In the past, I’ve written some nice things about the products of Beam Suntory, the huge international conglom that specializes mostly in spirits, with a strong leaning to Whiskeys. As opposed to my long-held loathing for Anheuser Busch – the result of their 100+ years of shady business practices, not their size – I try, at least, to take What’s In The Bottle on its own merits and Beam Suntory makes some KILLER Whiskeys and Other Stuff – Jim Beam, Basil Hayden’s, Knob Creek, Booker’s, Baker’s, Hibiki, Yamazaka, Toki(!), Bowmore, Laphroaig, Auchentoshan, Glan Garioch, Cruzan Rums (which are around my house a LOT), El Tesoro, Hornitos, etc., etc. You get the picture: BIG but not BULK; not supermarket brands or cheapo bottles riding the Bottom Shelf.
Started in 1946, Alberta Distillers, Ltd., was acquired about five years ago, by Beam Suntory, which pitched in on the marketing end of the operation and supplied some blending whiskeys from the Beam American catalog – including a slug of Beam’s Old Granddad in the company’s sublime Dark Batch – and some ideas for adding a dash of civilization to the distillery’s somewhat rambunctious rye-dominant whiskeys. Rye, in fact, is Alberta Premium’s whole jam. The rye that grows on those expansive plains of central Alberta is famous for its muscular, earthy spice and body and their Whiskeys prove it with every sip.
Alberta Premium Cask Strength Rye is a MASSIVE – a legit ONE HUNDRED AND THIRTY PROOF! – with no watering back. As the company’s website says, “It is a true reflection of what a distillery can be-we laid our cards on the table and delivered a world-class product.” And, in fact, this behemoth was named named “World Whisky of the Year” by the uber-prestigious Jim Murray’s Whisky Bible 2021. But enough of the pedigree…
This is an almost frightening Whiskey, upon first reading. 130 Proof? Does it have a label warning that says, “Do Not Use around Open Flame”? Can you use it as hand sanitizer? We’ve all had some experience with High Proof Whiskeys that feel like sucking on a flame thrower and most of those were only 100-ish Proof. And, YES, you DO want to approach Alberta Premium Cask Strength with the caution you would any strong drink but, trust me, if you love great Whiskey and aren’t suffering from that broomstick up the posterior that afflicts so many Whiskey Snots, you DO want to approach this bottle and you WILL, by damnit, wind up as starry-eyed as I have, if you know and appreciate Whiskey at all.
The bigness is not just octane. The flavors – and there are a bunch – start with a heady aroma of toasted grains, wet oak, vanilla, and warm caramel, with some coconut lurking at the edges. Those follow unerringly on the tongue, adding in some mild citrus, dark chocolate, fresh figs, and a whoppin’ blast of the aromatic, earthy rye spices that almost claws its way out of the glass. YES, I want to make this clear: It DOES have a burn attached but not more than about 70% of what I had expected. It’s surprisingly warm and comforting and the burn is civilized. I think most Whiskey aficionados want a burn in a great whiskey. They can be real couch potatoes without it and, somehow, Alberta Distillers has managed to bust out a genuine 130 Proof rye that doesn’t set you aflame and doesn’t taste like dirty rye bread.
Honestly, here in my old age, I tend to guffaw loudly at the whole notion of “World’s Best…” Did you try ALL the Whiskeys in the world to arrive at that? If not, STFU. But, in a year in which I did tastings of more Whiskeys than any since 2008, I can’t find a single thing to argue with Jim Murray about. If this is not the “World’s Best” of the last calendar year, it is at least in a very focused argument about a very small group.
Alberta Premium Cask Strength Rye is an Achievement. I’ve seldom been as impressed as this by any distillery’s marquee Whiskey, with the exceptions of only Shelter Point and Westland. If I did some dumb-ass thing like compiling a list of Best Whiskeys of 2020-21, this would be on it. I was knocked enough sideways, in fact, that I’ve been scouring the ‘net for ways to get hold of (in defiance of our bizarre trade non-arrangement with Canada) their regular, 40 Proof Rye, the Alberta Springs 10 Year Old, and the newish Dark Batch.