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Mister Sam Tribute Whiskey

Review: Mister Sam Tribute Whiskey   96.5/100
a review By Chip Dykstra (Aka Arctic Wolf)
Published April 10, 2019

According to the presser forwarded to me, Sam Bronfman, or “Mister Sam,” as he was affectionately known, was the founder of the modern-day distilled spirits industry. Despite his humble origins as an immigrant to Canada from Imperial Russia in the late 1800s, Bronfman would go on to propel Seagram’s into becoming the largest and most successful distilled spirits company in the world at that time. Relentlessly focused on making and blending the finest whiskies possible, maintaining the highest quality standards in the industry, creating cutting edge packaging to appeal to consumers and driving incessant product innovation, “Mister Sam” created some of the world’s most iconic spirit brands while at the helm of the Seagram’s empire until his death in 1971.

As a tribute to “Mister Sam” and the vast contribution he made to the industry, the Sazerac Company has developed a highly limited blended whiskey expression made with some of Sazerac’s finest American and Canadian Whiskeys.  The “Mister Sam” blend was created by Sazerac’s Master Blender Drew Mayville whose career included a 22 year stint at Seagram’s where he was the fourth and last Master Blender under the Seagram dynasty. Mayville had the vast array of Sazerac’s American and Canadian Whiskey stocks at his disposal while developing the final blend.

According to Drew Mayville:

“I was thrilled to be able to work on the blend for this exciting tribute whiskey.  Mister Sam was known to say ‘Distilling is a science; Blending is an art,’ and he’s right.  Creating the elusive perfect blend is every bit about experimentation and precision.  We’re very proud of the whiskey we’ve created.”

Mister Sam was bottled at Sazerac’s Old Montreal Distillery in Montreal, Quebec, “at a full 133.8 proof (66.9 % alc./vol.). The 2019 release (the whiskey is slated to be released once per year) features 1,200 bottles (750 ml), and will be sold (only) in the United States and Canada at a suggested Retail Price of $249.99. 

In the Bottle 4/5

As seen in my photo, “Mister Sam” is housed in an elegant wooden box which (although it is not shown also) includes a copy of the legendary “From Little Acorns” book, which Sam Bronfman penned in 1970, and which details the history of the Seagram’s company. The charcoal coloured box is extremely attractive and includes well-fitting metal latches on either side.

We do have a few problems with the presentation however, at least in a retail sense.

The first problem is that a retail consumer might not actually see the beautiful wooden box. This is because Mister Sam Tribute Whiskey is shipped in the bulky white box shown below. I assume most retailers will remove the whisky from the shipping box in order to display Mister Sam properly. The problem with that assumption is that most of the readily available information important to the consumer is found not on the elegant charcoal coloured wooden box, but rather on the back of that rather unimpressive shipping box which tells in brief form the story of Sam Bronfman.

Another problem is that this brief story will be all the consumer has to go on. Other important information such as the 133.8 bottling proof cannot be found on either the bulky shipping box, or on the wooden box. And if you look closely at my photograph, that bottling proof isn’t readily apparent on the bottle either. I had to look quite hard to find it, but finally did see the rather small 66.9 % alc./vol. written on the neck of the bottle.

This is a $250.00 bottle of Whiskey, and I doubt many retail merchants are going to have the spirit readily available for the consumer to examine. Frankly I doubt they will let all, but their most trusted customers even hold the bottle. This severely restricts the sellability of the spirit which will probably only be displayed under lock and key.

I would suggest a label redesign on both the front of the wooden box, and upon the whiskey bottle would make things easier for the both consumer and the retailer.

In The Glass 9.5/10

When I poured Mister Sam into my glencairn glass, I noted that the nose carries firm indications of the high bottling strength. Yet I would not say that I sensed any undo astringency. The breezes instead seem to convey more of a warning as if to say, “Take it easy. Sip, don’t slurp!”

In the Glencairn, the whiskey has a rich reddish bronze colour which is extremely inviting. As I tilted the glass and gave it a slow twirl, I noticed a stubborn crest had formed at the top of the liquid sheen inside which began to drop fat droopy legs most of which refused to fall.

The merry little breezes above the glass bring rich aromas of fresh-cut oak and cedar, honeycomb, toasted cereal grain and baked corn, and pungent baking spices (vanilla, nutmeg and cinnamon). Coarse brown sugar is evident as is maple syrup, and bittersweet chocolate.  Pipe tobacco wells up accented by roasted walnuts and almonds. Pencil shavings with wood and graphite can be found as well as hints of orange peel, apricot jam and Christmas fruitcake. It is quite a menagerie of scents and smells, but nothing seems out-of-place. My sense is that the whiskey was finely tuned with an eye (or should I say nose) for balance.

In The Mouth 58.5/60

Upon the palate, Mister Sam arrives with the brute force of a sledge-hammer threatening to knock your tonsils down your throat with unabashed whiskey fury. The resulting belt to the mouth leaves you wondering what just happened, but at the same time hoping it will happen again. The whiskey might have rattled my taste buds, but the rich robust flavour is undeniable. I taste a concentrated mixture of oak sap and cedar flavours wrapped around pungent baking spices (nutmeg, cloves and cinnamon) and wonderful hints of maple and butterscotch. There is also a firm impression of Demerara rum which of course appeals very strongly to me.

Treacle and marmalade are obvious on the second sip as well as evolving flavours of canned apricots, sticky raisins, and dark cocoa. Vanilla washes through the palate as does bittersweet coffee and roasted nuts.

It is an interesting choice between adding ice, or adding water. One or the other is required. I decided upon two cubes of ice resting in an ounce of whiskey. I sipped slowly as the cold ice first brought out the more bittersweet flavours of cacao and coffee; but as the ice melted and the dram began to warm, the whiskey sweetened bringing rum-like Demerara sugar into focus with hints of maple. Mister Sam is an impressive whiskey and my score is approaching new territory in the stratosphere.

In the Throat 14.5/15

The finish is long with wood and baking spices swatting the tonsils as you swallow the whiskey. The mouth is left puckered and glowing with the residue of baking spices, vanilla, caramel and chocolate. A touch of sap-like bitterness counterbalances the lingering sweetness.

The Afterburn  10/10

Mister Sam is a case study of the brute force of concentrated wood and cereal grain flavours balanced against a light sweetness of butterscotch and maple with oodles of baking spice and fruit thrown in for good measure. Who would have thought that a blending of Canadians and Americans (I talking about the whiskeys here) would have turned out this well. Mister Sam (Sam Bronfman that is) would surely have approved of this stunning tribute to his legacy.

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


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)

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