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Our neighbors to the north are known for making some good whisky (they spell it without the “e”). This ranges from 100% rye expressions to affordable blends. The defining characteristics of Canadian whisky are that it must be aged for three years in Canada from a mash bill recipe of grains and contain at least 40% ABV. Beyond that, distillers are free to experiment with different barrel types and recipes, and they can even add 9.09% of another spirit to the whisky (as long as it’s aged for two years in wood). Here are the best Canadian whiskies to drink now.
Best Overall: Forty Creek Confederation Oak
This is an excellent expression from the Grimsby, Ontario distillery. Confederation Oak was created to commemorate Canada’s 1867 Confederation. It’s a blended whisky that is finished for up to two years in new Canadian oak barrels, which the distillery says have a tighter grain because of the colder climate. Look for notes of praline, honey and dark fruits on the palate.
Best Budget: Canadian Club 100% Rye
Canadian Club is a well-known brand in the U.S., mostly for its extremely popular and affordable blended whisky. But this 100% rye whisky, which is aged in a few different barrel types, is a great example of Canadian rye and will usually cost around $20 a bottle. This is not the most intense rye whisky experience you'll find, but it’s certainly a good deal. Crafted by Alberta Distillers, this spirit has caramel and oak notes.
Best for Sipping: JP Wiser’s 18 Year Old Blended
"This whisky stands out for its complexity in flavors, which is driven by the usage of the [bourbon] barrels [used for aging],” says Frederic Najem, the director of food and beverage at Loews Philadelphia Hotel. “It has an aroma of earth, smoke and rye on the nose. This whisky is well balanced at a great price.” Perfect for sipping, this spirit is aged for 18 years.
Best Splurge: Lock, Stock & Barrel 16 Year Rye
This 100% Canadian rye whisky is sourced and bottled by Cooper Spirits Company in the U.S. While it costs around $150 or more for a bottle, the whisky is well worth it. A deeply spicy background is tempered by notes of caramel, cocoa, and dried fruits after nearly 20 years of aging in American oak. Sip this on its own, or use it for a premium cocktail experience.
Best for Manhattan: Pendleton Whisky
Pendleton's Canadian whisky is sourced and bottled by an American company: Hood River Distillers in Oregon. It’s a blended whisky that is distilled and aged in Canada, then brought to the U.S. and cut with spring water from Mt. Hood before bottling. The palate is slightly sweet and mild with a bit of spice, making this an excellent Canadian whisky to use in a Manhattan. The pepper and fruit notes will also complement any sweet vermouth you go with.
Read Next: The Best Whiskey Decanters
Best for Old Fashioned: Gooderham & Worts Four Grain Whisky
This expression from Gooderham & Worts is produced by the Hiram Walker & Sons Distillery in Ontario. The whisky is made from a mash bill of four grains (corn, wheat, rye and barley), giving it a depth of flavor and complexity that makes it a great Old Fashioned component. Even more, this spirit is bottled at 44.4% ABV, which is a bit higher than other Canadian whiskies, elevating it when combined with bitters and sugar.
Best Rye: Lot No. 40 Rye
There are many Canadian rye whiskies to choose from (some Canadians even refer to whisky, no matter what the mash bill is, as "rye"). But this expression from Lot No. 40, crafted at Hiram Walker Distillery, is one of the best. It’s made from a mash bill of 100% rye that is distilled in copper pot stills. There’s a nice balance of sweetness and spice on the palate, with a buttery mouthfeel and some notes of fruit and vanilla. Overall, this is a stellar example of rye whisky from the north.
Read Next: The Best Rye Whiskeys
Best Blend: Crown Royal Deluxe
"There are definitely some good new Canadian whiskies on the market," says Nestor Marchand, the director of food and beverage at Plunge Beach Resort in Florida. “But when I think of Canadian whisky, I think of Crown Royal. It’s a nice upgrade that won't break the bank.”
Blended with 50 different whiskies aged in oak barrels, this spirit is extremely popular for a reason—it’s smooth, sweet, and can be used in many different cocktails.
Best Age Statement: JP Wiser's 15 Year Old
This JP Wiser’s whisky is a bartender favorite. “It's a blend of mature grain whiskies with a hint of rye spice,” says Pablo Guerrero, the food and beverage manager of Azabu Miami Beach. “After being aged for 15 years, we have a rich and smooth mix of flavors like dried fruits, toffee, spices and a very little touch of green apples. There is no need to break the bank, as it is a good value whisky and a fantastic digestif to end a memorable dinner.”
Best Single Malt: Shelter Point Artisanal Single Malt
When you think of Canadian whisky, single malt is not the first category that comes to mind. But there are some smaller craft producers making single malt whisky, like Vancouver Island’s Shelter Point. It’s distilled in copper pot stills from a mash bill of 100% malted barley and aged for a minimum of three years in American oak barrels. Fans of single malt scotch will enjoy the notes of tropical fruit, vanilla and spice on the palate.
Read Next: The Best Single Malt Scotch Whiskies
Best Barrel Finish: Pike Creek 10 Year Old Rum Barrel Finished
From Corby Distilleries, Pike Creek's rye whisky undergoes some interesting barrel finishes after initial maturation. One of the best expressions is this 10-year-old blended whisky finished in rum barrels. This secondary maturation brings notes of banana and brown sugar to the mix of caramel, spice and dried fruit flavors.
Best Single Barrel: Caribou Crossing Single Barrel
"Caribou Crossing, a Sazerac brand product, is pricier than your average Canadian whisky but worth every drop,” says Carlos Lopez, the bar manager of Stiltsville Fish Bar in Miami Beach. What makes this whisky stand out is that it’s a single barrel release, meaning each bottle comes from one particular barrel instead of a blend of many casks. This also means that every bottle will taste slightly different, but overall, look for notes of vanilla, honey and spice.
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Jonah Flicker is an experienced writer who has been covering spirits and traveling the world visiting distilleries for many years. His work has appeared in many different national outlets covering trends, new releases, and the stories and innovators behind the spirits. His first love remains whiskey, but he is partial to tequila, rum, gin, cognac and all things distilled.