Whisky is a drink with a long storied history. Its name originates from the Gaelic word usque baugh, meaning water of life. It soon became known phonetically usky, and gradually evolved whisky (or whiskey as the Irish and American versions are spelt).
Whisky by any name is the spirit that saw European, mostly Scottish and English settlers, through unbearably hard times in North America. It helped many long and frigid nights in cabins, embellished by homemade music, story telling, and whatever food was available.
It incited revolutions (The Whiskey rebellion in 1794), created industries that led to fortunes for investors and promoters, and was even used as currency in early America, albeit for a short time.
The first immigrants from Scotland, Ireland, and England brought along their pot stills and used local rye to make whisky.
By 1840’s, there were over 200 distilleries across Canada,
The 1920’s and 30’s were especially lucrative times for Canadian whisky distillers and exporters. They were supplying the “thirsty” and wealth American market, in which alcohol production and sale was prohibited by law (The Prohibition lasted from 1920 – 1933). During this period, Seagram and Hiram Walker amassed untold fortunes, and then promoted their smooth and light whiskies worldwide.
Canadian whisky is part of Canada’s proud pioneer spirit that keeps the population dedicated to the tradition of whisky – from classic brands like Canadian Club to the much-acclaimed newcomer Forty Creek, devoted to reviving Canada’s whisky heritage.
Canadian whisky outsells all other types of whisky in the United States, including Bourbon, Tennessee whiskey, Scotch and Irish.
Although early in the history of the country whisky was a drink for gentlemen only, today young males and females enjoy it straight, on-the-rocks, and in numerous cocktails.
Most people think that Canadian whisky is based exclusively on rye, but the law permits the use of corn, barley, and rye, and practically all distilleries use them for their blends, except one distiller in Alberta. It uses rye exclusively.
may be distilled in columnar stills a.k.a Coffey stills, or alembic style copper stills. Some distillers use both, and blend before bottling.
must be barrel aged for a minimum of four years making it softer, milder and more suitable for cocktails and enjoyable for sipping.
All distillers use once-used Bourbon barrels, as American law forbids a whiskey barrel to be used twice. All American distillers sell their once-used barrels to Scotch, and/or Canadian distillers and to sherry wineries in Spain.
Today, Canada’s distilling industry is located mostly in Ontario, Alberta, British Columbia, Quebec. The largest and most distillers being H. Walker now owned by Pernod-Ricard, a French distillery and wine distribution conglomerate, and Seagram owned and operated by a British Spirit corporation, Diageo. Canadian Club was created by Hiram Walker in 1858 and is now marketed worldwide by Pernod-Ricard. It is smooth, flavourful and elegant.
Both produce and market several brands, many well known and respected throughout the world, especially in the U S A.
Shelter Point distillery on Vancouver Island is a brand new distillery that will be distilling Scottish-style whiskies from local grain. Pat Bay Highway from Victoria leads to Victoria Distillers that produces whisky among other spirits i.e gin, in a Muller column and kettle still. The first whisky will be available in 2013.
Just outside of Winfield and south of Vernon, British Columbia, lies the Canadian clun distillery built in the 1970’s to supply western Canada.
Kelowna a few minutes south of Winfield is the home of Calona Wines, once known as Potter’s and famous for its 13-year-old single cask bottling of Bush Pilot’s.
East of British Columbia in Alberta’s Lethbridge the Black Velvet Distillery produces huge quantities of rye for the American market where the bulk whisky is blended and marketed.
Highwood Distillers on the foothills of the Rocky Mountains in the town of High River is the home of a small and quirky distillery with a fine product but offers no tours to interested parties.
Calgary, Canada’s oil capital is the home of Alberta Distillers. It is the one and only distillery that still bottles a 100 percent rye whisky, and strangely does not offer tours either.
Some 1440 kilometres east of Calgary, in Gimli, Manitoba a Seagram’s distillery produces the crown Royal, Canada’s best selling whisky. Every day 1000 barrels are filled. Crown Royal was created in 1939 to celebrate the visit of King George VI and Queen Elizabeth, is one the best known and smoothest Canadian whiskies, and now has other variation created i.e Crown Royal Black Cask, Crown Royal Reserve. Crown Royal Cask No. 16, and Crown Royal XR. This distillery offers 90-minute tours with advance booking. During the visit you will be shown Crown royal 16 brand whiskies being aged in used cognac casks.
Wiser’s and Schenley distilleries are located in Quebec, and Glenora Distillery in Nova Scotia famous for its single-malt Canadian whiskies. The distillery’s malting house was purchased in the Scotland dismantled there and transported to Glenora to be re-assembled.
Kittling Ridge Estate Wines and Spirits in Niagara Peninsula owned and operated by John Hall, who crafts whiskies that are popular in Canada and the U S A.
Whisky Canadian or otherwise, pairs well with soft, semi-hard and blue cheeses, smoked salmon, and deeply flavoured food, and chocolate.