The Cask and Barrel: O Canada, Time to Stop Apologizing and Start Kicking Butt!

O Canada, time to stop apologizing and start kicking butt!

Over the last year or so I’ve been interviewed by several publications on the state of the Canadian Whisky market here in the United States. I’ve given my opinion that there is a sea of great whisky sitting in Canada waiting for American whisk(e)y drinkers to discover. Not only does the whisky taste great, well made, and diverse, it’s also reasonably priced! I see only growth for our friendly neighbors to the north as long as they are innovative and aggressive in the US market place.  At this point the interviewer usually points out that Canadian Whisky consumption is on a downward trend in the US and that Canada’s own Parliament just chose a Scottish Whisky as their official whisky (It was Aberlour 12yr). In all fairness the contest was for “scotch”, which Canadian Whisky is not, but still pretty embarrassing when you’re trying to promote your own domestic product. So, I then have to concede both of those points, but then I counter with a true whisk(e)y lovers logic! Yes, Canadian Whiskey is on a downward trend, but it’s the volume “value” brands that are dragging the category into a death spiral. (I’m not going to mention any names, but take a gander in your Grandparents liquor cabinet there will probably be some dusty bottles in there.)  I, however, am touting brands that are embracing quality and highlighting great flavor profiles that will ultimately give Canadian whisky it’s time in the sun! So, the Interviewer and I will then exchange points and counter points, usually in my head I win.  When I hang up the phone I realize that all that verbal sparring I just endured will only be read by industry insiders, all of that great Canadian Whiskies will remain undiscovered by the people that really matter; YOU!  So, I’d like to make my case for you to give Canadian Whisky a try by highlighting some expressions I think are worth a spot in your clean and dust free liquor cabinet.

Since I’ve been preaching about Canadian Whisky I only thought it fair that I put my money where my mouth is, that is why I purchased an entire barrel of Caribou Crossing! This whisky from the Sazerac Company noted itself as Canada’s first single barrel Canadian Whisky, being selected form an inventory of over 200,000 barrels. I had tried the whisky when it first came out in around 2010 and was happy to add it to my collection.  When I was offered a few years latter to pick a single barrel for the Loch & K(e)y Whisk(e)y Society I was more than thrilled. Each barrel has its own distinct characteristics so, I will describe the expression in more general terms since the Loch & K(e)y barrel pick is long since gone.  First, I love the color of this whisky. Its golden hue is almost radiant and the nose is full of vanilla, citrus peel and a hint of fresh cut oak. The whisky itself is soft and creamy and a slight toasted caramel on the tongue. It’s only 80 proof so; there are really no hard edges. The finish closes with more citrus, leaning towards oranges, and a nice amount of rye spice.

I know I made the comment earlier about your Grandparent’s dusty bottles, but I don’t want you to think there are no cool innovative expressions coming out of “established” brands. To that point, the next whisky up is Crown Royal Black. Now, many Americans probably recognize Crown Royal, it’s the currently number on selling Canadian Whisky in the US, but this a newer expression from the same company.  As its name might suggest this is a darker and more robust version of its sibling. Crown Royal Black is not exactly black, but more of a dark mahogany and at 90 proof it has a higher alcohol content than its older brother. Don’t let this whisky’s higher proof dissuade you, however, it is surprisingly rounded.   On the initial nose you’ll find vanilla toffee and maduro cigar notes. As you drink this expression an almost reminiscent of a bourbon/rum combination with caramel and maple flavors mixing with woody spice. The finish is warm and heavier on the oak without being overwhelmed. Pleasant enough to drink on its own, but plenty of flavor to stand up to ice or in a cocktail.

The last whisky I want to highlight really drives all my points of the quality, affordability, and innovation that IS Canadian Whisky. Lot 40 Rye is distilled at the Hiram Walker Distillery in Winsor and only uses 100% unmalted rye (also from Canada) to produce this 86 proof expression. The process for making this whisky is a little different. After an initial distillation in a column still, a second distillation occurs in a copper pot still; the use of copper pot seems to concentrate the rye character. After distillation, this freshly made spirit is laid to mature locally in new oak barrels. The next step is to skillfully combine the barrels into small batch consisting of whiskies aged between 7-12 years. Then comes my favorite part, cracking a bottle open and drinking it! I love the bright new penny color of the liquid and aromas of citrus, anise, wood spice, and a bit of Bing cherry on the nose. On the palate the evidence of those new oak barrels shows itself with vanilla and spice notes, however, I also get hints of sweet tea too. The finish is quite long and ends up with a candied spice lingering on the tongue.

So, the next time you’re out to drinks with friends or at your local liquor store give a Canadian Whisky a chance! You never know, you next favorite whisky could come from north of the boarder. And remember, there’s never a bad day for good whisk(e)y!