It wasn’t long ago that Canadian whisky (rightly) carried the nickname “brown vodka.” Due to different regulations north of the border, rotgut whisky could be distilled at a flavor-killing high proof, cut with caramel flavoring and dyes, and even blended with other spirits like rum and brandy. Poor blending practices earned Canada the reputation of the land of bad rye, with the phrase “lighter-style Canadian whisky” becoming a euphemism for tasteless, bland whisky. When the craft whiskey movement hit the U.S., burgeoning whiskey connoisseurs immediately issued a blanket ban on all Canadian hooch, demonizing the lot and banishing the category back to the Great White North.
But it’s time to reconsider Canadian whisky and welcome it in from the cold. Unlike your ex, it really has changed.
First, let’s clear up a few misconceptions. First off, the whole rye thing. Historically, Canadian whisky used a lot of rye, so the term “rye” became interchangeable with all Canadian whisky. Yet, the fact that Canadian rye doesn’t come with legal restrictions like American rye (which must be made with 51 percent of the namesake grain) has inspired distrust in many true rye fanatics. Canadian ryes are actually surprisingly diverse, clocking in at wildly different grain percentages. And now, non-rye whiskies from our northern neighbor are marketed with different labels, correctly portraying their ingredients and appealing to a wider whiskey audience.
Another peccadillo about Canadian whiskies is that they are mostly blends. Like blended scotch, though, blended Canadian whisky gets an unfair reputation as being a poor quality spirit. Just as single malts in Scotland are often blends of individual batches from within the same distillery, individual Canadian distilleries will blend finished whiskies made from rye, corn or other grains, rather than create a single mash bill with the same components. This means the blender has a lot more power to adjust the balance, allowing companies to put out more nuanced, subtle and consistent products.
Canadian distillers haven’t just been sitting around for the last two decades taking American abuse. They’ve been quietly upping their game, with many new craft distilleries opening shop and bigger houses aging stocks close to 20 years. Even name brand Canadian distilleries like Crown Royal and Alberta Distillers (makers of Canadian Club) have put out some serious , quality whisky recently.
Don’t believe us? That’s just fine. We’ll let the Canadian whisky speak for itself. Here are a few bottles you should pick up immediately.