We’ve been working our way through some bottom shelf spirits here at Thirty-One Whiskey, going through all the scarily cheap spirits we can find. A few weeks ago, during Labor Day weekend, some friends came over bearing a handle of Kirkland’s Canadian Whiskey (Bourbon Blitz – Week 2) that frankly scared the bajeesus out of me. I questioned how good a $20 handle of Canadian Whiskey made primarily for sale at Costco could actually be… but the answer shockingly turned out to be “surprisingly, not terrible”.
The history of the Kirkland brand starts with the Costco chain of stores. For those who may not know, Costco is a membership-only big box chain of retail stores founded in 1983 and 40 years later it’s the 5th largest retailer in the world. In 1995, the Kirkland Signature private label line of products was introduced, including private label spirits.
The Kirkland name came from the city in Washington state where the corporate headquarters was located at the time. As a private label spirit, this is essentially purchased from a mass distiller and the Kirkland label is slapped on the bottle. These sources and relationships tend to be kept highly confidential, and thus very little is known about the true history and source of any Kirkland signature label spirit.
Not that this stops rumors from circulating across the internet. Long before I started researching the Canadian Whiskey, I had heard that Kirkland’s Vodka was actually distilled by Grey Goose. It didn’t take long to find a similar rumor that the Canadian Whiskey was distilled by Crown Royal. We have no way to verify if this is true or not, but you can always compare this review to our previous review of Crown Royal and judge for yourself.
As mentioned, it’s very rare that detailed information can be found about what goes into this private label product, and this is no different. We do know this is labeled as a Canadian Whiskey, though, which has some labeling requirements (as well as some general traditions) that they commonly follow. Most famously, Canadian Whiskey tends to have a high rye content in their mashbill. For example, Crown Royal starts as a grain bill of 64% corn, 31.5% rye, and 4.5% malted barley.
This grain is fermented, and then distilled in a still. It is then put in a barrel to be aged for a minimum of three years, the minimum time to meet the legal requirement for Canadian Whiskey. The barrel itself is only required to be made of Canadian wood — whether its new, old, charred, or uncharred doesn’t matter, as long as it’s Canadian. And of course, all of this needs to be done within Canada.
According to the label, this particular Canadian whiskey has been aged for six years in charred white oak barrels. Canadian whiskey does also allow for up to 9.09% added flavorings for their exported whiskey, which are typically things like fortified wine and other spirits, so there’s every possibility that this has been “fixed in post” before it heads to the United States.
This bottle is huge, clocking in at 1.75L. It’s unwieldy and difficult to pour from without splashing that extra three quarters of a liter all over your kitchen counter. As any bartender will tell you, buying two smaller bottles is always the right move over getting one massive one. Unfortunately, though, Costco doesn’t do normal sized anything so you’re stuck with this monstrosity.
The bottle is generally rectangular in shape, with a slight taper towards the middle before flaring out again until it meets the shoulder. The neck of the bottle is very stout, and is capped with a synthetic cork with a wooden top.
The label is a similar shape of the bottle, but much more narrow, and with a deep purple color scheme. (Yes, the photos in this article are purple, not black. My camera and lighting is not exactly professional grade… don’t @ me.)
A deep purple background with gold lettering and accents… hmm… where have I seen that color palate before? Even the script seems to echo back to Crown Royal.
I’m surprised at how little aroma is coming from this whiskey. I really have to try hard to get any hints, and even then they are mild. The most prominent aroma is maple syrup (cheeky Canadians), but there is not much else there.
The first sip is surprising — I expected some more sweetness given the syrupy aroma, but there is little to no sweetness there. It’s very earthy, with notes of walnut, cinnamon, and baking spices. And while there might be a mild sweetness hidden in there in the form of a mild vanilla, it’s hard to find.
The flavors fade quickly, leaving the heat and spice often found with rye forward spirits. It’s not well balanced, and even the spice fades quickly. There is little to no lingering flavor.
Drinking this Canadian whiskey on ice mellows out some of the Earthy flavors, which is not surprising. The sweetness comes to the front a little more, and the baking spices play more of a forward role.
The nice thing is that the heat and spicy notes are much milder than before. The ice seems to cut through a lot of the more unpleasant flavors, making for something a little more palatable. It’s actually a nice spirit to sip on the rocks.
Cocktail (Old Fashioned)
With the mildness of the flavors when drinking this on the rocks, I was worried about how well the bitters would work. And I was unfortunately right to be concerned: the bitters are the primary flavor in this old fashioned. The whiskey, orange, and sugar are all nearly non-existent.
The main flavor seems to be angostura bitters. Beneath the bitters, you can get some mild pepper and heat from the whiskey and even the slightest hint of baking spices, but not anything to write home about. It’s a passable cocktail at best.
This might be my favorite way to enjoy this spirit. The black pepper from the rye in this grain formula stands up well to the ginger beer surprisingly well and, unlike many other whiskeys, it doesn’t get lost behind the brightness of the ginger beer.
I would even say that the vanilla that was hardly noticeable when trying the whiskey neat is somehow more noticeable in the mule than it was when taken neat.
Going back to my initial reaction… surprisingly, not terrible. When I first opened the bottle, I did not expect much, but I am pleased with this product. Now, that doesn’t mean that I would call it a good whiskey, but if you are looking for a high enjoyment-to-dollar ratio, just head to your local Costco and grab a bottle of Kirkland’s Canadian Whiskey.
And frankly, I think it’s better than Crown Royal.
|Kirkland Signature Canadian Whiskey|
Produced By: Kirkland SignatureProduction Location: Canada
Aging: 6 Years
Proof: 40% ABV
Price: $19.99 / 750 ml
Overall Rating: 3/5
A handle of whiskey for $20 – but in this case, you get more than what you pay for.