Identity Crisis

Posted 10 April 2018 by Matt / In Alberta Distillers
The Dramble's tasting notes for Masterson's 10 year old Straight Rye

Bottle Name: Masterson’s 10 year old Straight Rye

ABV: 45%
Distillery: Alberta Distillers
Region: Canada Age: 10

In an age when transparency can often translate to currency with whisky fans, Masterson’s is not going to be winning any prizes. You’ll need to look at the bottle of their 10 year old straight rye quite closely to see that it is in actual fact a Canadian whiskey. The bottling is named after Bat Masterson, a lawman, professional gambler and journalist known for his escapades in the 19th Century American old west – it’s actually must appropriate choice, as Bat was born in Canada and then moved to the US – and that’s exactly what has happened with Masterson’s straight rye.

Masterson’s is a brand of 35 Maple Street Spirits, a company that in turn is owned by the 3 Badge Beverage Corporate - they purchase their whiskey from Alberta Distillers in Canada and then ship it down to the Sonoma wine region of California ready for bottling. Whilst Alberta Distillers has a fair range of its own bottlings, most of what is produced there ends up in other company’s products. Alberta has become the MGP of Canada, producing and supplying 100% rye whiskey for a selection of well-known American whiskey brands (Whistle-Pig, Jefferson’s, Lock, Stock and Barrel etc).

Beverage Information Group suggest that two-thirds of the approximately 115 million litres of Canadian whisky shipped to the US is actually also bottled there too, so this is not unusual by itself, but Masterson’s is a whiskey that seems sadly determined to hide is Canadian roots.  The glassware itself does highlight that it’s imported and bottled in California and is a ‘product of Canada’, but it does so in a particularly small font size, indeed, everything about the branding, packaging and design looks intended to pass this off as an American-made straight rye whiskey. This is all rather the shame as the actual liquid contents of Masterson’s are rather good indeed.

Masterson’s is a 10 year old batch produced 100% rye whiskey produced up in Calgary by Alberta Distillers. The bottlings are primarily made for the US market, though you will find some distribution overseas, even <deep breath> in Canada. However, this means that there’s a lot of price variation possible with this bottling. I purchased mine in the US for a fair price (around £35), but you’ll occasionally see retailers in the UK getting hold of some stock, and once they’ve combined import duties with a touch of greed, you could be looking at almost double this price. For today’s tasting notes we’re taking a look at batch 001 (bottle number 11,250).

Nose: Grain-forward and quite expressive. Kellogg’s Cornflakes & Frosties, brown sugar and toast led off, followed by a selection of tinned fruits, sour cherries and bitter earthy, unmistakably rye, spice. The whole nose is quite bready, doughy and yeasty, with just enough sweetness and creaminess. There are hints of cask here – vanilla and char, but they’re on the backburner to the assortment of well-pronounced rye aromas.

Taste: Grainy again – cereals (Cornflakes, Alpen) rye bread and wood vanish come together with caramel, golden syrup for a sweet arrival, which is swiftly followed by bitter spices – pepper, cinnamon and nutmeg alongside quite intense earthiness. Underneath there is again, light vanilla and char, but also some slight grassiness – reeds and flax – both of which are quite crisp and fresh.

Finish: Short to medium and packed full of peppery dry and bitter spice, with some sappy oak right at the end.

Masterson’s 10 year old straight rye offers an excellent mix of sweet, bitter, sour and earthiness – it’s exceedingly well judged and is both tasty and characterful. It’s what you’d think of as a rye-drinkers rye, not holding back on any of the typical grain flavours, and being spirit, rather than cask-led. It does however have a bit of an identity crisis, and there’s a part of me, that regardless of the inherent quality of the liquid, wishes that it’s true origins were much more open and obvious. Nevertheless, if rye is your thing, then this should have a place on your bar.

Score: 86/100

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