You’ve seen a few headlines you haven’t quite clicked on. Your neighborhood Whisky snob brings it up all the time. Everyone you know with even a tenuous connection to the great nation of Canada has been furiously posting links reading: “Canada makes the finest Whisky in the world!”. The liquor-soaked corners of the internet are ablaze. Should you believe the hype?
After performing our due diligence, the Flaviar team is ready to tell you… Yes! Totally! And we can help you get acquainted.
A Bad Reputation
Canadian Whisky has gotten a bad rap, and deservedly so. It was the preferred Spirit of disillusioned grandmothers and college-aged inebriates trying to seem fancy for many years. Household names in this category are known for two distinguishing qualities: they’re cheap and easy to mix. That is in large part thanks to their means of production.
While producing regions like Scotland and the U.S. have put in place strict rules about how their Whisk(e)y can be made and marketed, Canada has taken a decidedly laissez-faire approach.
What is Canadian Whisky?
Many Canadian brands don’t even include a mash bill or age on the label. Canada's regulations specify only one rule for producing Canadian Whisky: it has to be mashed, distilled, and aged for at least three years in Canada.
How does Canadian Whisky taste like?
Recent entrants like the Buffalo-Trace-owned Caribou Crossing are pushing the field into new flavor arenas, but Canadian drams are classically light and sweet; more kindred to a blended Irish Whiskeys than a peaty Scotch or oak-laced Bourbon.
They can also be distilled to a higher proof than Bourbon, which the government caps at 160. The base Spirit for Canadian Whiskies frequently hit proofs around 190, meaning a stronger, but less flavorful foundation.
What goes into them isn’t particularly enchanting, either. Middle America conjures the image of tall, orderly stalks to many minds, but corn is going just as strong up North. Corn and wheat are the primary grains used in Canadian Whisky production, imbuing that grain's feathery, dulcet flavor profiles of those grains to the resulting blend.
In summary, the classic Canadian Whisky is a slightly bland, light, and sweet liquor; the store-brand vanilla ice cream of the Whisky world. But the industry is changing. And has a past more interesting than its reputation suggests.
Distilling in the Canadian provinces began when European settlers brought their know-how and penchant for a good buzz to the shores of Quebec some time in the 1700s. After landing in the East, where Caribbean molasses was widely available, many of the early settlers made Rum. As they proceeded west the pioneers found abundant wheat, and Whisky production took off.
There is one ingredient found in many Canadian blends that we haven’t mentioned. The last secret of Saskatchewan’s Special Sauce came with Dutch and German distillers who began adding small amounts of Rye to the mash for a taste of home. This spicy tradition stuck, and carries on to this day, resulting in many labels in Canada bearing the name, Rye.
The First Wave
These were the humble beginnings, but two periods of turmoil in America would drive the formation of a true industry. First, the American Civil War, lasting from 1861 - 1865 threw a wrench in domestic Spirit production. But even in—and perhaps especially in—the face of strife, people reach for a strong drink, and the Briefly-Not-United States turned to Canada as a reliable source.
Then the story we’ve all heard: Prohibition. Bootleggers slipping through fog-choked harbors with crate after crate of fine Canadian gold. And it’s true. With American stock in ruins from 1920-1933, Canada had the only supply on hand, but in reality, the volume paled compared to regular trade.
After Prohibition, however, Canada was there for its American friends with the only barrels of aged Whisky around, and they made a killing. Canadian Whisky was the best-selling Liquor category in America until as recently as 2010!
What is the most popular Whisky in Canada?
Crown Royal is the largest-selling brand of Canadian Whisky in the United States. Daily, the production of Crown Royal consumes over 900k gallons of water and 10k bushels of grain. The standing inventory is more than 2 million barrels of Whisky aging in 50 warehouses, spread out over five acres.
Best Canadian Whiskies
We’ve rounded up the Top 5 Canadian Whiskies you won’t want to miss. Hint: these bottles are Flaviar Community Favorites and top-rated certified treats.
- Crown Royal XR Blue Label
It is light and smooth and spot-on spicy in all of the right places, an embodiment of what Canadian Whisky really should be.
- Crown Royal Wine Barrel Finished
This exquisite, complex dram is a testament to Crown Royal's dedication to constant improvement and excellence. Like a fine wine (and fine Whisky), they keep getting better with age.
- Pendleton 1910 12-Year-Old Whisky
It is a pure, award-winning, 100% Rye Whisky aged a minimum of twelve years in charred oak issued each year in limited release. Giddy-up Cowboy!
- Lot No. 40 Canadian Whisky
It was produced in the old-school, pre-Prohibition style, served at 43% ABV, and named after the plot of land owned by one of the founders — "Lot No. 40." With the incredibly popular resurgence of Rye Whisky in the marketplace, Pernod Ricard encouraged the re-launching of the Whisky as a stand-alone brand in 2012.
- Pike Creek Canadian Whisky
This vibrant blend is matured in unheated warehouses, exposed to the freezing winters and the summer heat, and then finished in port barrels for a final sweet, fruity touch.
And now we’re here. Today. Ready to taste a new generation of producers from the great white north. In a place once known for brown vodka, there are over 30 craft distilleries and counting. Stores are starting to carry whole shelves and sections of reputable Canadian brands you'll be hearing more about.