Canadian whisky is back in a big way. Fresh off the heels of Mad Men‘s memorable series sendoff, Don Draper’s drink of choice is riding a wave of renewed relevance. But don’t buy into the show’s not-so-subtle sales pitch for Canadian Club. This isn’t the Sixties. Today’s drinkers demand flavor, and thankfully, new and notable brands from our neighbors to the north are delivering like never before. Perfect example: the recently released Dark Batch from Alberta Rye. An innovative blend with complexity to spare, its entrance into the contemporary drinking scene makes it the right product at the right time.
In the current bourbon renaissance, the reputation of Canadian whisky has faltered, and for good reason. The Canucks aren’t nearly as strict with their national spirit as we are stateside. Their “whisky” can — and often does — contain large amounts of neutral grain spirit, stripped of rich flavors as a result of being distilled at a higher proof than bourbon and scotch. Even more damning, they are legally allowed to introduce up to 9.09 percent of just about anything into the blend, including caramel coloring. No wonder, then, it’s historically been derided as “brown vodka.”
Fighting back against these harsh stereotypes is Alberta Distillers Ltd. They produce some of the world’s only large-scale whisky distilled from 100 percent rye grain. In fact, at the moment they age about half a million barrels of it. Some of that juice is fancy enough to have migrated into the States disguised as American “small batch” rye, sold at a hefty premium. So it should be seen as a significant bargain that essentially the same stuff is now available for just under $30 a bottle in the form of Alberta’s Dark Batch.
And remember that 9 percent leeway Canadian whisky affords itself? Well, rather than blending in artificial additives, Dark Batch takes advantage of that space for improvement, adding 8 percent Kentucky bourbon and 1 percent sherry to expert effect. With sweet notes of vanilla, cinnamon, and dried stone fruit, Dark Batch is a Canadian rye fit for a bourbon connoisseur.
It’s currently behind the bar at Barn Joo (893 Broadway; 646-398-9663) in Manhattan, and in Fort Greene at Lulu & Po (154 Carlton Avenue, Brooklyn; 917-435-3745). Also populating liquor shelves across town, its widespread availability is a cause for celebration given its price point and mixing potential.
Dark Batch’s careful integration of spiced grain with gentle sweetness meets its ideal foil in ginger beer. Top 1 part spirit with 2-3 parts soda, add a dash of bitters, and finish with an orange wedge garnish to truly accentuate what makes this whisky so compelling.
Pop culture will forever help shape drinking trends, for better or worse. But Dark Batch makes me hopeful that Canadian rye is no passing fad. To thumb your nose at a whisky this tasty, at a price this good, you’d truly have to be a mad man.