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  1. #1
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    The Mystery of Canadian Whiskey

    The Thirsty Traveler tonight achieved a milestone of sorts, for least alcoholic beverage content in a show ostensibly about alcoholic beverages, but I did glean the following, which helps me better understand Canadian whiskey which, in some ways, is still a mystery to me.

    During his visit to Canadian Club in Walkerville, we learn that CC is flavored with a whiskey made from an 80 percent rye mash in a pot still and the proof of distillation is 140 (70% ABV), about the same as a bourbon.

    Although they didn't mention it, I assume they double-distill to reach 140 proof.

    It is then aged in used bourbon barrels.

    They showed a column still and said, "that's for the corn."

  2. #2
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    Re: The Mystery of Canadian Whiskey

    Interesting. The rye whisky would be the "master rye" referred to in M. Jackson's 1988 account in World Guide To Whisky, and while he didn't mention distillation proof, we know generally Canadian distillers blend low- and high-proof whiskies, so the corn-based whisky would be the high proof element - and the majority one. I believe both when new are put in those used bourbon barrels and aged "at birth" together. But the amount of the master rye must be relatively small in the total since CC is rather restrained in taste. Jackson detected a "dry rye fruitiness" and a "crisp" quality in CC. I'll buy the regular CC soon and see if I can detect this. I've tended when buying it to buy the older expressions but I suspect the master rye will come through more in the regular CC (6 years old).

    One question in my mind: why was Lot 40 so rich in taste since it tastes like I would expect that master rye to taste but aged on its own in reused wood? The answer may be, it is a Corby whisky, which originally was a separate company (although made in recent years at Walkerville too). It may be that Corby in its practice added - and adds - the master rye after separately aging it. I believe Seagram does something similar. Lot 40 is a pretty assertive drink and probably represents in fact what Canadian whisky was like (or some of it) before Hiram Walker's innovation, which was to blend the master rye with (per Jackson again) something close to grain neutral spirit.

    Gary
    Last edited by Gillman; 09-07-2007 at 22:17.

  3. #3
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    Re: The Mystery of Canadian Whiskey

    Lorraine Brown in The Story of Canadian Whisky says that Hiram Walker always blended before aging and Seagrams always aged its single-grain whiskeys separately and blended them after aging. That is also the practice John Hall follows at Forty Creek.

  4. #4
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    Re: The Mystery of Canadian Whiskey

    If in fact Corby whiskies (e.g., Royal Reserve) is blended at birth, it may be that as an "experiment", some master rye was put in barrels to be aged separately. But I would think for the Corby line (which includes Wiser's brands) they might blend after maturation, as Seagram, since Corby had its own distillery at one time (in Belleville, Ontario) and might have adopted a different approach to Hiram Walker.

    In Jackson's Whisky book from a couple of years ago, he does not mention current practice for Canadian Club (not at this level of detail) so presumably it blends at birth in the same way as in 1988 for CC at least.

    In the discussion of Alberta distilleries, some information is given on how the flavouring whiskies are used. E.g., at Alberta Distillers (owned by Jim Beam), it states "pot still distillation is used for specialty spirits" and "ten per cent of the whiskey is flavoring whiskies that go through a beer still and into new charred oak or once-used bourbon barrels". At first sight this seems contradictory: does the flavouring whisky travel through a pot still or a continuous still? To me the term beer still connotes the latter. Maybe at this distillery they produce other spirits (non-whisky) in the pot still, maybe gin distilled with botanicals or brandy. Anyway, the type of still is not that important, it is the fact that the flavouring whisky is made at all, i.e., distilled out probably around 140 proof as Hiram Walker does, made from all-rye (hallmark of Alberta Distillers) and blended with a high-proof base derived in the case of Alberta Distillers from rye again.

    To be honest, although I am sure they have their views on it, I don't think it really matters if you blend before or after maturation. There might be some differences but logically to me they shouldn't be that significant.

