Last week I was granted access to Corby's Pike Creek warehouses just outside of Windsor with Dr. Don Livermore, the Master Blender responsible for Lot No. 40, acting as guide. The sixteen rectangular, cinder block built, flat-topped warehouses aren't much to look at from the outside, but behind the walls of these utilitarian structures stand some 1.6 million barrels of whisky.
Inside, the warehouse is a delight to the senses of any whisky geek. Stacked to form a corridor from end to end of the building with cells branching off laterally, the barrels stand 6 high upon wooden palates. The damp, musty, smell of earth and wood sweetened by boozy apple and butterscotch is both figuratively and literally intoxicating. In fact, anyone working in a warehouse must wear a monitoring device that measures the ambient alcohol content in the air. While that may sound like a fun rush, you're more likely to pass out or worse from rapid asphyxiation. Only after the warehouse has had time to "air out" from opening the large rolling doors at either end of the building will Maturation Supervisor, Donald Campbell allow entry. Since the warehouses were purposefully built without electricity or heating so as to mitigate the risk of fires and allow the whisky to seasonally age there's no way to speed up the process by using conventional powered air ventilation. Without electricity there's no background hum of lights or rumble of vents and, for me, a sense of tranquility in that quiet space. Would that I could write all of my tasting notes from inside a whisky warehouse...
It was there, among the barrels, in an unexpected stroke of good fortune that Dr. Don offered us a special sample of Lot No. 40; non chill-filtered, straight from the cask without any added colouring or water and bottled at the robust strength of 55.8% ABV.
Nose: Aromas of sponge toffee, candied cherries and stewed fruits erupt from the glass. A slightly musty scent of old wood and bung cloth act as a lovely reminder of watching this whisky being pulled from the barrel directly into the bottle; this is the last trace of the warehouse.
Palate: Medium to full-bodied and jostling with fruit flavours of melons, cherry lozenges and citrus along with a snappy seam of rye spice and running right through to the finish. It's remarkable how much more vibrant this expression is when compared to it's regular counterpart, itself a delicious and fruity rye.
Finish: Mouth-watering and kind of chewy, the warming finish is medium-long with cinnamon, pink bubblegum and stewed apples atop a subtle creme brulee sweetness.
Overall: This expression of Lot No. 40 has entered into my current top 5 Canadian whiskies. At the risk of becoming effusive with my praise, this is the only version I want to drink from now on! While the current edition on LCBO shelves is a great whisky at an affordable price, at cask strength it's loaded with flavour while still approachable without water and makes good on the Frasier-ism "If less is more, then think how much more more would be!"
If you've come this far you've got to be thinking, "how do I get a taste?" Well, here's the bummer, right now you can't purchase this version of Lot No. 40. There are rumours that Corby is considering a release and the cask strength expression has shown up at more than a few of brand ambassador Dave Mitton's tasting events. Echoing the connoisseur call to social media first expressed by Mark Bylok over at Whsky.Buzz, it's time to get this whisky out into the world.
Let's use the hashtag #ReleaseLot40CS on social media to show Corby and the rest of the distillers that the Canadian whisky category is ready for a cask strength offering.
Although a single barrel version may not be a sustainable option for the long haul, I would strongly encourage Dr. Don Livermore and the folks at Corby to consider releasing a cask strength and non chill-filtered expression of Lot No. 40, even if only in limited runs. Just think of how this act could not only drive further innovation in the category but could also establish the a new benchmark in rye-forward Canadian whisky.
It's time for Canadian whisky to show its awesome strength: #ReleaseLot40CS