Instant expert: Canadian whisky

Instant expert: Canadian whisky

Instant expert: Canadian whisky

Canadians do a lot of things differently than Americans and we love them for it. They drink their milk out of bags. They crave ketchup chips. And they spell their whisky without an “e.” If you’re new to the world of Canadian whisky and think all it consists of is Canadian Club and Crown Royal, you are about to be delighted. Here’s our instant expert take on Canadian whisky. 

Canadian whisky basics

For starters, the only place in the world where you’ll find Canadian-style whisky being made is in Canada. And there are very distinct characteristics of Canadian whisky. Did you know all Canadian whisky can be labeled as rye? Adding rye to whisky and whiskey adds a load of spicy depth. In the early days of whisky making in Canada, wheat was primarily used as the main grain. Then German and Dutch immigrants suggested adding a little bit of rye to experiment and it became so popular that it’s now a standard addition. No matter how much rye is in the recipe, Canadians call their whisky ‘rye.’ It can be labeled as Canadian whisky, rye whisky or Canadian rye whisky and in Canada, they are all synonymous. 

It is also not uncommon for Canadian whiskies to contain a significant percentage of corn spirits, which are usually lighter and smoother than other styles of whisky. Because of the presence of corn and wheat in the whisky, it produces a mild, sweet and light liquor. 

Fast facts on Canadian whisky:

  • Ingredients: malted rye, corn, wheat and barley
  • Proof: 40% ABV
  • Color: Golden
  • Region: Canada 
  • Taste: Buttery oak and caramel aromas with oak, taffy, and spice notes
  • Aged: Must be aged 3 years or more
  • Popular Canadian whisky cocktail recipes: Donald Sutherland (Canadian take on the Rusty Nail), Angry Canadian, the Toronto and a Raymond Massey

Difference between Canadian whisky and American whiskey

Aside from the obvious spelling difference, a lot of differences exist between Canadian whisky and American whiskey. For one, the Canadian whisky industry has overall less regulation and their whisky is more likely to be blended. The producers can use a variety of grains including barley, corn, rye and wheat, but instead of combining the grains in a mash bill before distillation, each grain is distilled separately and later blended. The reason they do this is to give the distiller more flexibility when creating the whisky. They can adjust the flavor as they blend vs. crafting it years before it gets bottled. Because of this distinction, the most important figure in a Canadian whisky distillery is referred to as a master blender rather than master distiller.  

Canadian whisky does have similarities to both Scottish and American styles. Distillers can mature the whisky in used barrels, like they do in Scotland. And they can use a variety of different grains, which is similar to American whiskey. The result is that the Canadian whisky flavor lies somewhere between Scottish grain whisky and American rye. 

How is Canadian whisky made? 

Canadian whisky can be made from any grain. And what makes it unique is that each individual type of grain is milled, mashed, fermented, distilled and then matured separately. From there, the one-grain spirits are labeled either the base whisky or flavoring whisky. Base whiskies make up most of what goes into the bottle and are distilled to a high proof (180-190 proof, almost as high as vodka), then aged in used oak barrels. Base whiskies are lighter in flavor and act, as the name suggests, as a base.  

Flavoring whiskies, therefore, are distilled to a lower proof (in either a column or pot still or sometimes both) creating a more strong flavored spirit and then aged in either used or new oak casks. With a variety of both base and flavoring whiskies to choose from, Canadian blenders set out to create unique expressions by dabbling here and there, much like an artist would do with a paint palette. By adding the flavoring whisky to the base whisky, the process ultimately adds layers of depth and character to the overall final product. There are now Canadian distilleries popping up that are making single malt whisky and experiments across the country.  

If you’re looking to become an instant expert on all things craft whiskey (typically American but we’ve been known to feature a Canadian distillery, eh), then check out RackHouse Whiskey Club. RackHouse scours the U.S. looking for the best distilleries with the most interesting stories to curate a unique subscription box filled with full-sized bottles of hard-to-find small batch whiskey. We’re building a community of premium craft whiskey drinkers, and you’re invited. Join us!

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