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Gibson’s Finest Rare 18 Years Old

Review: Gibson’s Finest Rare 18 Years Old Canadian Whisky  (93/100)
a Review by Chip Dykstra (Aka Arctic Wolf)
Posted on April 28, 2013

In 1856, John Gibson purchased 40 acres and built a distillery along the shore of the Monongahela River in Pennsylvania. By the turn of the century, the Gibson’s Distilling Company was the largest producer of rye whisky in North America. Unfortunately, early in the new century, fate dealt the company a tragic blow, in the name of Prohibition. Consumption of legal whisky all but dried up, and Gibson’s Distilling Company went bankrupt. In 1923, the entire contents of the distillery including the stills, the aging barrels, all of the remaining spirit, (and even the grain which was on site) was sold via Sherriff’s auction to Schenley Industries of New York. Fifty years later this whisky brand, which was born on the US side of the border in Pennsylvania, was resurrected by the brand owner at the Schenley Distillery in Valleyfield, Quebec. Now, of course, it has become one of the iconic brands of Canadian Whisky.

Of course the story continued and Shenley Distillers underwent re-organization at the end of the 20th century. As part of that reorganization, the Gibson’s Finest Whisky brand was purchased by William Grant & Sons in 2002. Some time after the acquisition, William Grant & Sons moved the production of Gibson’s Whisky from the Schenley plant in Valleyfield, Quebec to the Hiram Walker Distillery in Windsor, Ontario.

According to my correspondence with the media company responsible for, Gibson’s Finest Whisky, the Gibson’s Finest brand is produced from of two sources: a base grain whisky (which would be a corn-based column still whisky), and a blend of rye based flavouring whisky which contains rye and malted barley (distilled by a single column still and a pot still). When aging their whisky, Gibson’s Finest uses a variety of barrels: ex-bourbon barrels, new oak barrels, etc. The ratio of each barrel-type used can differ from batch to batch because the whisky is blended to a specific taste profile rather than to a specific barrel regimen. Gibson’s Finest Rare 18 Years Old Whisky is limited to a production of not more than 12,000 bottles per year. All of the whisky in the blend, is of course 18 years old or more, and it is bottled at 40 % alcohol by volume.

In the Bottle 4.5/5

As you can see from the picture to the left, the presentation is solid. The squat bottle is a nice change from the taller barroom style bottles which are so prevalent in this category. The label is attractive, and the entire look is solid. A nice touch is the numbering of each bottle which lends the impression that this whisky is limited and therefore, special.



In the Glass 9/10

In the glass the whisky has a rich golden colour which is trending towards, but not quite the colour, of a bright copper penny. A tilt and slow swirl of the glass reveals an oily sheen on the inside which drops droopy leglets that slowly slide down the inside of the glass. The initial aroma is spicy with a firm oak presence. The breezes above the glass are filled with tobacco, rye, and (what I am going to term) clean firm oak spices. These dominant scents are accented by caramel, butterscotch and vanilla. Some dusty dry notes of freshly harvested grain, autumn cornstalks, and dry straw rise into those initial breezes as well. As the glass breathes, I sense vague impressions of tart apples, some sweet canned fruit (peaches, apricots and pears) and a building up of baking spices with brown sugar, vanilla, hints of cloves and bits of cinnamon. Of course, the clean spicy oak just keeps pouring out of the glass.

In the Mouth 56.5/60

My nose did not deceive me, as the clean oak spice that poured into the breezes above the glass is the centerpiece of the whisky. It is hot with rye spice and white pepper; but the spiciness brings along just enough flavours of caramel, butterscotch, maple, and canned fruit (apricot and pear) to make this a joyous ride through the glass. The rye brings me impressions of ginger and cardamom. I sense waving fields of ripened rye and barley in the foreground, and more distant fields of ripened corn in the background. A light bitterness accompanies these impressions; but there is just enough sweetness accompanying the bitter to make everything work well together.

