For decades, Gibson’s whiskies have been distilled, aged, blended, and bottled at the Schenley distillery in Valleyfield, Québec. But late in 2008, most of the blending and bottling moved to the Hiram Walker distillery in Windsor, Ontario. Still, the Gibson’s reputation is such that distillery employees in Valleyfield talk proudly of their past association with Gibson’s and at least one of them quietly squirreled away a stash of Valleyfield bottles when it was announced that production was about to be moved to Windsor. Meanwhile, workers at the Hiram Walker distillery exhibit similar pride at the coup of having snagged the Gibson’s contract.
Dusty rye and fresh water start things off, most noticeably, even before you swirl the glass. An early fruitiness is soon displaced by aged oaky notes and red cedar. The wood does not overpower, but there is lots of it. Right after the first swirl: caramel custard, butterscotch, and hard candy take over before the fruit returns with SweetTarts, apple juice, hints of red cherry and black fruit, and then slowly, distinct strawberries and cream. Putting your nose deep into the glass brings little whiffs of spirit and something vaguely like sweet shellac. Strong suggestions of dry tobacco leaves followed by milder suggestions of dry grain impart greater depth to an already engaging nose.
Sweet and silky, but with lots of bitter citric zest, fresh-cut wood, spicy white pepper and hints of tingly ginger ale. The woody notes are restrained but persistent, and although the pepper is hot with tinges of cinnamon and cloves, it integrates flawlessly with the wood and traces of burnt sugar. All this balances magically against an underlying citric bitterness and vaguely tannic orange pekoe tea. The most skilled blenders sign their work – the so-called ‘house style’ – but in invisible ink. A weighty body and creamy slightly slippery mouthfeel merge with toffee notes and burnt sugar to turn earlier impressions of caramel pudding to crème brûlée. Fresh fruit and inklings of rye spices including cloves and Christmas pudding round it out. And then there is just a touch of molasses, almost like dark rum.
Medium long, hot and peppery, some sweetness, limes, crème brûlée fading to nothing while the pepper lingers.