Royal. My old man always preached about the incredible flavour, and so, of course, it was my whiskey of choice for many, many years.

    I developed a new circle of friends. They appreciated my taste in whiskey, but couldn’t understand why I had never had Gibson’s. In particular, the Sterling was popular. Admittedly we were relatively young, and price was an appealing factor, but that’s not where it ended. There was just something about it.

    As stated, I’m something of a know-it-all, so I staunchly returned to Crown, and it continued to be my whiskey of choice for nearly another decade. Then, one day, partway through a bottle, I could no longer palate the stuff. I thought something may have happened and bought a replacement from a different retailer. Still, it was off-putting.

    So, I began the Great Tour of Canadian Whiskies. If you haven’t done so, I highly recommend it. There’s some great stuff in there. I adventured through the Irish whiskies next, and had a brief affair with scotch. Many of these fine spirits were wonderful palate experiences that defy my poor abilities to describe. However, none felt “just right” to my curmudgeonly, Goldilocks-esque palate.

    Then, I saw a display of Gibson’s Finest Sterling. I asked myself, “Self, why did we leave out Gibson’s on our adventure?” I could not think why, and so I brought a bottle home.

    Since that day, Gibson’s Sterling is the whiskey you’ll find on my shelf. It’s wonderfully balanced, smooth taste is perfectly suited to have neat, on the rocks, with a splash of water, or even mixed with cola if you’re of a mind.

    Thank-you again for this article, and thanks to everyone who took the time to read my contribution. Now, go and get yourself a bottle of Gibson’s–especially if that means you have to travel to Canada to do so!

  9. Murray Berman:

    I was given a taste of your Sterling by a friend.
    I was always using either Canadian Club or Crown Royal until I tasted this one.
    OH BOY !
    It was so pleasant, mellow and no harsh taste.
    It is a perfect whiskey to sip.
    I highly recommend it to anyone who wants to drink something & not having to kill it with some soda pop.
    Well, go buy a bottle. Find out what G-d wanted you to taste and never forget.

  10. milton jackson:

    Can you mail order whiskey from canada to the united states?

    • Davin:

      Unfortunately, no. Not allowed.

  11. Desiré:


    Do i understand correctly that Gibson’s is not being exported to europe?

    Thank you

    • Davin:

      You do.

  12. [...] Gibson’s Finest Sterling reviewed here. [...]

  13. Linda:

    My husband and I do not like the new look of the bottle we are always having a hard time with the cork breaking and some times some of the cork falls in the bottle please go back to the other bottle with the handle and the screw off cap we loved that bottle thank you

  14. Linda:

    I would like to know the ingredients in this product. My daughter has many food sensitivities. She has been having stomach problems lately and wonder if there is something in your product that is causing her problems.

    • Davin:

      Water, grain, yeast.

  15. Rudy:

    Tried Gibsons Sterling for the very first time today. Oh my, where have you been all my life! Smoooooooooth. Absolutely delicious.

  16. Mike Plude:

    I have a friend who got the 12 year and a bottle of
    Reserve. We live in upstate NY about 3 hours from
    the border. Can I drive across the border and bring
    it back to the States!

  17. Bob Pearson:

    You mention that Gibson’s Sterling is made from water, grain, and yeast. Would it be possible to break down the grain composition? For example; what percentage is rye?

    • Davin:

      Not really. It is blended to flavour so these could change from year to year.

  18. Brian Pellerin:

    Thanks for your review, Davin. I just bought a bottle of the Sterling. What other Canadian whiskys are approximately this easy sipping with so little burn? I’d class Forty Creek Barrel Select in this category.

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