Of the world’s officially recognized and famous whiskies, Canadian or rye whisky ( note spelling. While Irish and Americans spell whisky with an “e”, Canadians and Scots omit it) is the lightest and most mixable.
Canadian whisky production started circa 1750 in Montreal and from there it spread to Ontario, where today the lion’s share is distilled. By 1758 provincial governments were deriving a good portion of their revenue from whisky taxes. Since, then, taxes levied increased appreciably, yet rye whisky today is still reasonably priced, never exceeding that of vodka which costs mush less to produce.
“Brown” spirits (rum, rye, bourbon, and brandy) consumption has levelled off for two decades now and distillers simply cannot afford to pass on additional costs to consumers.
Marketing efforts to reposition Canadian whisky have been partially successful in reversing the trend, but market share increases have been marginal at best, with the exception of high end, longer aged and smoother whiskies that are now enjoying unprecedented popularity among mature consumers. “ Drink less, but better” seems to be the dictum for the over 45 year-old market segment.
By law, all Canadian whisky distillers must use exclusively cereal grain. The combination of grains, their treatment, special and rigid controls exercised by the distiller during production sets rye whisky apart from any other distillate.
All grain is thoroughly laboratory tested before acceptance. Needless to say all grains originate in Alberta or Saskatchewan two provinces that are world-famous for their high quality winter wheat, barley and rye. Most distillers use a blend of rye, corn and barley malt, the proportions of which are kept secret. All are milled into a fine meal or coarse flour to be mixed with hot water in huge stainless steel tanks where steam heats the mixture to convert starch to fermentable sugar.
After this step the liquid is cooled and inoculated with specially selected yeasts. Each distiller develops his/her own yeast strain imparts a unique taste to the end product
The fermentation lasts 48-72 hours at the end of which the now murky-looking contains 8-10ABV.
This faintly alcoholic liquid must be distilled to extract the spirit and concentrate it.
Canadian distillers use steam-powered and extremely efficient Coffey- or columnar stills. The three distillation towers efficiently and consecutively triple-distil the worth to the desired strength ranging from 65-75 ABV> Higher concentrations yield more neutral tasting whiskies. The next major, some claim most important steps in Canadian whisky production, are aging and blending.
All Canadian whisky
must be barrel-aged for a minimum of three years. Practically all distillers use barrels of %% US gallon capacity, since the American government stipulated that Bourbon barrels may be used once only. Bourbon distillers sell all their barrels either to Scottish or Canadian distillers at very attractive prices just to recuperate some of the cost.
Today, most Canadian brands contain whiskies aged much longer than the required three years. The youngest whisky in the blend is generally five, more often seven years old. Canadian whisky labels sporting any age indication must state the age of the youngest in the blend.
After aging, the blender decides which barrels will constitute the components of the brand. Blends are thoroughly mixed in huge vats and diluted with distilled water to desired ABV (usually 40 ABV) to ‘marry” for a few more months.
There are a few Canadian whiskies marketed at 50ABV but represent a rarity.
Some distillers are one of their brands for 18 years and others up to 21 years and blend very smooth products. These high-end brands have been able to garner market share especially with well-to-do older consumers.
The largest and best-known Canadian distillers are: J. Seagram, H. Walker, Schenley, Corby, Potter, Kittling Ridge and Alberta Distillers. All produce several lines ranging from basic to super deluxe.
The best are: Century Reserve 21 year old, Adam’s Antique 10 year old, Gibson’s Finest. Crown Royal, Canadian Club, Canadian Club Classic, Canadian Club Classic reserve, 40 Creek Barrel Select, Seagram’s V.O., Walker’s Special Old.
Canadian whisky lends itself superbly to cocktails because of its lightness, and bartenders use it for alls whisky based cocktails, whereas American bartenders prefer Bourbon and Scots Scottish whiskies with predictably different results for the same cocktail.
Canadian whisky enjoys a fine reputation amongst connoisseurs for its smooth, light and distinctly refined taste, and is exported to over 170 countries worldwide.