Monday, June 14, 2010

Review: Gibson's Finest Rare 18 years Canadian Whisky

Soft, light, polite, interesting and talkative, a little complex, but not overly so.  On the one hand, I could be making a generalization about Canadians. Oh hell, you're thinking Wayne Gretzky or Anne Murray crooning "Snow Bird."  Hell, even Candian rock music is polite like Rush and Neil Young.  On the other hand, I might also be making an observation about their whisky. Compared to scotch, Canadian whisky is lighter and sweeter. This is a result of blending. A lot of blending. It is not uncommon for Canadian whisky to have up to 50 different whiskies blended together. They must be at least three years old, but typically are older.

A great attribute of many Canadian whiskies is that while distilled from a wide variety of grains (ie. rye, wheat and corn) in addition to barley, it is rarely grainy in taste. You don’t have to spend a lot of money in order to get a good drink. This may be one of the reasons that Americans buy more Canadian whisky than they do of their own native spirits (ie. bourbon, Tennessee whisky). 

Probably the most famous Canadian whisky is Crown Royal. However, there are others.  One of the less known is Gibson’s Finest Rare 18 years old.  It has always been one of my favorites.  It is a great blend of whiskies resulting in a soft, light spirit with some sweet corn and spiced rye that finishes with a dry flourish. 

Getting infortmation on Gibson's is not easy.  Two books I have on world whisky fail to make any reference to it. Turning to the internet, there is scant information. So, I cannot tell you anything about how long it has been on the market or any other interesting factoid. There is a website, but it is hardly informative.  In fact, I visit the site and think it would discourage a whisky drinker.  Loud alternative rock music targeting a youthful, college age demographic that I am no longer a member of is the aim of the Gibson's site.  Never mind the website. It’s all about the flavor.

Nose (undiluted)
It seems every time I pull the cork on this bottle, I am hit with a sickening waft of pure alcohol. But don’t worry, it passes and in no way is a reflection on what follows.

In the glass, the nose is not offensive, but not memorable. I smell corn. Reminiscent of bourbon. Canadian whisky tends not to be floral on the nose and this is no exception. I am detecting some vanilla. The aromas of this Canadian whisky are very restrained.  Nothing special.

For a Canadian whisky it is full bodied, but compared to Scotch, it would be considered light, along the lines of Cragganmore, Glenkinchie or Glen Scotia.

Palate (undiluted)
There is a sweetness of corn chased by some spicy rye. But, don’t worry, not too spicy. Remember, it’s Canadian eh, renowned for smoothness.  Hmmm . . . good. Oak, citrus, cooked fruit, maybe stewed apples. Vanilla is there too.

Finish (undiluted)
Long, lingering, velvet finish of brown sugar and a spiciness that dries expansively with the warmth of a woodstove. The flavors really hang for a long time. Impressive.

A sign of many great whiskies is the ability to start out sweet, but gracefully transition to a dry as tumble weed, tart finish. Gibson’s Finest does this beautifully.

Ice and Canadian whisky go well together and are particularly refreshing during the summer months.  This whisky is very smooth and inviting.  Ice is not needed to tame the flavor profile.  It's a personal decision.  Neat or with ice, you will definitely enjoy it.

The Price is Right!
Don't worry Bob Barker is retired and I am not taking Drew Carey's job.  For an 18 year old whisky, I think the price is reasonable.  Not a steal of a deal, but a fair price.

General Impressions

Gibson’s Finest Rare 18 years is an excellent whisky and would make the perfect gift for the person you know likes whisky in general, but knowing nothing more as to likes or dislikes. Gibson’s manages to be instantly likable, but not boring. There is a complexity of flavor that reels the drinker in for more and more.  There's no fancy marketing campaign, just the quiet, humble Canadian way.  Give it a try!  You won't regret it.


Jason Debly

Copyright © Jason Debly, 2009-2010. All rights reserved.


  1. Dear Jason,
    I like your blog so much. I am a beginner, and I got a bottle of Highland Park 12-yr after reading your review. I true loved it. Thank you. Your review about Johnnie Walker Black Label led me to rethink about the stuff that I had previously found ordinary. Your blog open my eyes to a dozen other whiskies and how they should be valued.

  2. Hello 茶怪! Glad you enjoy the blog. More importantly, I am pleased to learn that you like the Highland Park 12 as much as I do. If you get the chance, you should try the 15 and 18 bottlings of Highland Park. I just finished a bottle of the Highland Park 15 and I am very impressed with it too. Anyone who likes the 12 will enjoy the 15 too.

    Johnnie Walker Black Label is worth giving another try. Maybe try it with ice, or no ice, or a teaspoon of water. Experiment and you may suprise yourself. But always remember, it is your opinion that counts!


  3. Jason!

    Canadian Whiskey is something that has seldom struck much of a chord with me. My experience with the more "common" stuff has always pleased me, but never excites. Gibson's Finest, however, sounds like it could be a potential hit with me.

    On to more of a Scotch-related note: You have any thoughts on the Finlaggan Old Reserve? I just received a bottle as a birthday gift, the request being made from very positive things I hear of it, (and also for being quite economical.) Cheers!

  4. Yochanan, Canadian whiskey is not as complex as scotch. The only exceptions would be when you buy the very high end offerings and even Gibson's Finest 18 is not what I would call 'high-end." Blended scotch, let alone single malts, will weave a more complex flavor profile. But, generally, what Canadian whisky can do is provide a pleasing (maybe a tad simple) flavor profile that works when you just want to chill out and be entertained. In this sense it kinda works like bourbon. Bourbon and Canadian whisky are to mind hedonistic. They taste good, they make you feel good, but not going to stimulate your mind. Conversely, there are some single malts that will astonish you with the flavors they deliver and you will be literally awe struck. Not the case here.

    As regards, Finlaggan Old Reserve, I have never had it, so I cannot tell you anything about it. Nevertheless, email me your tasting note and I will post it! You could be a guest blogger or contributing editor! Think about it buddy!


  5. I like Wiser's. Right out of the bottle. But I have never tried Gigson's because I can't find any in the U.S. Do you know of a website I can go to to ask about distributors in the U.S.?

  6. Hi! Terry, I do not know of an American distriubutor, but a site that might be able to put you in touch with one is called "Canadian Whisky" and the address is: Or simple click on the link at the bottom of the page. The guy who runs that site is a Canadian whisky nut and will be more than happy to help you.

    Another alternative would be to click on the link at the bottom of this page for the Kensington Wine Market. They are based in Calgary, Alberta, carry the product and may be able to ship to the US.

    Hope this helps!

  7. Jason,
    I have a 68' Bottle of crown royal and a 70' bottle of crown. What do you believe the value to be?

    Mike McKillican

  8. Mike, if you check the "The Whisky Exchange", an online retailer, they currently have a 1965 bottle for sale for 99 British pounds which converts to about $160 US. So, I think your bottle would be around the same value.

    If you want to sell it, maybe contact the Whisky Exchange and see what they will offer.


  9. That's a a good comment in the review: "Gibson’s manages to be instantly likable, but not boring." Definitely agree - and that is a hard balancing act for most whiskies. FYI, they have recently changed the label on this 18yo to read "Finest Venerable" instead of "Finest Rare", but there's no evidence yet that they changed the vatting mix (yet).