Black Velvet Reserve
I think we're at the point where we can all admit that Canadians make some damn fine whiskey. Then, inexplicably, they mix it with some of their crummy whiskey and ship it to the U.S.
They do occasionally leave out the crummy whiskey, which is nice of them.
I've had bad Canadian whisky, I've had good Canadian whisky, I've had very good Canadian whisky.What I haven't had, yet, is very good Canadian whisky that mentions Canada on the bottle. But while I'd certainly like to try some more very good Canadian whisky, as a practical matter I'm more interested in finding good Canadian whiskys to keep on hand.
Black Velvet Reserve 8 YO, which I tried at a Christmas party, is not a good Canadian whisky. It's not a bad Canadian whisky, but it doesn't quite manage to overcome that dual character of whiskey in the glass alongside a sour grain spirit. It has a better balance than the usual mixing Canadians -- maybe the blending whiskeys are better than average, maybe there's more flavoring whiskey -- but it's not altogether integrated, which is what I'd want to be able to call it a good whisky. (If the dual character is something you like out of Canadian whisky, you'd probably like this more than I do.)
I wouldn't buy this for myself, but I might buy it for a party if I expected people to be drinking whisky highballs.
Sam Houston Straight American Whiskey
I've been curious about this whiskey for a long time. There aren't a lot of non-primary-grain straight whiskeys out there, and the stores around me stock this on the top shelf (probably because it's a tall bottle) with an eye-catching price of around $22. But I never saw it mentioned, and -- well, there's a reason there aren't a lot of non-primary-grain straight whiskeys out there.
Last night, the bottle once again caught my eye, this time on the top shelf of a bar. So I tried it neat, and was struck by the complete absence of character.
It's definitely whiskey, and there's nothing off about it, but there's nothing on about it either. It's the Oakland of whiskeys; there is no there there. If Captain Picard ever asked the replicator to make "whiskey, American, straight," I bet it would taste like Sam Houston.
I suppose if you have a use for whiskey that isn't bourbon or rye or Scotch or Irish or Canadian or Indian or Japanese -- I don't know, maybe if you wanted to add a bit of a kick to an eggnog without making it sweeter -- then Sam Houston SAW might work for you.