    I find Alberta Distillers products quite good but again quite restrained in flavor. It would be interesting to try them at 20%. I have some 10 year Hotalings, which is essentially in my view a Canadian-style flavouring whiskey since it is made from all-rye (malted in that case but that is okay, Canadians use malted rye in flavouring whiskies) and aged in a barrel that is not a new charred barrel, which as we see Canadians often (not always I guess) do. If I added some Hotalings to Alberta Premium or to a 10 year old CC, it might show what these whiskies would be like if a little more of the in-house flavouring whiskies were used. I suspect the flavour would be deepened quite a bit, but as it stands now, I find the influence of the flavouring whiskies in the mainstream Canadian brands quite restrained.

    (By the way this 10% Alberta Premium uses has nothing to do with Canada's 9.090% rule since the flavouring whisky qualifies on its own as a Canadian whisky or for blended at birth a component thereof).

    Black Velvet according to M. Jackson's 2006 Whisky offers yet another twist. If I read correctly what is stated, it makes more than 1 flavouring whiskey which are aged for an average of 6 years. No proof given but they go through a "one-column still", i.e., are not rectified (and probably come out at the proof a bourbon mash does before doubling). Then, this is added to high-proof new make and this is called blending at birth too. So, the 6 years aged flavouring element will be aged another 3 years at least (minimum age for Canadian whisky). This seems a combination of blending at birth and blending after maturation.

    For current Seagram practice, on the same page the book states "a substantial 20% of the whisky blends are made up of rye and bourbon flavouring whiskies, the majority of which go into new charred American oak". So even these (in their totality as added the aged high proof) are not full American-style. It is also said the flavouring whiskies "go through a two-column Coffey still" (distilling-out proof not given but surely under 160 proof). I believe some actual bourbon is brought in from the States as one of the flavouring whisky components, although the book does not state this and if this did occur at one time as I think it did, perhaps it does not today. (If it still does, it would not matter in my view since I believe the taste could be duplicated by putting a bourbon mash distillate in new charred wood at Gimli for a few years - the question is no doubt one of availability and costing).

    The discussion of Highwood Distillers on the same page mentions it uses wheat alcohol in its two brands, but not exclusively, the Centennial brands employ both rye and wheat (it is stated). No information is given regarding flavouring whiskies. Maybe the rye element is a flavouring whisky, this seems to characteristic numerous Canadian distilleries.

    The discussion of the other Canadian distilleries does not really shed light on the aspect of flavouring whiskies and distilling-out proof (and when they blend it in) although I believe all probably use the concept.

    Gary
    Last edited by Gillman; 09-08-2007 at 05:30.

  5. #5
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    Re: The Mystery of Canadian Whiskey

    Just a further note that when you look at what we know about Canadian practice, it seems closer to Scots blending practice than anything else (and I believe Chuck you have expressed that view earlier). Except, as Jackson again noted in the 1988 book, much less single grain whisky is used in Canadian blends than is used (in the form of the single malts of course) in Scottish ones.

    While Jackson clearly raised an eyebrow in saying this, and I agree that more flavouring whisky could probably added to the aged grain whisky base than is done today, tasting the Canadian "singles" on their own (the little one can) shows how assertive in taste they are and that adding, say, 40% of them to a blend would probably be too much for the average taste. Lot 40 was great but it is a fairly pungent whisky. Hotalings ditto. So in the end, I think they settled for around 10% (on average speaking roughly and I am speculating of course). True, Seagram adds 20%, but part of that is mild-tasting (relatively) bourbon or bourbon-type whiskey.

    So it all makes sense in a way.

    Bourbon and straight rye (although the latter almost vestigially) survived because new charred barrel modification made them palatable and distinctive.

    Single malts survived because all-malted barley whisky, aged for years in reused containers, has a relatively soft, gentle, approachable taste.

