Bottle #48: Noblesse Canadian Whisky

It’s rare that I can know exactly when a tiny bottle comes from. This is one of those occasions! Bottle #48 is Noblesse Canadian Whisky. According to its “bottled in bond” tax strip, it was manufactured in 1965. And since the label declares it to be ten years old, that means it was released in 1975.

So for once dating the bottle was the easy part! The more interesting challenge was figuring out what was in the bottle.

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Searching just for Noblesse Canadian Whiskey didn’t get me very far, so I dug into the next piece of information on the label – Canadian Gibson Ltd of Montreal Canada. If you are a fan of Canadian whisky, that Gibson name might sound familiar, because there is a famous Canadian whisky brand called Gibson’s Finest. I figured the two had to be related, and they were.

But just like many of the brand names I’ve talked about in other episodes, there was a much bigger name lurking in the background: Schenley Industries! They were one of the Big Four liquor companies that dominated the liquor industry for most of the 20th century, and their fingerprints are all over these little bottles.

The driving force behind Schenley Industries was a man named Lewis Rosenstiel. He founded the company with some other investors in 1920 to sell medicinal alcohol during Prohibition, which set the company up to dominate the trade once Prohibition was repealed. By all reports Rosenstiel was an absolute character – a hard driving business man with a quick temper, determined to have his way and knowing how to get it.

While his name never made it on a bottle of bourbon, he was the driving force behind several changes that impact the industry to this day. As I talked about in bottle #1, Maker’s Mark, his overproduction of whiskey ahead of the Korean War led directly to the downturn of American whiskey in the second half of the twentieth century. But it also caused legal changes in the amount of time a whiskey can be aged before being taxed, which turned out to be a good thing for the industry (and fans of old bourbon). He was also the driving force behind getting Bourbon officially declared a “distinctive product of the United States” by Congress. (See these two great posts from bourbonveatch.com for more on Schenley’s rise and eventual fall.)

But why am I talking about this in an episode about a Canadian whisky? Well, like others of the Big Four, Schenley was a hungry giant, and spent decades absorbing other companies and growing ever larger. See episodes 4 and 44 about Black Bottle and Long John Scotch for example of brands that ended up under the Schenley umbrella. In 1945, that included Quebec Distillers Inc, renamed to Schenley Canada Inc. At the Valleyfield Distillery in Quebec the company started making whiskey for both the American and Canadian markets.

Because Schenley had absorbed a bunch of distilleries and companies in its long life, it owned many brand names. From the 40s to the 70s Schenley would give those old American brands new life as names for Canadian whiskies. This included Golden Wedding and, in 1972, Gibson. So we finally get back to Canadian Gibson Ltd, which was presumably a subsidiary of Schenley.

Based on an ad I found, 10-year-old Noblesse was the premium whiskey in their 1970s lineup, which also included Gibson’s 909, which was only aged for 6 years. But the last ads I can find for Noblesse in newspapers are from 1974, meaning my 1975 bottle is one of the last. Gibson’s Finest, bottled at 12 years old, hit the market in the early 1980s, so my guess is that they started saving up their older whiskies for that to capitalize on the Gibson name.

I am excited to taste this one. The Valleyfield distillery in Quebec, still in operation today, is known for producing particularly flavorful and interesting whiskies due to an unusual distillation set up. So if Noblesse was their premier product, made in 1965 and bottled in 1975, I’ve got high hopes for it being delicious!

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Bottle #48: Noblesse Canadian Whisky

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It’s rare that I can know exactly when a tiny bottle comes from. This is one of those occasions! Bottle #48 is Noblesse Canadian Whisky. According to its “bottled in bond” tax strip, it was manufactured in 1965. And since the label declares it to be ten years old, that means it was released in 1975.

So for once dating the bottle was the easy part! The more interesting challenge was figuring out what was in the bottle.

Searching just for Noblesse Canadian Whiskey didn’t get me very far, so I dug into the next piece of information on the label – Canadian Gibson Ltd of Montreal Canada. If you are a fan of Canadian whisky, that Gibson name might sound familiar, because there is a famous Canadian whisky brand called Gibson’s Finest. I figured the two had to be related, and they were.

But just like many of the brand names I’ve talked about in other episodes, there was a much bigger name lurking in the background: Schenley Industries! They were one of the Big Four liquor companies that dominated the liquor industry for most of the 20th century, and their fingerprints are all over these little bottles.

The driving force behind Schenley Industries was a man named Lewis Rosenstiel. He founded the company with some other investors in 1920 to sell medicinal alcohol during Prohibition, which set the company up to dominate the trade once Prohibition was repealed. By all reports Rosenstiel was an absolute character – a hard driving business man with a quick temper, determined to have his way and knowing how to get it.

While his name never made it on a bottle of bourbon, he was the driving force behind several changes that impact the industry to this day. As I talked about in bottle #1, Maker’s Mark, his overproduction of whiskey ahead of the Korean War led directly to the downturn of American whiskey in the second half of the twentieth century. But it also caused legal changes in the amount of time a whiskey can be aged before being taxed, which turned out to be a good thing for the industry (and fans of old bourbon). He was also the driving force behind getting Bourbon officially declared a “distinctive product of the United States” by Congress. (See these two great posts from bourbonveatch.com for more on Schenley’s rise and eventual fall.)

But why am I talking about this in an episode about a Canadian whisky? Well, like others of the Big Four, Schenley was a hungry giant, and spent decades absorbing other companies and growing ever larger. See episodes 4 and 44 about Black Bottle and Long John Scotch for example of brands that ended up under the Schenley umbrella. In 1945, that included Quebec Distillers Inc, renamed to Schenley Canada Inc. At the Valleyfield Distillery in Quebec the company started making whiskey for both the American and Canadian markets.

Because Schenley had absorbed a bunch of distilleries and companies in its long life, it owned many brand names. From the 40s to the 70s Schenley would give those old American brands new life as names for Canadian whiskies. This included Golden Wedding and, in 1972, Gibson. So we finally get back to Canadian Gibson Ltd, which was presumably a subsidiary of Schenley.

Based on an ad I found, 10-year-old Noblesse was the premium whiskey in their 1970s lineup, which also included Gibson’s 909, which was only aged for 6 years. But the last ads I can find for Noblesse in newspapers are from 1974, meaning my 1975 bottle is one of the last. Gibson’s Finest, bottled at 12 years old, hit the market in the early 1980s, so my guess is that they started saving up their older whiskies for that to capitalize on the Gibson name.

I am excited to taste this one. The Valleyfield distillery in Quebec, still in operation today, is known for producing particularly flavorful and interesting whiskies due to an unusual distillation set up. So if Noblesse was their premier product, made in 1965 and bottled in 1975, I’ve got high hopes for it being delicious!

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