In the Throat 13.5/15

Some citrus zest and sweet canned fruit are hinted at; but oak and rye spices dominate the exit as white pepper and hot ginger grab at your tonsils as the whisky slides down in a finish which reminds us how good Canadian rye whisky can be. Like all good Canadian rye whiskies, this is lightly bitter with the power to pucker your palate and dry your throat; but a touch of honeycomb in the finale means that reaching for a second glass is almost mandatory.

The Afterburn  9.5/10

It has been quite a while since I tasted have the Gibson’s Finest Rare 18 Year Old, and although I remember liking it, I do not it being this good. Maybe I have some from a particularly good batch this time, or maybe the blend has been slowly improving with time. It is that clean oak and rye spiced flavour that is so appealing to me. There are other nuances to be sure, but they are only there to serve as accents, not to disturb that real Canadian rye whisky flavour.

I have scored this one very well at 93/100, and it deserves every point it received.

You may read some of my other Whisky Reviews (click the link) if you wish to have some comparative reviews.


Suggested Recipe

Just as I did for the younger Gibson’s Finest 12 Year Old Whisky, I find myself recommending the old-fashioned Cocktail as my recipe of choice for the older version of the whisky. I considered a Manhattan, but in the end, I decided I only want to accent the flavour, not to change it in any significant way. I have made the bitters optional in the recipe below, and I would suggest that you use them sparingly.

The Old Fashioned Cocktail

1 1/2 oz Gibson’s Finest Rare 18-Year-Old Canadian Whisky
1 tsp simple syrup
1 dash orange bitters (optional)
2 large ice cubes
1 twist of lemon or orange peel

Add the first three ingredients to a rocks glass over the ice cubes
Rub the cut edge of the orange peel over the rim of the glass and twist it over the drink. (This will release the oil from the orange zest into the drink)
Drop the peel into the cocktail if desired.

Please Enjoy Responsibly!


As always you may interpret the scores I provide as follows.

0-25 A spirit with a rating this low would actually kill you.
26-49 Depending upon your fortitude you might actually survive this.
50 -59 You are safe to drink this…but you shouldn’t.
60-69 Substandard swill which you may offer to people you do not want to see again.
70-74 Now we have a fair mixing rum or whisky.  Accept this but make sure it is mixed into a cocktail.
75-79 You may begin to serve this to friends, again probably still cocktail territory.
80-84 We begin to enjoy this spirit neat or on the rocks. (I will still primarily mix cocktails)
85-89 Excellent for sipping or for mixing!
90-94 Definitely a primary sipping spirit, in fact you may want to hoard this for yourself.
95-97.5 The Cream of the Crop
98+ I haven’t met this bottle yet…but I want to.

Very loosely we may put my scores into terms that you may be more familiar with on a Gold, Silver, and  Bronze medal  scale as follows:

70 – 79.5    Bronze Medal (Recommended only as a mixer)
80 – 89.5     Silver Medal (Recommended for sipping and or a high quality mixer)
90 – 95         Gold Medal (Highly recommended for sipping and for sublime cocktails.)
95.5+            Platinum Award (Highest Recommendation)


3 Responses to “Gibson’s Finest Rare 18 Years Old”

  1. CBrown said

    Hi Chip – thanks for the review. Nicely done as always. Have you done a head to head recently with the Wiser’s 18? You rated it higher but I’d be curious to see what the diff is between them.
    For some reason the supply of Gibson’s 18 has dried up in B.C. so I’ll have to wait until my next Alberta trip to do my own comparison..


    • Thanks Chris

      I rarely do head to head match-ups with different brands unless both bottles happen to be in my review queue at the same time. I will say this though, the more recent batches of Wiser’s 18 which I tasted seemed to have a fair amount of variance in there taste profile. When I asked the Wiser’s Master Blender about the variance, he indicated that the Wiser’s 18 is blended from only a few barrels every year which means a consistent taste profile would be impossible to achieve. Similarly, the Gibson’s 18 is also be subject to this same batch variation. This means a head to head match up might yield different results each year as the batches change.

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