I’m a big fan of rye whiskey, which means tangentially I’m also pretty fond of Canadian whiskey. That is… if they do it right. A higher than usual rye content makes me happy, and I always wonder what that would taste like with a little bit more age. Enter: Ellington Reserve to answer my question. (Hopefully.)
Ellington isn’t actually a brand that exists in Canada. In fact, the trademark is owned by the Minnesota-based United States Distilled Products Co., which is probably the most bland and corporate name you could imagine for a business.
Founded in 1981, USDP is a bottling company that imports and sources spirits from other distilleries, creates its own brands, and sells them primarily in the Midwest United States.
I really have nothing to work with here. Usually we get at least some hints from the appellation on the bottle, but in this case the label is about as useful as a strip of duct tape with “whiskey” written in Sharpie on it.
Normally, you’d expect that Canadian whiskey would be made from a larger proportion of rye grains than others, but that isn’t a legal requirement. So all we can say about this spirit is that it was probably made from grains of some sort (I know, informative), fermented, and then distilled.
What the bottle does tell us is that the produced whiskey is aged for eight years in charred oak barrels. But even here there’s a mystery: are they new charred oak barrels, which would add more flavor than previously used barrels? And if they were previously used, was there some other spirit in there that might flavor this whiskey like a sherry Or an American bourbon? We just don’t know.
Since the whiskey says it was bottled in Minnesota (presumably at the USDP facility there), we can assume that this is mass produced and shipped across the Canadian border before USDP bottles it and ships it out for distribution.
For a white label whiskey, this bottle design actually isn’t terrible.
The bottle itself is a pretty simple and straightforward design, a plain round bottle with flat straight sides that gently round at the shoulder to a short neck. The bottle is capped off with a plastic screw-on top that is shrink wrapped in place.
On the front are two labels with ragged edges clearly designed to mimic weathered and aged labels. They aren’t, obviously, but I suppose it does add a bit of character to an otherwise unremarkable design. On those labels is a Canadian red maple leaf, the basic information about the spirit, and… that’s it.
I do like that the labels are small enough that you can still easily see the whiskey in the bottle. Just big enough to catch your eye but not so big that they are an awful distraction from the star of the show.
While the contents of this bottle might be a mystery, it sure smells like a traditional Canadian rye whiskey on first blush. It’s like a slice of toasted rye bread with some brown sugar and butter on top, which I’m not mad about.
Taking a sip, the very first thing you get is a heavy hit of caramel sweetness coming through. As the flavor develops, there’s a bit of vanilla that joins the party, followed pretty shortly by an unfortunate bitterness and chemical taste that continues through to the aftertaste. Things start well but quickly go off the rails.
There is absolutely some pepper spice that comes at the end and adds some kick, but it is almost completely masked by that poor aftertaste.
Ice can solve a lot of problems in a whiskey. Done right, it reduces bitterness, tones down tough flavors, and generally improves otherwise poor spirits.
In this case, all of that holds true — the caramel and vanilla flavors are still there and the pepper spice at the end remains, but that bitterness and chemical aspect is significantly reduced. It isn’t completely gone, but at this point it is barely noticeable. Ice is definitely a helpful addition to this spirit.
Cocktail (Old Fashioned)
You’d think that with the existing bitterness in the spirit, adding even more bitters would be a terrible idea. And generally, you’d be right. But if you also add in the required sugar (and maybe a bit of cherry) it completely turns things around.
What you end up with here is a cocktail that has a lot of the usual great aged whiskey flavors — the vanilla, the caramel, a touch of toasted oak — that mix well with the angostura bitters, and there’s even a bit of black pepper that comes in to add some complexity.
Generally speaking, cocktails are designed to make crappy spirits palatable. They are even better with quality spirits, but this is a textbook example in which a not-great spirit is made more palatable by adding the right mixers.
This is a mixed bag here.
Generally, things are going well. This is hitting a lot of the requirements that I usually have for a mule: specifically, that there is some good balance with the ginger beer and there’s a bit of uniqueness in the pepper spice that makes it more interesting than a vodka-based version.
But there’s a problem: the bitterness is back. There just isn’t enough sweetness in here to completely cancel it out, and the combination of the natural bitterness in the spirit and the bitterness of the ginger beer is too much to handle.
It isn’t the worst thing I’ve ever had, but it isn’t something I would necessarily seek out, considering other options available. There are plenty of other good Canadian whiskeys out there besides this one, and some at even cheaper prices.
|Ellington Reserve Aged 8 Years Canadian Whisky|
Aging: 8 Years
Proof: 40% ABV
Price: $18.99 / 750 ml
Overall Rating: 1/5
They can feel free to reserve all the bottles for themselves.