Collecting and trading hockey cards was a tradition for Canadians kids growing up through the 1970s, 1980s and early 1990s. Each pack offered a chance to find a revered player. These were Canada’s rock stars. When John Lennon bragged that the Beatles were more popular than Jesus, these future hockey legends made the Fab Four look like a group of Pete Bests.
Hockey cards came with a stick of bubble gum. It had the texture and flavour profile of stale cardboard covered with enough white powder to cause an anthrax scare. There’s a reason no one talks about a Canadian chewing gum comeback, but for whisky it’s a different story. The time has come to make the hockey card experience high octane.
That is why J.P. Wiser’s partnered with six hockey legends from the NHL Alumni Association (NHLAA): Guy Lafleur, Wendel Clark, Lanny McDonald, Paul Coffey, Larry Robinson and Darryl Sittler. Retired from the rink, the players turned to the Hiram Walker Distillery to blend their own limited-edition whiskies. “This partnership will help the NHLAA mandate to support retired hockey players as they adjust to life after their professional careers end, while also impacting our local hockey communities,” said Glenn Healy, former professional league champion and executive director of the NHLAA. J.P Wiser’s steps up for a good cause.
Hiram Walker master blender, Dr. Don Livermore, is no stranger to hockey. He’s been a referee for 27 years and coached his son’s hockey team. He knows his way around a hockey stick almost as well as he knows his way around a barrel stave. When Livermore was 10 years old, he wore Guy Lafleur’s Montreal Canadian number 10 jersey and had a stack of hockey cards as tall as his column stills. Now the man Livermore looked up to was about to step into Livermore’s skates. “They were just normal guys, they weren’t there to chat hockey,” says Livermore reliving the experience. “They were intrigued about my job making whisky instead of being an everyday hockey legend. When they were here, it was an exciting event. It was different. They were curious about what goes into making whisky.”
Livermore spent time with each player, “I walked them through how changes in grain can develop flavour, how ageing affects flavour, the different barrel types and finishing barrels.” He used the analogy of making pizza, start with the dough (double distilled whisky) and then add the toppings. They nosed 30 to 40 different whiskies. Livermore was their whisky coach, helping each player develop a whisky that matched their on-ice style.
Guy Lafleur Alumni Series Whisky
Guy Lafleur’s skating prowess made Mikhail Baryshnikov look like he was tripping over his feet. Lafleur was fast and graceful on the ice. In his wake, he could turn ice to water drowning the defensemen trying to chase him down. And he handled the puck with the same flair. “We wanted to make a traditional smooth style whisky to match his smooth hands,” says Livermore.
Lafleur gravitated toward double distilled corn whisky. “We blended whisky from once used Bourbon barrels as part of the recipe along with whisky finished in Speyside malt casks,” explains Livermore.
“He liked that. Then he blended in whisky from Caribbean rum barrels.”
In hockey, scoring three goals in a game is called a hat trick. Lafleur naturally gravitated toward three cask styles for the whisky version. The whisky is bottled as a 10-years-old expression as a tribute to Guy Lafleur, one of the most successful players to hit the ice wearing number 10.
Lanny McDonald Alumni Series Whisky
McDonald grew up on the outskirts of Hanna Alberta. From a young age, he worked on the farm learning all about teamwork with his family. He is recognised for his moustache, but real hockey fans knew him as a dependable well-rounded player. Through his 1,100 game career, the Hall of Famer scored 500 goals and 506 assists. He was an offensive player who could hit hard, shoot hard and find open teammates.
“When Lanny McDonald blended, I wanted to put pot distilled wheat in it,” says Livermore. “It’s funny because when he nosed the wheat whisky, he picked up the calmness and it reminded him of his childhood working on the farm. And that’s what we ultimately ended up putting in his blend.” McDonald blended a versatile whisky. “What’s driving the flavour in this whisky is the rye and the wheat,” says Livermore. The nine-years-old age statement is a tribute to McDonald’s trademark number nine jersey.
Darryl Sittler Alumni Series Whisky
Number 27, Darryl Sittler cemented his reputation as a hockey legend on February 7, 1976. His Toronto Maple Leafs faced off against the Boston Bruins at Toronto’s Maple Leaf Gardens. Sittler put on a scoring clinic with an impossible 10 points in the game, a record that stands today. “He was known for his scoring, and he liked the base whisky,” says Livermore. For Sittler’s blend, base whisky was blended with six per cent rye to represent his six goals in that game and four per cent wheat whisky for his four assists. The whisky is also a 10-years-old expression to cap off the tribute.
Paul Coffey Alumni Series Whisky
Paul Coffey holds the season record for most goals by a defenceman with 48. That’s why his blend is bottled at 48% ABV. A high strength whisky suited number 77’s personality. Coffey moved with elegance and controlled the puck with pinpoint precision. Coffey’s blend carries a seven-year-old age statement paying homage to his jersey’s number and is comprised of whisky from seven per cent virgin oak cask, seven per cent Speyside malt casks, seven per cent ex-Bourbon casks and seven per cent Canadian rye casks.
Wendel Clark Alumni Series Whisky
Wendel Clark’s NHL story marries a balance between an offensive threat and a fighting machine. In his 15 year career, he scored 330 goals and got into about 155 fights. Clark played with grit, and if the opposition didn’t get out of his way, they risked watching the rest of the play from their backs. He brought excitement to the Toronto Maple Leafs with his bold and tenacious style of play.
“We walked through some of the whiskies with him and explained to him why whisky is the way it is in Canada,” says Livermore. “Rye is spice, and whether or not you want to describe his game as spicy, the rye spice does to whisky what he did on the ice.” Clarke blended his whisky from pot distilled and column distilled rye. The strength is 41.6%, and is based on rye flavour. It’s a rare moment when you get to keep your teeth after taking a shot by Clarke.
The Montreal Canadian’s Larry Robinson was a master at moving the puck and stopping opposing players from doing the same. He was a sophisticated player who makes a complex blend.
“Robinson was really into blending his whisky, he was very methodical about the process,” says Livermore.
Robinson’s symbolic number 19 is represented in the whisky’s blend proportions: 19 per cent ex-Bourbon casks, Canadian casks, re-charred barrels, Caribbean rum casks, port casks left over from the original Pike Creek blend and French oak casks for the people of Montreal. It’s a two-grain whisky with a 6-years-old age statement and six-barrel types, a clear nod to his six Stanley Cup championship rings. “Robinson was very thoughtful with his whisky,” says Livermore swelling with pride. “He was there to make the best whisky possible.” Six whiskies in one day. It is a day Livermore and his legendary team of blenders will remember for the rest of their lives.