A Beginner’s Guide to Canadian Whisky: Common Misconceptions

As we continue our look into the Canadian whisky world, let’s field some of the most common misconceptions about the spirit.

When you think of Canadian whisky (no “e”, eh?), your mind probably jumps to Crown Royal and its signature purple velvet bag. Or, perhaps, a well bottle of Canadian Club or a high-rye whisky meant for sipping on chilly winter days. But the Canadian whisky category is not just confined to bottom-shelf, bland bottles or pricey cold-weather spirits—it’s a vast category filled with bottles of all kinds.

Canadian whisky is one of the top five international styles of whisky, but it’s a whisky international drinkers are confused about. Unlike Scotch or Japanese whiskey, there’s no singular flavor profile that defines the category. 

Why is this?

Consider that the most popular Canadian whiskies are Canadian Club and Crown Royal. Crown Royal, in its signature purple bag, and Canadian Club, a low-brow, wallet-friendly whisky, have invaded the public brain and defined the Canadian whisky category for a globe of drinkers.

Canadian Club has people thinking that Canadian whisky is just watery shooting spirits. Sure, there are cheap and light Canadian whiskies, but just as there are tons of cheap Bourbons and American whiskies. While there are many light-bodied whiskies, there are just as many robust options from North of the border.

Still, think it’s all swill?

Consider that a huge number of high-end American whiskies look to Canada for sourcing. WhistlePig’s entire brand uses 10-year-old 100% Rye Whisky from Alberta. 

Misconception #2:

Canadian whisky is all rye. We love our Rye, we really do and thanks to expanses of rolling wheat fields, rye is in abundance in Canada. Spirits from the grain have quickly become one of the country’s largest exports.

Rye was the original whisky in Canadian history. Canada’s earliest whisky makers were millers, who ground the wheat into flour for bread. But German and Dutch settlers knew how beautiful the rye could be, and suggested adding leftover rye to wheat. So spirits blended with rye became the obvious choice for a country of imbibers.

But rye is not Canada’s only play. Wheat and corn were predominant throughout Canadian whisky history, with rye only used as a flavoring (just like what the early settlers did).

So with that said, why is Canadian whisky so underrated?

Distribution is one reason. Many of the best bottles are small production, and never even leave the country. While two-thirds of Canadian whisky heads to the U.S., most of the more creative stuff stays in teh country (case in point: the winner of Jim Murray’s top whiskies of the year is Canadian, and it isn’t distributed out of the country).

Distillers are playing with distinctive barrel finishes: some mature in new oak, while others experiment with Sherry casks.

The rest is public perception. But thanks to a wave of Canadian whiskies sweeping international awards, global drinkers are starting to catch wind.

Kate Dingwall
Kate Dingwallhttps://www.kate-dingwall.com/
Kate Dingwall is a writer and editor, primarily covering the spirits and travel world. Her work has appeared in Forbes.com, Wine Enthusiast, Liquor.com, MAXIM Magazine, DuJour Magazine, Eater, VinePair, Culture Trip, Canada's 100 Best Restaurants, and a number of other publications, online and print. Outside of writing, she is a sommelier and an avid martini drinker.
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