Northern Border Collection tasting event at the Drake Devonshire

Recently some of Corby’s representatives reached out to members of the Toronto Whisky Society to attend a tasting event they were having with bartenders and whisky media at the Drake Devonshire in picturesque Prince Edward County. TOModera and I were fortunate enough to be able to go. We looked forward to the opportunity to try the soon-to-be-released Northern Border Collection Limited Releases! It was TOModera’s first time trying the whiskies; luckily, they were gentle.

The day begins with meeting up at the Drake in Toronto, where we are greeted with our swag bags of chips/water/sunscreen and then herded into what looks like a regular coach bus. The plan was to sit back on the two and a half hour drive and get work. However the outside looks hid the true nature of this bus…

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A couple of the bartenders on the bus immediately take over DJ duties and proceeded to entertain us with a wide variety of tunes, from current hip hop to EDM to Spice Girls, to MJ, to finding out that Back Street’s Back (alright!) apparently.

Upon arrival at the Drake Devonshire we were handed cocktails made with the new whiskies, as well as a spread of nachos and fresh crustaceans!

After the welcome reception, our great hosts direct us into a very cool room where the tasting was held.

The tasting is led by Dave Mitton, Global Brand Ambassador, and Ross Hendry, Brand Director. Ross does most of the talking in his lilting Scottish accent, telling us his goal from the start was to elevate and “premium-ize” Canadian whisky, in much the same way as Scotch and Bourbon distilleries have done. His inspiration came from Buffalo Trace’s Antique Collection (BTAC to the kids), which at MSRP over-delivers on value with incredibly high quality spirits shown in their essence. He hoped that by doing this it will lead to a re-appraisal of our national spirit, and has already seen some of this in the way their original line-up of the Northern Border Collection is being used here and abroad by bartenders in signature cocktails.

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The Northern Border Collection is designed to showcase Canadian whisky and show the impact of age, maturation (casks), grain and production processes, as we don’t have whisky regions like Scotland to differentiate ourselves.

The four original bottles in the collection are:

  • J.P. Wiser’s 18 (double distilled corn in ex-bourbon)
  • Pike Creek 10 Barrel Finish (originally Port, now ex-rum)
  • Gooderham & Worts 4-grain (corn, barley, wheat, rye)
  • Lot No. 40 (100% Rye in virgin oak)

Full reviews will be posted here in the future from both of us, however in the mean-time, here are our initial thoughts on the new Northern Border Collection line-up, coming to Canadian liquor stores this fall:

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J.P. Wiser’s 35yr: This is double distilled corn whisky, aged 35 years in ex-bourbon. It’s intended to demonstrate (unsurprisingly), the impact of age on the whisky. We found it quite sweet with a spicy oak kick, and at 50% ABV after 35 years, it really delivers a ton of flavour! At $165 for a 35yr whisky, it also delivers on value.

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Pike Creek 21 Speyside Finish – This is predominantly corn whisky with 3% rye added and bottled at 45% ABV. The Speyside cask adds sweet fruity notes, and a ton of spiciness as well. They couldn’t reveal which distillery in Speyside this came from, but did say it’s from the wheelhouse of their sibling company, Chivas. Feel free to guess in the comments below! At $90, this one is also a good value, and a big step up from the regular Pike Creek 10.

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Gooderham & Worts 17yr Little Trinity is a three grain whisky (they removed the barley that’s in the 4 grain standard bottle) which is aged in ex-bourbon. The name Little Trinity is a play on the grain make-up, as well as a reference to Toronto’s Little Trinity Anglican Church that was financed by William Gooderham and James Worts, and built for the working family who couldn’t afford the pew taxes charged by St. James’. You can taste the interplay of the different grains, and there’s a nice balance of sweet and spiciness in this one. It also has a lot of the stereotypical Canadian maple-like notes. They didn’t say, but I’m fairly certain the rye in here is aged in virgin oak.

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Last, but certainly not least (the opposite for both of us, actually), is Lot No. 40 Cask Strength. This is 100% Rye, aged in virgin oak for 12 years, and bottled at 55% ABV. It has a wonderful mix of spices, sugar, apple, slight dill, caramel and vanilla oakiness, chocolate and banana notes. It’s delightful and at an anticipated retail price of $70, you may have to fight us for them at the LCBO!

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After the tasting, we are greeted by activities outside, including the lamb roast, a cocktail bar, a DJ, cigar rolling and a spa. Adding to the festivities were Dave and Ross having a good time, presumably fighting over the bottle of Lot 40 CS. It was a beautiful day outside and the breeze coming off of Lake Ontario was fantastic.

After teasing us with the lamb for so long, dinner is served. It includes some incredible dishes that I can hardly describe, so instead here are pictures of the menu and dishes that’ll have you salivating! Apologies for the inconsistent lighting, we may have been drinking!

Overall it was a fantastic event with great food and great whisky. Only quibble we had: We’d recommend that next time the doors to the tasting room be closed, as some of the amazing lamb smoke made the nosing the whiskies a bit difficult (which we noticed during the third seemingly smoky Canadian whisky).

Huge thanks to Corby Spirit & Wine, the Drake Devonshire, Dave Mitton, Ross Hendry and Jackie from the Deck Agency for inviting us to this great event!

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