If I were to tell you that I spent the past weekend in Michigan, you probably wouldn’t say much to me. You might wonder why, but Michigan is a nice place so you might not even say that. If I were to tell you that I was in a part of Michigan that is farther west than Chicago, farther north than Toronto, Montreal, or even Quebec City and only 20 miles east of Minnesota you might start to think I’m crazy. (Unless you are either from Michigan or a geography nerd that is, then all bets are off.) But crazy or not that is where I spent last weekend and the first part of this week.
You see there is a giant island in the northern part of Lake Superior called Isle Royale. It’s part of Michigan though it is closer to both Ontario and Minnesota than it is to mainland Michigan. (Thank old treaties and compromises for that bit of geographical trickery.) The island is also a National Park called, naturally enough, Isle Royale National Park.
The Park, being an island, is only accessible by boat, either your own or one run by a National Park Service concessionaire. If, like me, you don’t own your own very large boat you are left with the concessionaire ferries or seaplanes as your only option. You can go from two ports in Michigan or from one in Minnesota.
The port I chose was the one in Minnesota. Which is just about as far north as you can go along the Minnesota coast of Lake Superior. You are so close to the Canadian border that Verizon just tells you “No Service” because the only towers you are touching are international ones. To me, this is not a big deal. Part of the appeal of this vacation was the lack of cell service and internet. I needed desperately to get away from it all for a few days. And since this park gets fewer visitors in a year than Yellowstone gets in a day, away is exactly where I would be.
The other big part of the appeal, going hand in hand with the first, was our proximity to our Northern Neighbor. Unlike many native Minnesotans, I have no particular enmity to Canada. In fact, the one time I visited, I sorta wished I could have stayed longer. Of course, that time I was in Toronto. This time I was closest to Thunder Bay.
Every person to whom I mentioned I might be stopping in Thunder Bay asked the same question: “Why?” The answer depending on if you were another whiskey fan or a border patrol agent was either “Canadian Whisky” or “sightseeing” respectively. You see Thunder Bay, being in Ontario is served by the LCBO. Now government controlled access to liquor has many drawbacks, but one of the benefits to this particular system is an online inventory lookup that is broken down by store. Meaning that before I left, I could look to see if there was any particularly tasty Canada only whisky that I might hop across the border and bring back with me.
And find one I did. A while back, I took a part in a few Twitter-based whiskey tastings in support of Davin de Kergommeaux’s book on Canadian Whisky. One of the treats that were sent out was one Wiser’s Red Letter. Even though I had already come around on my early views of Canadian whisky at this point, the Red Letter sample was the one that firmly cemented Canadian whisky as something I would proclaim myself a fan of. Putting it in a group that had until that point only contained Bourbon and American Rye.
So when I looked online and noticed that there was one store in Thunder Bay that had two bottles of it, I knew that I would be spending the later hours of Friday afternoon making the 50 minute trip between Grand Portage, Minnesota and Thunder Bay, Ontario to make sure that one of them would be coming home with me.
Wiser’s Red Letter - 2014 Release
Purchase Info: $99.95 Canadian (~$76 US as of 8/6/15), 750 mL. LCBO, Arthur Street, Thunder Bay, Ontario.
Details: 45% ABV. 2014 Release. Non-chill filtered. “Virgin Oak Finished.”
Nose: Delicate and creamy. Honey and brown sugar. Orange oil. Cinnamon candies.
Mouth: Creamy with a nice velvety mouthfeel. Brown sugar sweetness. Cinnamon candy spice, with a tingle reminiscent of the same. Baseball card gum (because I’m old enough to have bought baseball card packs that came with gum back in the 80s). Hints of orange oil and wooden pencil.
Finish: The cinnamon candy tingle sticks around for a little while before being replaced by a nice lingering sweetness.
Thoughts: After sadly realizing that Red Letter was not sold in the US, I tried a few of the Wiser’s products that were. One of which, the Legacy, quickly became my go to Canadian whisky. If you have had Wiser’s Legacy, the best description of Red Letter I can give you is: "that, only more so." It hits all the same notes with me, it just hits them harder (hmmm…realizing I never actually did a review of Legacy, will have to remedy that soon).
I would say this was certainly worth the roughly 2 hour detour across a lightly used border crossing into Canada. Was it worth $76 US? Considering my favorite Canadian whiskey goes for about $40 US and is very similar, sure. Now for those same reasons, I probably wouldn’t buy a second bottle of Red Letter at $100 Canadian, even if I could, but I don’t regret buying this one. It made a nice vacation splurge.
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