Whisky Advocate

Newly arrived from Canada: Pike Creek

April 2nd, 2013

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.

pikecreekbottleThis 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.

 

19 Responses to “Newly arrived from Canada: Pike Creek”

  1. Gary Gillman says:

    John, I am a fervent supporter of the best of the recent small batch Canadian products, and Corby has lead the way especially with its Wiser’s Legacy. Forty Creek’s Copper Pot and especially Masterson’s also show rich flavours and qood quality. I would draw attention also to Canadian Club’s new 9 year old Small Batch Reserve, an excellent, full-flavoured product in which rye malt whiskies have a telling role.

    Pike Creek though seems rather ordinary to me, with a restrained flavour which is picked up a bit by the port flavours coming from the finishing barrels. It reminded me of the first Pike Creek, issued about 15 years ago but not seen again until recently. Goodish stuff but not superlative, in my opinion.

    Gary

    • John Hansell says:

      Gary I still have most of a bottle of the original bottling. Lovely stuff.

    • JD says:

      Gary, I can’t go there with you on the “new” CC Reserve. It replaces the previous CC Reserve with the blue label, which was ten years old. I tried them both side to see how big a difference the extra year makes and it’s pretty significant. 10yo CC Reserve was a great bargain whisky and I’m sad to see it go. I guess rising demand has forced CC to kick out the barrels a year earlier, which is too bad.

  2. Gary Gillman says:

    I hasten to add as a talisman of quality for the Canadian Small Batches, Corby’s Lot 40. The 2012 release is the best yet with a full, “rye bread” palate – great work indeed.

    Gary

  3. Rick Duff says:

    Don’t let the “frigid Canadian winters” part fool you. I mean people think of Canada and they think of Artic cold. This is aged in Windsor. That folks is the southernmost part of Canada.. directly across from Detroit. Things don’t get very cold there (not like people think of Canada) which is why they can get away with unheated warehouses. After all, cold weather puts whisky aging to sleep.

    Any word on price and which states?

    • Danny Maguire says:

      They still get it cold in the winter, just look at the weather reports from the northern U.S.A. and Canada to know that.

      • Rick Duff says:

        I live not far from there, and visit all the time with family there and my family being original pioneers of the area. The temperature range would be about 0 to 100 Fahrenheit, a similar range to Kentucky.
        When folks thing of “frigid Canadian winters” they think -50. Windsor is not what Canadians think of as cold. I believe anything under 20 degrees puts the whisky/wood interaction to sleep. Canadian Club’s warehouses in the exact same area are heated. Canadian Club is actually being made in the same distillery in Windsor.

        All great products by the way, and a wonderful area. If you want a real treat, try some wine from the area, it’s fabulous with great sun exposure from the great lakes to ripen the grapes, but cooler temperatures because of the lakes to keep acidity up, and obviously not too cold or the grapes wouldn’t survive the winter.

        It’s a great area for wine touring and you can get a Canadian Club heritage center tour and tasting, but sadly Wiser’s doesn’t do anything for tours/tastings.

        • DavindeK says:

          You know your stuff, Danny. Compared to much of Canada, and to many people’s impression of Canada, Windsor’s winters are relatively warm. Among Canada’s cities, Windsor is one of the most southerly – just slightly further north than San Francisco for example. Still it has a Continental climate, moderated somewhat by the Great Lakes, so swings in temperature can be great.

          According to Environment Canada, the coldest day in January was in 1994 when the temperature was 29.1 below zero Celsius. The hottest day in June was in 1988 when it was 40.2 degrees Celsius. July’s record, August’s, and September’s were 38.3, 37.7 and 37.2 respectively in 1941, ’88, and ’53. Ranges any given year would be expected to be smaller. Sometimes much smaller. I looked at a graph of Kentucky’s annual temperature range compared with Windsor’s before talking about the weather. Windsor’s range is greater.

          The real point though, is that the temperature range is wide and is a bit different each year so we can expect minor variations among batches. I have visited the warehouses. While they are not heated, because of the extreme cold experienced some winters, the sprinklers are wrapped in steam coils so that the pipes won’t freeze.

        • DavindeK says:

          Sorry, Rick. You know your stuff too! :-)
          Davin

  4. Richard Turner says:

    Mention is made of the new Pike’s Creek being made available in ten states; but, doesn’t say which ten…?

  5. DavindeK says:

    Colorado, Georgia, Idaho, Louisiana, New Hampshire, New York, North Carolina, Oregon, Texas, and Washington, $32.00, and Gary is correct about Lot 40 – it is just wonderful!

  6. Richard Turner says:

    AAAAAAWWW; we’re just across the Detroit River from Windsor; here in the Detroit area. I wonder why the Pike’s folks didn’t ship any over that narrow body of water.

  7. Danny Maguire says:

    Any idea if it’s going to be released in the U.K.?

  8. patrick says:

    too bad it’s NAS and 40%.

    • sam k says:

      Yeah, it’s the consistent use of the default 80 proof that bothers me most about Canadian whisky.

    • Tadas A says:

      Huh! Very interesting… they are releasing NAS version in the United States. I bought a bottle of Pike Creek in Windsor, Ontario a month ago for $40. However it has 10 years old age statement in Canada. You can see the label here: http://www.lcbo.com/app/images/products/0291500.jpg

      Unfortunately I was not overly impressed with it… it tastes like vodka (meaning spirity) aged in Port barrels. I guess I had too high of expectation after trying Lot 40.

  9. Whiskylassie says:

    I own both the Lot 40 as well as Pike Creek 10 and based on sharing it with many friends from around the world I have been keeping a mental tally of who likes what.

    The common tread seems to be that people who love the Pike Creek are not so crazy about Lot 40 and vice versa. Personally I find Pike Creek is a bit smoother and not so aggressive whereas Lot 40 grabs your mouth by surprise and is very aggressive, tasting like a peppery but sour dough rye bread.

    What I am really enjoying about the new releases is the price. These are reasonably priced whiskies with lots of flavors and unique profiles.

    I will warn “Americans” who are not used to drinking Canadian whisky that these are not at all like the American counterparts or what is sold as “Canadian” whiskies traditionally in your liquor establishments.

    I’m just happy to see they are making it across the border and that you will be drinking the same whisky I am (not changed in anyway or a different recipe to “suit” American palates).

    Cheers to the Canadian invasion. I do hope many of you will try these!

    Whisky Lassie
    Saint John, NB
    Canada

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