Editor’s Note: This whisky was provided to us as a review sample by the Preservation Distillery. This in no way, per our editorial policies, influenced the final outcome of this review. It should also be noted that by clicking the buy link towards the bottom of this review our site receives a small referral payment which helps to support, but not influence, our editorial and other costs.
Skip ahead if you’ve heard this story before. A distillery changes hands and their barrels are forgotten, only for new owners to stumble upon them years or decades later. Miraculously, not only have the barrels gone untouched for over a decade, the whiskey inside is impossibly good. Now the consumer can taste these ultra-rare and forgotten barrels that will never be found again. Until, of course, the next distillery is “discovered.”
Orphan Barrel has nearly this exact story, Glendronach has a variation of this story, and now so does Rare Perfection 14 and 15, whiskies released by the Preservation Distillery in Bardstown, Kentucky. The marketing is compelling, and people enjoy the story. You feel almost like this is a Prohibition-era bottle you found during renovation of an old home in the U.S.
If you overlook the fact alcohol is one of the most taxed and tracked products in both Canada and the United States; you could almost believe the story. As the old adage goes, however, two things are certain: death and taxes. The government knew of these barrels, and I assure you before a single drop was released to consumers, the taxes were paid. It’s also worth remembering this whisky went into barrel around 2004 for a 2019 release, well within the digital era.
Story and marketing aside, this whisky does have some interesting characteristics. Public relations associate Tara Lewis states that Rare Perfection is “made from a four-grain bourbon mash bill of corn, wheat, rye, and malted barley, this cask proof, non-chill-filtered whisky was aged 15 years in an icy cold, single-story warehouse in the north reaches of Canada where it was distilled by a long-retired master distiller. These forgotten barrels were left to sit while the warehouse facility changed hands over 15+ years.”
“Northern reaches” may be marketing; online detectives have suggested the barrels were from Waterloo, Canada, which is southwest of Toronto. That may sound far north, but by latitude, Toronto is farther south than Seattle, Washington, or Portland, Oregon. Universally agreed-upon information I have found: the whisky is of Canadian origin, made from a four-grain mash bill, aged in a single-level cold storage warehouse, and stored in new charred oak barrels.
Canadian whisky, to this reviewer, suffers from misperception. For many collectors and consumers, the idea of a blended whisky or a Canadian whisky doesn’t strike their fancy the same way a single malt Scotch or Kentucky straight bourbon might. When this whisky was discovered to be of Canadian origin, the interest fizzled until a bourbon blog labeled it one of their favorites of the year. When we strip away the marketing, and the assumptions, we have a very interesting bottle on our hands. This has a complex four-grain mash bill more akin to bourbon with a high age statement and proof to match.
Stripping the whisky down to basics, there is a lot happening. Cold storage slows the interaction between whisky and wood, which allows for older age statements without becoming overly oaked in the process. These barrels were left behind and “rediscovered” years later, which allowed the casks to reach their current age — even if they weren’t totally forgotten, at least not by the government.
Tasting Notes: Rare Perfection 15-Year-Old
Vital Stats: Canadian whisky. Bottled at 119.7 proof, or 59.86 ABV. Priced at $199 for 750ml.
Appearance: The whisky is a deep tawny color, with slow legs that cling to the glass.
Nose: This is an inviting nose; an explosion of smells. Despite the alcohol content there is nothing astringent when smelling the glass. This nose is, however, very peculiar. We start with pear and ripe green apple before evolving into chardonnay. The sweet fruits give way to some spring flowers and dry honey. There are dark earth notes throughout — baking spice perhaps? I cannot place them exactly, only that they hang on with the other notes.
Taste: We begin with tart espresso coffee and milk chocolate. Upon a second sip we can find notes of oatmeal cookies and overly ripe stone fruits. There is also something herbal, like black tea and currant, but it’s difficult to place. With a third sip the notes all coalesce, along with the funk of something left alone for a decade and a half. The mouthfeel is excellent, it is oily and clings to the teeth. It lingers, and lingers, and lingers. The finish is extremely smooth, with only a quick bite against the throat before settling into the stomach.