Well, 2019 is about to officially be over and I can look back on yet another year where I had the opportunity to drink a lot of great whiskey. I continued to add some bucket-list bottles to my collection and I also sampled most of the new limited releases for 2019. I was blown away by some of these bottles and disappointed with others, but in the end I was still drinking whiskey so I have no complaints. Despite all of this, toward the end of “bourbon season” I was somewhat disappointed because there was one new release I had heard of but was not able to find, even by the glass. However, on a random trip to one of my favorite out-of-town package stores, almost as if by fate, I stumbled upon the bottle that had eluded me: the Mister Sam Tribute Whiskey.
Mister Sam is a new release from Sazerac named in honor of Samuel Bronfman, a Canadian businessman who played a prominent role in the growth and development of the whiskey industry in North America. Bronfman and his brothers initially started Distillers Corporation Ltd. in Montreal, Quebec in 1924 and the company quickly experienced tremendous success due, in part, to prohibition in the U.S. After only four short years this company acquired Joseph E. Seagram & Son out of Waterloo, Ontario, and renamed itself Seagram’s, just in time to start doing business in the U.S. after the repeal of prohibition. Bronfman managed the company for the next four decades and built it into the whiskey behemoth we all knew and loved.
Sazerac’s history with Seagram’s dates back to the 1940s when its owners became some of the first U.S. distributors for the newly-merged Seagram’s company. This relationship was maintained up until Seagram’s started selling off its brands in the 1990s. Sazerac now controls 15 of the former Seagram’s brands that are still being produced, so it is fair to say that Sazerac is in the perfect position to create a whiskey in Bronfman’s honor.
This bottle is a blend of American and Canadian whiskies that was created by Drew Mayville, the current Master Blender for Sazerac who was also the Master Blender for Seagram’s for 22 years. Rumor has it that Mayville was given carte blanche to select whiskey for this blend from Sazerac’s massive stock of whiskey in the U.S. and Canada. This big boy blend of whiskey comes in at 133.8 proof (66.9% abv) but no other information on the blend has been provided. This bottle comes in a beautiful wood box and is accompanied by a copy of “…From Little Acorns…”, a history of the Seagram’s company that was written by Bronfman on his 80th birthday. Only 1200 bottles of this rare and unique whiskey were released in the U.S. and Canada and each bottle was set to be priced around $250, although secondary prices are already exceeding $500.
In addition to my tasting notes below, I sat down with some of the barrel team from Market Square Liquors to do a video tasting of Mister Sam. You can watch that video on my IGTV account or on my Youtube Channel.
Nose – there is a fair amount of ethanol emanating from the glass but that can be expected with such a high-proof whiskey. Fortunately, the ethanol tapers off quite quickly, revealing initial notes of tobacco and cedar wood. A somewhat musty oak note develops and ushers in a rich bouquet of vanilla bean and sweet dark fruits with just a hint of maple syrup. All of these robust, rich flavors are more reminiscent of a Buffalo Trace Antique Collection whiskey than any Canadian whiskey I’ve ever tasted. In short, the nose on this whiskey is just phenomenal!
Palate – again, and no surprise, there is a fair amount of heat on the palate, but not nearly what I expected at 133.8 proof. There is also plenty of that musty oak up front, which suggests this blend consists of some older whiskey (10+ years), but it is not ‘over-oaked’ by any means and the oak really works well with all of the dominant sweet notes. There is plenty of rich dark brown sugar and a nice blend of baking spices, but the dark fruit notes really stand out. I was reminded of dark cherry, plum, and berries, in various forms, along with a few notes of citrus fruit. The range and depth of is flavor is nothing short of amazing and presents such a nice challenge on the palate.
Finish – the finish is wonderfully long, smooth, and flavorful. Those rich fruit notes continue from the palate (mainly dark cherry) but some oak tannins create a more dry finish, which emphasizes the multitude of baking spices that started to develop on the palate. Along with the baking spices I also found more tobacco notes, musty oak, and a nice dose of maple syrup that culminated in a warm, lingering finish.
Overall – –Wow. That is all I can really say about this exceptional whiskey from Sazerac. I heard a lot of great things about this whiskey before I was lucky enough to find this bottle but none of that prepared me for my first pour. This whiskey delivers on every level and I can honestly say this is some of the best whiskey I have ever tasted. This whiskey has such a range and depth of flavor and every sip continues to present a challenge. There is just the right amount of heat throughout, along with plenty of oak and wood notes, but the rich, sweet fruit flavors really stand out. Somehow all of these distinct, well-developed flavors fit together perfectly and make for en exceptionally smooth, flavorful, and cohesive pour.
Even at $250, I think Mister Sam is a value ! This is a complex and flavorful whiskey that is meant to be savored. If you see this rare bottle I highly recommend you pick it up, even at an inflated price, because this whiskey is truly something special and is a fitting tribute to a pioneer in the spirits industry. Cheers!