No. 99 Canadian Whisky

For those of us of a certain age, The Great One will never be equaled. He has since of course branched into all sorts of enterprises besides hockey. He launched a vanity wine back in 2005 or so. It wasn’t that great. Frankly Savanna Sampson, the porn star, has much better wine for a couple of bucks less.(I should add Gretzky’s wine has steadily improved over the years.)

CORRECTION: I previously said the wine was aged in red oak casks. I was wrong. There was some confusion over the casks, which are white oak, French, previously used to finish Gretzky’s Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Sauviginon.

Gretzky has just launched a whisky. And I’m here to say, it’s a pretty good one. But it is also deeply interesting from a technical point of view.

Traditionally wine and whisky are aged in white oak – Quercus Alba in America, Q. robur primarily in France – casks, charred to a greater or lesser degree on the inside. American made barrels are flat sawn, exposing more grain and therefore more of the lactones in the wood to the spirit or wine so stored. French oak is split. Some Spanish coopers import Q. Alba logs and split them for use in Spain.

The costs of inventory to age whisky are staggering. Wine Barriques currently cost about $1000 each. They hold 225 litres more or less. About 12-100 MILLION bottles of scotch are sold annually. There are an estimated 20 million barrels in storage at any given time. Distillers are removing age statements as quickly as they can to cut costs.

Recently researchers have discovered a method involving temperature and UV light which they claim can age whisky in a matter of months, maybe days. Micro-distillers in Canada are speculating that the massive temperature swings on the prairies (about 80 degrees C/176 F) will age whiskies here abnormally fast.

Gretzky’s distillery stores the casks in non temperature controlled warehouses. Interestingly they too claim the massive temperature swing of the Canadian climate speeds aging.

I tasted No. 99 alongside a Gibson’s Finest yesterday. The whisky was notably darker in colour, likely due to the oaking. The bouquet did have some ethyl acetate aromas that cleared off fast, a couple of seconds in the glass. It was surprisingly smooth. with a nice finish.

It would make a nice base for your favourite Canadian cocktail. I expect it will work well in a sweet Manhattan. Maybe even in a dry Manhattan. Personally I’d drink it with a single cube, but I’m a horrid sinner who grew up in a curling rink, so pay no attention to my tastes.

I think Gretz may finally have found his niche with this whisky. Retail is about $45. Certainly low enough to make it worth a try for every whisky aficionado. I’d be curious to try a No 99 that is older, maybe 10 years or so…

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