Review: Is Alberta Premium Really the Best Whisky of 2021?
Why a controversial accolade doesn't detract from the spirit's excellence
What we’re drinking: Alberta Premium Cask Strength Rye, a 63.9%-66% proof 100% rye whiskey that won several awards late last year. After selling out quickly in Canada, the spirit just made its debut in the U.S.
Where it’s from: Alberta Distillers Limited is based in Calgary and utilizes Canadian prairie grain and water sourced from the Rocky Mountains. They claim to be “one of the first distilleries to create a true 100% rye whisky.”
As the Whisky Exchange notes: “Alberta Distillers have been selling their rye whiskey to producers south of the border, including award-winning Masterson’s and WhistlePig, who have bottled it under their own labels. At home, the company didn’t have a whisky with quite the same reputation, with its spicy 100% rye used as a flavouring [sic] whisky or watered down to create good but not earth-shattering whiskies … In late 2019, however, the company changed that with the launch of a Cask Strength and a Cask Strength Rye, finally showing off its whisky under its own label.”
Why we’re drinking this: The accolades. And because there’s a bit of controversy here, although through no fault of Alberta Distillers.
This limited-edition, cask-strength release has already won a Double Gold at the San Francisco World Spirits Competition and taken home honors at the Canadian Whisky Awards (where the distillery itself has previously won Distillery of the Decade).
The controversy arose when noted whiskey writer Jim Murray anointed this Alberta Premium rye release as the world whisky of the year for his 2021 Whisky Bible Awards. Nothing wrong with a somewhat obscure release taking the statue — and his praise was effusive. As he wrote: “How can something be so immense yet equally delicate? For any whisky lover on the planet looking for huge but nearly perfectly balanced experience, then here you go.”
Murray’s rating methods and overall sexist prose, however, came under increased scrutiny last fall. And his response was … not good. Ergo, Murray’s endorsement is no longer mentioned with Alberta Premium.
So … can Alberta Premium succeed without one of the whisky world’s biggest voices championing it?
How it tastes: A wonderfully dark amber in color, the nose here features a surprisingly slight profile — a little wood and vanilla, not much else. On the palate, however, it’s a spicy, honeyed explosion with some subtle notes of dark chocolate and dark fruit. And yet, that spice dissipates quickly and pleasantly on the finish. It’s hard to go from subtle to bold to smooth, but this is a rye that deftly straddles all those lines.
Fun fact: American straight rye whiskey has to have a mashbill of at least 51 percent rye grain and be aged in brand new charred oak barrels. Canadian whisky laws are different; their ryes can utilize new and re-used barrels and the main ingredient may not even be rye (not in Alberta’s case, however).
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