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Canadian whisky rocks – it’s time to celebrate Canada’s finest

Prime Minister Trudeau’s bold “Canada is back” assertion may be debated for years. The same cannot be said for Canadian whisky, now back to its place in drinkers’ hearts.

 

By Jan Westcott

Whether it’s the selection of Crown Royal Northern Harvest Rye as the world’s best by Jim Murray’s Whisky Bible or Corby’s Lot 40 again winning Best Whisky of the Year at the Canadian Whisky Awards, Canadian whisky is definitely back.

Canadians and Americans alike are rediscovering the mysteries of rye. Indeed, Canadian whisky is a fast-rising passion with discerning consumers world-wide.

Murray’s elevation of Northern Harvest Rye, created by master blender Joanna Scandella, has sparked global interest in the Canadian whisky category and is encouraging whisky followers everywhere to seek out what Canada has to offer.

There couldn’t be a better time for such interest. More innovative Canadian whiskies are hitting stores and bars than ever before. Adventurous bartenders and mixologists are enthusiastically embracing these new expressions of an old favourite.

Canadian Club Chairman’s Select 100% Rye, Forty Creek Copper Pot Reserve, Crown Royal Hand Selected Barrel, Pike Creek, J.P. Wiser’s Double Still Rye, Dark Horse and Forty Creek Three Grain Harmony – each is unique; all are amazing whiskies.

Bold 100% ryes, small batch releases, innovative combinations of old grains, hand-crafting as well as new styles incorporating flavours heretofore not seen in whisky are tempting consumers with an ever-expanding range of styles, approaches and tastes.

The use of copper pots, individually selected barrels, small batching, double oak-aging and cask strength bottlings are all distiller and blender innovations resulting in distinctive new whiskies enriching the Canadian whisky experience and tantalizing whisky cocktail lovers.

One great example of these new taste sensations is Wiser’s Hopped Canadian whisky from Corby Spirits and Wine. Utilizing an ancient ingredient essential for making beer, Wiser’s master blender Dr. Don Livermore daringly introduced hops into his whisky to produce a unique experience – one to this drinker’s palate that comes across as rich and ‘chocolaty’.

Unheard of until now, a major legacy brand like Crown Royal bottles a single barrel whisky at high strength. At 44.4% abv, Toronto’s famed 18th century distillery namesake Gooderham and Worts provides yet another Canadian coming to market at cask strength.

Drinkers’ attention also continues to be drawn to flavoured whiskies with Crown Royal Regal Apple maintaining a strong position, and more recent additions, like Spicebox Chocolate Spiced Whisky, offering a somewhat different path to the category. Ginger, maple, cinnamon, pumpkin, vanilla, mixed spice and other flavours are showing up in Canadian whisky and proving especially popular with millennials who are throwing out the old rule book.

In part, these exciting forays into new tastes and styles are more likely to be seen among Canadian whiskies than in scotch, bourbon or Irish whiskies, where strict, narrow rules inhibit the creation of millennial generation-focused whiskies.

Not to be overlooked are the experiments by many of Canada’s new, small distillers. Still Water’s Stalk and Barrel or Dillon’s unaged White Rye are but two examples. Although not a true whisky, White Rye offers a taste of the grain untouched by wood.  Eager anticipation surrounds Dillon’s 2016 release of its Canadian Rye, a whisky made entirely from rye grown in Ontario and aged in all Canadian oak. Other examples of small distiller innovation abound.

Pacing this skyrocketing interest in Canadian whisky has been a similar surge in whisky cocktails after years of cosmos and a dizzying array of savoury, fruit and spice martinis. Both in their classic form or with modern twists, whisky cocktails are expanding the range of tastes and sensations available using these modern Canadian whiskies.

Jan Westcott is the President and CEO of Spirits Canada.

 

National Canadian Whisky Sales (2010-2015)
12 months ending December (9 Litres cases)

Source: Association of Canadian Distillers

Price Category 2010 2015 %  Change
Deluxe 1,213,902 1,461,780 20.4%
Premium 828,299 811,960 -2.0%
Mainstream 1,358,519 1,120,544 -17.5%
Total 3,400,720 3,394,284 -0.2%