It’s no secret that bourbon and Tennessee whiskey are all the rage. But there’s actually another North American whiskey that is almost as big of a seller in the US. Stumped? It’s Canadian whisky. Our next-door neighbor has a long history of making spirits, but there are many well-entrenched misconceptions about the country’s liquor. To avoid a future international incident, we decided to debunk a few of the most common myths about the alcohol. Fortunately, we were able to get Don Livermore, master blender at Corby Distilleries, which produces Wiser’s, Pike Creek and Lot. No 40, to help us out. Cheers!
It’s brown vodka.
“There is a perception in the whisky industry that Canadian whisky is very light and is known as the brown vodka,” Livermore says. “But in reality, Canadian whisky can be quite dynamic and complex.” In fact, there is a large selection in Canada of whiskies aged in a range of barrels and made from a variety of recipes. Many of these interesting bottlings are finally now being exported across the border.
Prohibition made Canadian whisky.
While some Canadian liquor found its way to the States during Prohibition, it wasn’t a boon for the country’s distillers. “Within a 10-year period, a salesman, Harry Hatch, bought four of the five largest whisky distilleries in Canada: Wiser’s, Corby, Hiram Walker and Gooderham & Worts,” he notes. “Harry had some means to sell product into the United States illegally, but in truth for a salesman to have the capability to buy most of the industry leaders meant times were not all that good.”
It’s made from just rye.
There’s only one law for producing Canadian whisky: It must be fermented, distilled and aged in Canada. That’s it. And just like bourbon, Canadian whiskey is usually made from several different grains. However, unlike bourbon, in Canada each grain is usually fermented, distilled and aged separately. They’re only combined together at the very end, which means the amount of rye whisky added to each blend varies widely.
Canadian whisky is for Canadians.
Not only has America been a very strong market for Canadian whisky recently (according to the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States, more than 16 million nine-liter cases were sold in 2012), but in fact we also helped create the category. Thanks to the Civil War (and the Highland Clearances in Scotland) shutting down distilleries, plenty of whisky pioneers like JP Wiser, Hiram Walker, Henry Corby, William Gooderham and James Worts set up shop in Canada. As a result, “by 1900, the Gooderham & Worts distillery in Toronto was one of the largest distilleries in the world, producing 2 million gallons annually,” Livermore says.
It’s the same whisky my dad drank.
Livermore admits that Canadian distillers “have a long history of quality products that have been made the same way for a number of years.” But tastes have certainly changed with each generation, and “the category is set up in a way that allows for many types of whisky styles.” The popularity of new straight rye, spiced and small-batch whiskies certainly proves his point.