The latest in my blog series on “Too Little, Too Late”, I now bring you a discontinued Canadian whisky! I bought this bottle on closeout last year, forgot about it, and finally cracked it open to taste after the last few bottles vanished from store shelves, to be replaced by a 10 year-old rum-finished edition that is likely nothing like this one. Oh well, I bought it so now I’m reviewing it.
Pike Creek is another in a spate of Canadian whisky brand revivals along with Lot 40 and Gooderham & Worts from Corby Distillers. From 2012 until 2016 or so, Pike Creek was available as a 10 year-old Port Finish edition in Canada and a Port Finish edition in the US which is only aged 7 years, although this is not disclosed on the label. The US version is younger because the producer felt that demand for the new brand would outstrip supply. Thanks, Canada. Demand must not have been all that after all because both were discontinued and have been replaced by a single 10 year-old Rum Finish edition. I am an ardent Lot 40 admirer which I still refer to as my favorite Canadian whisky, so when I saw a port finish from the same distillery (it’s made at the Hiram Walker plant in Winsor, Ontario and now owned by Pernod Ricard) on closeout for $14 (normally closer to $30), my better sense abandoned me and I ordered it.
Pike Creek is double-distilled on copper column stills from corn. I’m not really an expert on the technical aspects of distillation methods, but column stills do not “batch” like pot stills – the distillate runs out at the target proof – so I’m not sure HOW you double distill something on a column still, whether it’s made out of copper or not. The whisky is aged in Ontario, Canada, in a non-climate controlled warehouse. This is important because the extreme climate fluctuations cause the wood to expand and contract, which is crucial for oak maturation. The barrels are first-fill ex-bourbon casks, and they are filled into “vintage” port barrels of undisclosed origin for an undisclosed amount of time, but I would guess only a matter of months. The whisky is bottled at the legal minimum of 40% ABV and has caramel coloring added for “consistency”.
The label, which is topped off by an awkward twine knot, is a word salad of trendy whisky phrases: “Finished”, “Vintage”, “Port Barrels”, “Double Barrel”, and “Crafted by the Elements”. When looking at labels like this I’m often reminded of the saying, “Watch out for people who are always bragging about who they are. A lion will never have to tell you it’s a lion.”
Nose: Piercing nose tickle, surprising for such a low ABV. The initial impression is of fruit punch with artificial sweetener in it. Saccharine, sticky, and cloying. Next, you realize the nose tickle smells like repulsive bottom-shelf vodka mixed with nail polish remover. The fruit is one-dimensional and smells of fruit-flavored candy rather than actual fruit.
Palate: Syrupy body. Mild tongue burn. There is a wood note (oak sugars) which is welcome, but the cheap vodka flavor invades quickly, as does the aspartame and candy notes.
Finish: Medium-long, unfortunately. Warming, with a little bit of caramel and oak mixed with the unrelenting vodka notes. Finishes with a bit of port wine, which finally tastes slightly like something real. This is, however, marred by the sudden appearance of charcoal bitterness, which is all that remains when the finish fades.
With Water: I’m not sure why you’d bother, but a few drops of water actually increase the nose tickle, which now feels like someone is painting acetone on the inside of my nostrils with one of those nail polish brushes. The palate is thinner and tastes watery in addition to all the terrible things that it already was. The finish is unchanged. Eyuchhh.
Overall: I’m not sure I’ve ever had such an irredeemably awful glass of whisky. The liquid provides ample warning of what’s to come with its repugnant aroma, and those that fail to heed the signs will be greeted by an increasingly wretched experience, right down to the unmercifully long finish. Maybe it would have been more bearable if the “Elements” that “Crafted” it had been allowed another 3 years to work. If you happen to see some of these bottles still lying around on sale, I can’t say this often or loudly enough: Do Not Buy This Whisky.
I really, really hope that the new 10 year-old rum finished version of this is an improvement, but I’m now gunshy about putting down actual money to try it.
By the way, I stopped doing tastings at this point, because I was afraid the Pike Creek residue in my mouth would ruin the next whisky I tasted. The one, and only, piece of good news: This stuff can be successfully drowned in a cocktail with enough bitters and ice. There’s a lesson in there.
Pike Creek Canadian Whisky (Port Finish)
Price Range: $22 – $35
Acquired: (bottle) K&L Wine Merchants, Redwood City, CA. $14 (on sale).