I’d like to start by thanking Brown-Foreman for inviting me to a recent Collingwood Whisky tasting and lunch. This was hosted by them, and I was invited as part of my inclusion of the Toronto Whisky Society.
As part of the lunch, Alexis Green, the brand ambassador, walked through this distillery with us, had an introductory tasting, shared some great cocktail recipes, and overall gave us a sense of what Collingwood is all about.
After a brief introduction to Canadian whisky history, we found out Canadian laws on making whisky are quite relaxed in comparison to the US, Ireland, or Scotland. And unfortunately this has lead to some lower end whiskies.
However some distillers are now viewing the lack of restrictions as a push for creativity. One of these distilleries is Collingwood Distillery. They allow their people to be creative and grow beyond what an American or Scottish distillery would be allowed to make.
Some of the ways that Collingwood is pushing this dynamic is by using a Grain Bill, versus the American Mash Bill. They specifically make their whisky by blending two whiskies together. The first is a Corn Whisky, and the second is a high rye whisky. They go through 3-4 days of fermentation, and then are triple distilled, much like Irish whiskies.
The juice is 94.8% off the still, and then under 80 into the barrel. They are aged in No. 4 char ex-bourbon American white oak casks, and specifically use first, second, and third fill casks. To add to this, as part of Brown-Foreman, they can source the casks they want when they want them.
Once they’ve been aged for a minimum of 3 years, the two whiskies are blended together, and then matured with Maplewood staves. Unfortunately maplewood falls apart when you turn it into a cask, eventually being quite porous. However after toasting this cask, they still have the staves, and use them to age the whisky.
A lot of whisky nerds are used to gimmicks and are ready when a distillery does something like this and it has no effect. That said, Alexis, who knows her whisky in and out, personally tried the whisky before and after, and the effect of the maplewood is no gimmick. I hope to do the same at some point, as I’d love to see this effect myself.
The concern of colouring did come up during the conversation. Collingwood would be happy to not add colour to their whisky, however the specific process leads to slight variations between barrels in the colour, which has lead some consumers to be concerned. Makes sense, and we hope they can produce a single cask in the future where they don’t have to use it.
But enough about how the whisky is made. The interesting thing about Collingwood whisky is how well it mixes in cocktails and how it pairs with different types of food. I was ecstatic to see this firsthand.
Up first, we tried the whisky by itself. Very smooth, with sweet aspects to it.
Then we tried it with some shortbread cookies. Wow, I would serve this to friends. The whisky amps up the butter, and the butter amps up the butter. You taste more and more caramel.
Second we tried the whisky with almonds. Note they were roasted with no salt. Gone were the butter notes from before, and now we had additional rye notes, and the alcohol heated up. The rye portion is quite evident now.
Finally we had a spoonful of Quebec maple syrup, of which I would have eaten and gone back for a full tin, but that wasn’t the point. The whisky becomes almost salty, adding to different spices than the rye ones.
From there, it was story time. If you’re a whisky geek, you’re probably waiting to hear about Collingwood 21 year rye. And wondering when you can have more, and more in cask strength, and if you can just buy a barrel of it.
For those of you who don’t know, Collingwood 21 year rye hit the shelves a few years ago, and was quickly bought up. Why? Because it tastes really, really good. And I’m saying that as someone who was lucky enough to try a little of it.
The story goes that many years ago, the distillery decided they wanted to give their distillers the chance to be creative. And the first thing they thought to make was a rye whisky, as in the technical rye whisky, which was 51+% rye. However the volatility of a rye whisky is typically something that you have to experience, rather than read about. The rye juice erupted, and the building had a permanent rye smell for years to come.
However they made this true rye, and casked it up, dreaming of an interesting whisky to come. After 3 years, they decided to check in on it. And wow, was it bad. Really bad. Couldn’t be blended, couldn’t be used. So the floor smelled, they had this unsellable rye, and they felt bad. But you couldn’t pour it out, because that would be wasteful. So they stuck it in the corner.
Jump ahead a few years and a new blender has taken over and would like to know what’s in the warehouse. So he looked, and found this rye. And against everything that any of us would have done after finding out how bad it was after 3 years, he tasted it.
Wouldn’t you know, it needed the time! And it was great! So they released it in their cologne shaped bottles, with a green mark. What was suppose to be a bad whisky, a fluke, was released to the market, and the market went insane.
Of course, all us whisky nerds are on the edge of our seat, wanting to know what is next from Collingwood. They are slowly figuring out what’s next, and have some exciting things in store for the future. Canada’s 150th anniversary is coming up, and they have plans for that as well.
For now they are holding it close to their chest, however we hope that they keep the Toronto Whisky Society updated. They have all the trappings of a distillery that knows what it can do, and is giving their people the chance to try new things. We hope they join the current rise of Canadian whisky.
Thus Collingwood whisky is a good introduction to people who are starting into Canadian whisky. They are adding different tech, allowing for creative ideas, and run a great tasting. I look forward to reviewing future releases from them, and hope they find another fluke, as the last one was great.