Gibson’s Finest Venerable 18 Years Old Canadian Whisky
Review: Gibson’s Finest Venerable 18 Years Old Canadian Whisky (88/100)
a Review by Chip Dykstra (Aka Arctic Wolf)
Published November 06, 2016
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.
The eighteen year old expression of Gibson’s Finest is now known as Gibson’s Finest Venerable 18 Years Old Whisky. 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 oak spice. These dominant scents are accented by caramel, butterscotch, vanilla, almond and hints of treacle. 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. Oak continues to pour out of the glass and the sense of treacle which was just a whisper previously has grown as well.
In the Mouth 52.5/60
Oak spice is certainly the centerpiece of the whisky. It is hot with rye spice and white pepper; but the spiciness brings along light flavours of caramel, butterscotch, maple, and canned fruit (apricot and pear) as well. There is a sense of rye which 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.
This is a whisky which as recently as last year I would have scored amongst the best in Canada. Unfortunately, this year I notice a discordant bitter note which is stronger than previous years. As I sip, I find myself wishing for a touch more sweetness to bring about a better balance between the bitter and the sweet. The Gibson’s 18 Year Old is still extremely good, but it is not as glorious as in years past.
In the Throat 13/15
Oak and rye spices dominate the exit as white pepper and hot ginger grab at your tonsils as the whisky slides down. The bitterness which I commented on in the delivery is just as pronounced in the exit and again I find myself wishing for a little more sweetness to balance the finish. Adding ice does not help as this quells what sweetness there is, and so I reluctantly add a dab of ginger-ale instead.
The Afterburn 9/10
Reading over my review, I realize I sound a little negative towards the Gibson’s 18 Year Old Whisky. I should make it clear that the whisky is extremely good, and my negative comments are merely quibbles. In the past my scores for the whisky reached into the stratosphere, and my quibbles are a reflection of my longing for that past. The Gibson’s whisky still shows great character and depth of flavour. Hopefully next year’s batches bring us back to the whisky’s glory days.
You may read some of my other Whisky Reviews (click the link) if you wish to have some comparative reviews.
I find myself recommending the old-fashioned Cocktail as my recipe of choice. 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 Venerable 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)