First and foremost. If you’re looking for a really good rye and you haven’t tried Alberta Premium, you really should give the only 100% rye grain Canadian whisky a go.
And while you’re at the store buying the throwback-looking bottle, pick up a bottle of the Alberta Premium Dark Horse.
This relatively new product from Calgary-based Alberta Distillers is an interesting blend of mostly 6- and 12-year old rye, plus a bit of corn whisky for good measure, and aged in heavily charred oak barrels.
It’s rich in vanilla and caramel flavours, with distinct rye pepperiness. Pepperiness, that’s a word, right? Also, dried fruit.
It drinks just fine on its own, but it’s great in a cocktail.
I recently had the chance to sit down with whisky ambassador, bartender and mixologist Matt Jones, who gave me a taste of how well Dark Horse works in a cocktail as well.
Jones said while it’s meant to be a sipping whisky, it’s a very “mixable whisky.”
“It has a bolder, richer flavour profile because of the fact it’s aged in Bourbon barrels. The difference being for cocktails is it gives a lot more diversity,” he said.
Playing up the equine theme of the Dark Horse name — which is derived from the race-horse owner and early investor in Alberta Distillers, Frank McMahon — Jones created mixed a couple of easy-to-make cocktails highlighting some of the flavours of the whisky.
First up was the Horse Whisperer, a “play on a rye and ginger,” Jones said.
What’s in it:
1/8 of an orange
A few dashes Angostura Bitters
1 1/2 oz. Dark Horse
A good ginger beer, such as Crabbies (which also goes really well with the Macallan Fine Oak 10 Year, but I digress)
1. Muddle the orange in a glass with a muddler or a spoon: “We;re just looking to get the oils out of the orange and the juice.”
2. Add the bitters “A few good heavy dashes of that. Of course, that has a lot of synergy with the whisky.”
3. Add the whisky “A good healthy measure of Dark Horse.” No argument here.
4. Top off with ice
5. Add the ginger beer.
This is a great drink. A lot of flavour, even moreso than the Macallan and Crabbies. The spiciness of the ginger beer pairs well with the spice in the rye, and the orange picks up on the orange flavours that come out in the ageing of the whisky. And it’s all tied together with the bitters.
It makes for a good fall cocktail, and is easy to make if you’re entertaining.
Orange was also a key flavour in the second cocktail Jones concocted, the Copper Stallion, a play on an Old Fashioned.
“It’s a little bit more complex to make, but if I’m making it at home i just build it in the glass,” Jones said.
The Copper Stallion
1 oz Alberta Premium Dark Horse
1.5 oz Maple, Spiced, or Simple Syrup (for spiced simple syrup, you can use vanilla, cinnamon, orange, star anise)
2 dashes Bittered Sling Extracts - Moondog or Kensington Dry Bitters (“Gives it a peppery, earthy flavour style.”) Look for them at Vine Arts on 1 St. S.W. in Calgary.
1.Add syrup and bitters to glass, express orange oil from peel into glass, drop in peel.
2.Pour in Alberta Premium Dark Horse, pack with ice, and stir. The stirring helps melt a bit of the ice to give some dilution.
This is a refined drink, and can even be made in batches if you’re hosting a party and you have a big enough mixing glass.
Rye seems to be undergoing a bit of resurgence as cocktail culture grows, and Alberta Premium has a unique place in the segment. The Dark Horse is a further extension of that.
If you’re looking for a whisky with a lot of character to enjoy, either on its own, or in an interesting cocktail, the Dark Horse is a standout, and doesn’t break the bank.