TO COME CLEAN, when Corby’s recently approached my family to see if we’d be up for letting them name a premium Canadian whisky after one of my father Mordecai’s early novels, my initial reaction was hesitant. Not because the whisky idea did not suit him; his appreciation for the stuff was incontestable. The problem was that he was a committed single malt man. And while I believed that he would have enjoyed having a premium whisky named in his honour, I also figured he deserved a bottle representative of his taste.
In my mind’s eye, I conjured… Glen Mordelach. This unique single malt would never be bottled younger than 18 years. In place of the customary peat, its constituent malt would be kilned over smouldering Davidoffs. And in a nod to my dad’s love of fly fishing, the charming distillery would be situated overlooking a coveted private fishing pool on the Spey — as does his all-time favourite, The Macallan.
Unsurprisingly, Corby’s was offering something a little different. The initiative had in fact originated with the prestigious French whisky distributor and retailer La Maison du Whisky. One of its four ongoing collections of unique private bottlings is issued under the banner Ex Libris, which follows a literary bookplate theme, from the book-jacket look and literary fonts of their classy labels to the names given to the whiskies inside.
This year’s issue includes three singular Irish whiskeys named after different titles by an Irish whiskey enthusiast named Oscar Wilde. And along with The Happy Prince and friends, La Maison wanted to offer an exceptional blend from Canada. If Canadian whisky was not as internationally renowned as competing styles from, say, Ireland or Scotland or the U.S., well, what better title was there to stick on an exceptional Canuck blend than Smaller Hero?
That’s good marketing, to be sure. But it was the quality of the liquid in the potential bottle that would decide things. Fortunately, as luck and good sense had it, La Maison had chosen Corby’s to supply it. And so, it ended up in the capable hands of my preferred Canadian blender, winner of innumerable awards (Master Blender of the Year, Canadian Blender of the Year, etc.), mastermind behind such classics as Wiser’s Dissertation and Union 52, not to mention possessor of the best name in the history of blending: Dr. Don Livermore.
So, a few weeks later, I found myself in his company, out in Windsor, in Hiram Walker’s enormous storage facility, hovering over a couple of casks freshly pulled from their 1.5-million-strong collection. One contained pot-distilled rye whisky, aged in American oak; the second, a 22-year-old corn whisky aged 18 years in used Canadian whisky barrels. This was followed by four more in virgin oak that had been seasoned outdoors in the sun and rain for four years before this first use.
Of the numerous things that make Canadian whisky distinct from, say, its American counter part, one is that all the components of its blend (potentially rye, corn, barley and wheat) are separately distilled and aged, and only combined to create the finished product. What we were looking at were the two components that went into Smaller Hero — at roughly 91 per cent for the 22-year- old and 9 per cent rye. Of the 12 samples Livermore sent to Paris for sampling by the Maison du Whisky tasting panel, this combination of the two whiskies was the unanimous choice.
Why? Well, we popped open the barrels, extracted some samples and blended them at the stated ration, so that I could try to find out. It’s lovely stuff — a smooth, round mouthfeel and a long sweet and spicy finish, with notes of cinnamon, vanilla and wood. Or, as Dr. Livermore summarized things far more expertly, Smaller Hero has a nose of French vanilla, honey, crisp apple, ripe pear skin and sourdough rye, with a body that’s big and zesty; a palate of ripe cherry and dark fruits, hot cinnamon, chai tea, white pepper and fresh-cut oak; and a finish of lingering ginger.
Alas, the 1,400-bottle run is available exclusively from La Maison du Whisky.