Every year, famed whiskey writer Jim Murray trots out the newest version of his Whiskey Bible. It’s a comprehensive guide to everything Murray has tasted over the year—that’s 4,500 drams in 2020 alone. He lists his top picks and culls and revisits bottles from previous years.
One of the most anticipated (and hotly debated) parts of the book’s annual release is Murray’s top bottles of the year, and ultimately, his unveiling of the World Whiskey of the Year.
Canada took the crown this year, specifically, the “rampantly beautiful” Alberta Premium Cask Strength Rye. At 65.1% ABV, the 100% prairie rye is made in Calgary, Alberta at Alberta Distillers. (The brand in the Beam Suntory stable and provides whiskey for Whistle Pig and Masterson’s.)
Also taking top honors, the “mind-blowing” Stagg Jr. Barrel Proof earned second place (from the Buffalo Trace family), while Paul John Mithuna earned third.
The latter is particularly notable. Paul John is a small distillery from Goa, a coastal state in India. It’s the first time in a decade a South Asian whiskey has made the podium, and a big moment for the Indian whiskey scene.
Speyside’s Glen Grant 1956 Mr George Centenary Edition Gordon & MacPhail is this year’s best single cask.
Murray dubbed the winning Canadian whiskey “a succulence to the oils, balanced perfectly by ulmo and manuka honeys ensure for the most chewable Canadian mouthful possibly ever….and yet this is constantly salivating, from the very first nanosecond…Truly world-class whiskey from possibly the world’s most underrated distillery. How can something be so immense yet equally delicate? For any whiskey lover on the planet looking for huge but nearly perfectly balanced experience, then here you go. And with rye at its most rampantly beautiful, this is something to truly worship.”
It’s a big win for Canada. Back in 2015, Crown Royal’s Northern Harvest earned the title of World whiskey of the Year. (The announcement that left Scots reeling, bawled The Telegraph, though for good reason—Over the last decade, Scotch has been noticeably absent from Murray’s list.)
“On behalf of the entire Alberta Distillers team, we are honored to have Alberta Premium Cask Strength named ‘World whiskey of the Year,’” said George Teichroeb, the general manager of Alberta Distillers Limited in a statement. “We are incredibly proud of our Alberta Distillers team for creating such a unique and beautiful world-class whiskey, and continually pushing the boundaries of what Canadian whiskey can be.”
Canadian whiskey often has the reputation of being bottom-shelf swill, relegated cheap pours at bars. (I can say this, I’m Canadian.)
But the category is an incredibly diverse. Canadian whiskies don’t need to meet mash bill or age statement requirements, which gives distillers the opportunity to use the liquid as a blank canvas. What results is a category filled with breezy low-budget rye, but also creative cask finishes and stellar small-batch projects. It helps that bottles are laughably affordable compared to similar options out of Scotland and Japan.
(John McCarthy dove into the category in detail for Forbes.com recently.)
Thanks to awards like these, the category is slowly breaking free of its oft-misunderstood rep—“We’re on the cusp of a Canadian whiskey renaissance,” Dr. Don Livermore, Master Blender at Hiram Walker & Sons, once told me.
Whiskey nerds are catching on, if this award is any indication.
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