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J.P. Wiser’s Union 52

Review: J.P. Wiser’s Union 52 Canadian Whisky   (89/100)
a review by Chip Dykstra (Aka Arctic Wolf)
Posted On November 29, 2017

And now for something different ….

J.P. Wiser’s Union 52 Canadian Whisky is a blend of mature 16-year-old Canadian whiskies with an extremely old single malt whisky that was distilled in the Highlands of Scotland. (Eighteen barrels of this whisky had been stored and aged at one of the J.P. Wiser’s warehouses in Canada since 1964. Apparently, if you go poking around in the aging warehouses in Canada, you can find all manner of strange spirits lurking around.)

You are probably wondering how in the world they can call this Canadian Whisky when spirit originally distilled in Scotland is part of the blend. This has to do of course with the latitude that Canadian Whisky producers are given. In Canada up to 9% (actually 9.09%) of the volume may be other aged spirit or wine which can used to augment the whisky’s flavour.

Although the majority of Canadian Whisky is made with 100 % Canadian Spirit, the use of the use of a Scottish spirit to augment flavour is well within the Canadian guidelines for making whisky. And it is a practice which allows tremendous freedom for the master blender to experiment, as J.P. Wiser’s Master Blender obviously has.

Dr. Don Livermore (J.P. Wiser’s Master Blender) is apparently the creative mind behind who developed Union 52. The results of his experimentation yielded a whisky blend which consisted of a 52 year-old single malt spirit (4 % of the total blend) and 16 year-old Canadian spirit (96% of the total blend). The final whisky is bottled at 45% alcohol by volume.

In The Bottle 5/5

My photo of the J.P. Wiser’s Union 52 whisky is pictured to the left. I like the bottle with its squat square shape. It has substance, and although it is not as tall as some of my other whisky bottles upon my shelf; it nevertheless seems to command attention with its square masculine form. In fact, it looks like a decanter more than a bottle, and when I pour out a dram for myself, there is a sense of satisfaction when holding the heavy bottle. I also like the solid cork at the top which adds ambiance with that satisfying ‘pop’ sound as it is opened. (I could do without the tacky clear plastic covering over the cork. A nice foil wrap would look better.)

In the Glass 9/10

When poured into my glencairn, the whisky displays itself as a dark bronze coloured spirit. When I tilt and twirl that glass I see a thickened liquid sheen on the inside which very slowly releases reluctant legs which crawl slowly back down to the whisky at the bottom of the glass.

The breezes above the glass bring quite a bouquet of olfactory sensations to the nose. Initially I receive impressions of dark toffee and rich caramel with just a hint of herbal menthol which include a few traces of peat or very smoky sherry. Robust toasted grains and graham wafers begin to separate, and then there is that smokiness again, this time making me imagine Cuban cigars. An earthy quality is present which is sort of like angelica and dark licorice, and then I even sense impressions of dark rum and cola.

As you can tell the aroma in the breezes above the glass is complex. If I close my eyes I can even imagine I smell fresh from the oven cinnamon rolls with dark baked brown sugar vanilla, cinnamon and roasted pecans. This is the type of rich complexity which normally scores as high as 9.5 or even 10; however, there is a hint of discord. The malty whisky notes from Scotland do not quite meld completely with the Canadian rye and corn. It’s hard to put my finger (or perhaps my nose) on the issue at hand; but it is my sense that there is a bit of a competition going on within the whisky as to which of the two spirits should be getting top billing and which should be the supporting actor.

In the Mouth 53/60

The dominant flavours of the whisky are oak, vanilla, caramel, baking spices (cloves and cinnamon) and dark fruit (dates and figs) with hints of peat. I also taste black licorice, toasted walnut, and an herbal component which brings forward green sawgrass, willow and hints of menthol. The spirit seems heavy in the mouth with an impression of age which stems no doubt from the old Scottish spirit within the blend.

Given the whisky blind, I would probably peg it as an old Scottish Blend. The Canadian character (initially) seems almost absent. However on about the third sip, I start to notice some rye and corn notes and a building of fine woodspice. The impression of age begins to dissipate somewhat as the spirit seems to morph into something more familiar. It does not quite make the transition fully, and I find myself in an internal debate with myself as to whether I am satisfied with the final result. I suppose the mere fact that I am debating this reveals that I am not fully on board.

In The Throat  13.5/15

The whisky has a heavy mouthfeel and a lengthy finish. The exit is filled with dark treacle, dates and figs and flavours of burnt toast. I also notice dark licorice and angelica, oak and black pepper with light impressions of peat-like smoke. The flavours roll around lingering upon the palate and a full ten minutes later I can still taste the echoes.

The Afterburn 8.5/10

If you ever watch the old episodes of the television series, Happy Days, you notice that in the early episodes the main character, Ritchie Cunningham (Ron Howard), is often overshadowed by a supporting character, The Fonze (Henry Winkler), making the show almost seem like it is The Fonzy Show rather than Happy Days. In fact the Fonzy character became so popular so fast that the producers almost changed the name of the show in the second season. This caused a lot of discord on the set which apparently took a while to sort out.

And I think there is a parallel here, as the supporting actor, the 52 Year Old Single Malt, seems to be taking over as the star of the whisky rather than playing its supporting role. And just like in the show Happy Days, we have a bit of discord within the spirit as a result.

J.P. Wiser’s Union 52 is a robust, complex whisky; but there is a lack of harmony within the dram. Friction between two whisky styles within the bottle has not quite been reconciled. Perhaps if the blend had been allowed to coexist for a bit longer together (married in a barrel) then, just like the actors in Happy Days who found their way after a few years, the Whisky would have found its way as well.

As it is Union 52 is still an excellent spirit with a score that almost reaches the stratosphere. I suspect though, that if harmony had been achieved, my score would have pierced that stratosphere and maybe even reached outer space.

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

______________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

As usual, 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)

 

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