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Canadian Whisky: beer, back-bacon, plaid shirts, pucks, toques—rye whisky, eh? (Third in a three-part series.)

Full Bottle of Wiser's whisky

This is the third installment in my series on whiskey.


My first column, “Scotch Whisky: A Winter Toe-Warmer,” focused on Scotch whisky. (Whisky being the Scottish spelling.) The second, “Irish Whiskey: Malted, Unmalted, and Bourbon,” talked about the Irish take on this wonderful elixir. So, today, I talk about Canadian Whisky (note: Irish and Canadian whisky is spelled without the “e”).

Walker’s Canadian Club, commonly known as CC and Canada’s best known whisky, was founded in 1910. CC reached its hay-day during prohibition. Distilled a bottle’s toss from Detroit, in Walkerville, Ontario, it was pretty easy to conduct “business” just across the border. CC thrived while Irish Whiskey and other whisk(e)y sales plummeted in the U.S.

A hundred years later, CC remains a popular international brand. I recently rummaged through dad’s liquor cabinet and, lo and behold, spied an unopened bottle of CC he’d bought in the 1960s. I cracked the cap and poured a shot. It was simply fabulous. Complex, spicy, yet light-bodied, I’ll wager that rye dominated the blend.

Today, rye, barley, and corn, share near-equal billing in Canadian Club blends. CC 6-year old remains a good basic whiskey. And CC and ginger ale continues to be a perfect pre-prandial to the Sunday roast. Canadian Club’s 12-year and10-year reserve, and Sherry Cask are more complex, but still retain CC’s crowd-pleasing style.

Two full bottles of Woodford Reserve Bourbon

Great bourbon whiskey (whisky) like Woodford Reserve are best savored not mixed.

Both JP Wiser and Hiram Walker pioneered Canada’s whiskey industry. Wiser’s style unlike Canadian Club, is a forward peppery, bready whiskey that stands out even when mixed. Seagram’s Crown Royal, produced in Manitoba, is Canada’s leading, top-drawer brand. Alberta Premium is a 100% rye—a sweet/dry wollop—and gives a good bang for the buck. The very popular Forty Creek, made by a winemaker, is Canada’s answer to bourbon, perhaps for its sweet flavors. Collingwood, mellowed by Maplewood, is the new big kid on the block.

And Canuck Single Malt? You Betcha

Since it opened in 2000, I’d hankered to visit the tiny Glenora Inn and Distillery in the Gaelic-speaking hamlet of Glenville in Cape Breton, Nova Scotia. I had that privilege this past summer. It is a stunning highland spot.

Patterned on a Scottish distillery, Genora’s Distillery facility is quaint, but not frou-frou. There’s plenty of grass about, along with a lush garden, maple trees and a babbling, pristine brook. The barrel “barn” exudes enticing aromas of grain, grass, and alcohol. That it took all those years for the area to produce single malt whiskey is a bit of a puzzle. Maybe local business-man and whisky nut, Bruce Jardine thought so too. He collaborated with Bowmore distillery in Scotland and got Glen Breton whisky underway in 1989.

Doug Davis extracting whisky from a barrel

Our guide, Doug Davis, draws out some Glen Breton whisky straight from the barrel.

Our guide, Doug Davis, who’s been onsite for years, siphons a wee bit of Glen Breton right from the barrel and hands it over. Is it my imagination or does that first whiff echo that landscape outside the door? It’s a dram that keeps going. The fruit soon reveals ripe peach, and apple notes. Vanilla and nut move in along with a hint of resin. At a generous 43% ABV (86 proof) I sip guardedly—with a wee splash of water. It’s a lovely drop, but quite a thing apart from any of its smoky Scottish brethren.

Glen Breton Rare 10 year is available Canada and exported to a few eastern states and the mid-west. U.S. and clocks in around $100. Other bottlings include Battle of the Glen 15 year and Glen Breton Rare Ice 15 and 17 year. Drink these neat—absolutely—maybe with a chaser of Garrison Hopyard Ale. (Glenora also boasts a nice gastro-pub which taps several local beers.)

In recent an episode of “Criminal Minds,” David Rossi unplugs a stressed Penelope Garcia from three cell phones and a tablet, stating, “We’re going to my place, have dinner and drink 18-year old Scotch.”

Garcia’s responds, “I don’t drink Scotch”.

Rossi shoots back, “You’ll learn.”


For More on Whiskey (or Whisky)

Whisky guru, Michael Jackson passed a few years ago. However his tome, Whiskey: the Definitive World Guide lives on. Jim Murray is another fellow to follow as well.

These days whiskey websites are very impressive. Many detail the history, craft, individual styles of different whiskies, and offer selections and pricing.

I also recommend His excellent YouTube videos go into all the whiskeys in this article–and many more. –by Julie Pegg, RFT Wine Editor Canada


Want to know more about Whiskey? Check out Julie’s first and second installments in this series:

“Irish Whiskey: Malted, Unmalted, and Bourbon”
“Scotch Whisky: A Winter Toe-Warmer”

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Julie Pegg, RFT Contributor

Julie Pegg has been writing about food, wine, and spirits for 15 years. She was a product consultant for 14 of her 24 years working for the British Columbia Liquor Board in Vancouver. She still keeps her hand in (and elbow firmly bent) at Dundarave Wine Cellars in West Vancouver, British Columbia. Julie is also a keen amateur cook who loves culinary travel. Farmers’ markets and wine shops are always her first stop.