Newly arrived from Canada: Pike Creek
Whisky Advocate contributor Davin de Kergommeaux reports on a new Pike Creek Canadian coming to the U.S. this month.
Canadian whisky makers have a reputation, not entirely undeserved, for keeping their best whiskies at home. Heads up, America! Pike Creek, one of Canada’s finest new whiskies, is about to hit the shelves of liquor stores in ten states.
This is a good time for makers of premium small-batch whiskies such as Pike Creek. Sales are growing rapidly, and ultra-premium Canadian whisky experienced an 18% growth in sales last year. The Pike Creek team and their Canadian whisky making colleagues feel the time is now right for Pike Creek to enter the U.S. market. Or perhaps more accurately: re-enter. Pike Creek is a reprise of an earlier version released in the late 1990s, but which drowned in a wake of seemingly disinterested management by Allied Domecq.
Initially, the reprised Pike Creek was intended as a Canada-only product. That plan was quickly revisited after a very successful pre-Christmas Canadian launch. The arrival of Ross Hendry, formerly of The Glenrothes, as the new director of international sales at Corby Distillers (makers of Pike Creek) also played a role.
“When I came to Corby it surprised me,” Hendry told me recently. “They took Canadian self-deprecation to a new level; even more surprising when you consider the quality of the juice. I’m pretty excited about taking Pike Creek into the U.S.”
Success has its challenges, though, especially when it takes a decade to make a ten year old whisky. If sales take off in the U.S., as expected, Pernod Ricard (owners of Corby) is projecting shortages a couple of years down the road. With a long-term commitment to the U.S. market, they made a strategic choice from the start. The U.S. version of the whisky has been tweaked. Pike Creek remains a 10 year old in Canada while the export version will be mostly 7 and 8 year old whisky and will not carry an age statement.
“It’s not a cost of goods issue,” Hendry assures me. “We’re just making sure we have enough liquid to supply the market.” Overall, the flavors are close enough to say it’s the same whisky. The 10 year old starts out bigger, but its new American cousin quickly catches up with a longer and more interesting finish.
A neck tag tells U.S. consumers that Pike Creek is “Crafted by the Elements,” referring to the unheated warehouses where the whisky matures. Temperatures plunge in the frigid Canadian winters and then soar in summer’s heat. Windsor, where the whisky matures, has the greatest annual temperature variation of any whisky region in the world.
Since Canada’s weather varies enough from year to year, no-one should be surprised if minor differences are noted among various batches of Pike Creek whisky, at home or abroad. The export-only Pike Creek will be a barometer of these year-to-year differences.
As the port wood finish suggests, this whisky begins with clear elements of sweet, ripe red fruit, laced with gingery hot pepper. Hints of menthol with a slight herbal edge slide into silky oak tannins. It’s a voluptuous whisky that ends with cleansing citrus pith. Beginning this month, whisky lovers in the U.S. will be able to taste Pike Creek Canadian whisky without crossing the border.