Celebrities and alcohol are a common mix – after show parties, award ceremonies, or just plain hard living. Never one to miss a marketing trick, the booze industry is increasingly pumping out expressions faced by a wide variety of known (and lesser known) personalities – AC/DC and Justin Timberlake fronted tequilas, Hanson beer (the superbly named – MMMHops), Ryan Reynolds gin – I could sit here all day listing them off before even getting close to David Beckham. But, at the other end of celebrity alcohol tie-ins comes those who have actually bought/invested/developed their own facilities and products rather than simply endorsing them. One such example comes to us from Canada in the form of the legendary ex-ice hockey player Wayne Gretzky.
As a professional ice hockey player Gretzky played 20 complete seasons from 1979 through to 1999 before moving into coaching and taking charge of the national team during the 2002 Winter Olympics. He’s rather the national hero still. As well as previously owning two sports teams and having a stake in a wide array of diverse businesses, Gretzky partnered with Andrew Peller Limited and opened the Wayne Gretzky wine estate. In 2015 construction of a brand new facility was commenced on the Niagara Peninsula, which included an accompanying distillery (headed up by Master Distiller Joshua Beach). Starting what would become the beginnings of a single site symbiotic relationship, the Gretzky Estate has created a selection of Canadian whiskies sourced from local ingredients and matured/finished in the casks that had previous held the wine produced on the Estate.
The Gretzky Estate produces a diverse selection of wine from a fairly wide combination of both red and white grape varietals – the potential for future wine finished whiskey expressions is therefore quite large. As of writing, the Estate has produced three whiskies, two in red wine (Cabernet Sauvignon) and one using ex-ice wine casks (and probably quite a bit more affordable than Glenfiddich Winter Storm). Both the wines and the whiskeys are all produced under the brand name ‘99’ – a hark back to the number on Gretzky’s ice hockey uniform. Oh, and that’s not the only hockey related link to the new winery and distillery – every winter, they turn the sizable front lawn into a makeshift ice rink. Such is the celebrity life I guess.
The Wayne Gretzky Ninety Nine Proof is comprised of a combination of locally sourced Ontario malted rye, unmalted rye and corn (the exact proportions being unspecified). It’s aged in American white oak and then finished in Cabernet Sauvignon casks from the Gretzky winery. It’s an NAS bottling, and is probably around 3 years of age. Bottling strength is, unsurprisingly, 99 proof – which is 49.5% ABV in European parlance.
Nose: Sugars, spices and florals. Toffee brittle, demerara sugar and honeycomb that’s been left in the pan far too long. Sweetness is tempered by heady spices – cloves and pepper in particular, but also yeasty/bready rye. Florals are in support – rosehips and cherry blossoms. The wine influence is quite perceivable and has added red berries, cherries and hazelnut. The addition of water further emphasises berries – blueberry – as well as adding in a bergamot tea infusion.
Taste: Bold and with an impactful arrival that delivers a basket of spiced fruits – cinnamon apples, ginger-laced cherries and a wide array of currants. Toffee and caramel again and though certainly sweet, compared to the nose, less so – there’s more oaky cask influence here, which is both dusty, and quite drying. Steeped tea, anise and more cloves reinforce the rye spice. Reduced, the experience is softer and less tannic – though now copper contact and hints of youthfulness come through.
Finish: Quite long, with bitter spices (particularly pepper), and drying tannins.
Wayne Gretzky Ninety Nine Proof is bold, spicy and altogether rather interesting – sweetness and wine influence are much more observable on the nose, whereas the palate takes a more standard route of impactful spicing. It’s certainly got plenty of character and rye-forward flavour, but across the board, everything is a little on the jagged side. A bit of a rough diamond.
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