    Canadian flavouring whiskies did not survive on their own (as separately retailed products - the rare Lot 40 apart it seems) because they are just too assertive in taste and the reason for that I think is, most of them are made from corn and rye and are not probably aged in new charred wood. And why release one aged all in new charred wood, that is essentially bourbon or straight rye, that is a U.S. product and taste, so what is the point?

    I think though where you can question things is why the master rye still evidently used in many Canadian distilleries is added in such modest amount. Why would they not, say, put out a special heavy blend which is 40% master rye (at whatever point blended) and 60% high proof-derived? Some Canadian ryes are said to be more rye-leaning than others in the brand family (e.g. Limited Edition of CR, also the 10 year old CC), but still they are fairly mild in relation to not just U.S. straight rye but (more to the point) Lot 40 or Hotalings.

    Anyway later today I will try (or re-try) my idea of stepping-up the flavouring whisky component of mainstream Canadian whisky, this time by using Hotalings. I had tried this earlier with Lot 40 but don't have any currently and I think Hotalings might be even better because it is aged at least 10 years (this is the original release).

    I might buy a 10 year old CC and add some Hotalings to it and ditto Limited Edition.

    Gary
    Last edited by Gillman; 09-08-2007 at 05:54.

  6. #6
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    Re: The Mystery of Canadian Whiskey

    Final point: Forty Creek really has great products. I think in its case, although we do not (I think) know the exact distilling-out proof of its whiskies that are combined to make the final products, I suspect the average distilling-out proof is lower than what is used in a mainstream Canadian whisky. I believe further this is the main reason these whiskies have the intensity and quality of taste they do. They are a fine expression of the distiller's art and I look forward to trying the new special edition when it comes out shortly.

    Gary

  7. #7
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    Re: The Mystery of Canadian Whiskey

    I do know that Forty Creek does a single-pass distillation in a hybrid still, which is a pot still topped by a rectification column instead of an alembic.

  8. #8
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    Re: The Mystery of Canadian Whiskey

    Interesting and that suggests to me they probably don't go as high as 190 proof. Maybe they follow a range between 160 and 190, anyway they do get a good character from their products. They also make a conventional Canadian whisky (called Pure Gold) so they must know in other words how to calibrate exactly the palate of what they want.

    I bought some regular CC and will assess it later with and without addition of Hotalings.

    I noticed at the liquor board that the current Crown Royal Limited Edition states on the rear label (printed in gold-looking script on the glass) that the blend incorporates "batch whiskies" to lend smoothness etc. etc. This is new wording, the older one did not refer to the term batch whiskies.

    I am sure the formula hasn't changed, rather CR is simply putting more focus on the fact that this blend contains (I believe) more flavouring whiskies than other CRs. The term batch whiskies as used at Seagram means, again I believe, pot still whiskies or whiskies made in a column still with those characteristics (batch vs. continuous that is). So a little marketing is being put behind the fact that Canadian whisky contains some low-proof flavouring whisky and as far as I know this is the first time, except again for Lot 40, this has been done.

    By the way for those who still have a bottle of Lot 40, I am curious how the whisky is described. Is it called "Canadian whisky" (as I would think) or something else (e.g. rye whisky?). Thanks.

    Gary

  9. #9
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    Re: The Mystery of Canadian Whiskey

    Well I had lunch so I thought I'll try a little CC now. It is not bad, I get mostly wood accents and a spicy/drying note that is probably from the master rye, with some residual sweetness. I bought the regular one (aged 6 years) because even though the 10 year version has more master rye in it (a Corby rep once told me this), I thought the extra age might obscure some of the rye notes.

    I added about 3 parts Hotalings to 7 of the CC. I find the blend just so much better. The drink is deeper, rounder with more body and length. The spice notes are greater, but at the same time, the light-bodied whiskies in the CC "absorb" some of the rough notes in the Hotalings (I find it a little formidable taken neat). An interesting spearmint-like taste emerges, too.

    Any whisky fan would like this blend I believe. It may show what some of the early (late 1800's) blends in Canada were like.

    Gary
    Last edited by Gillman; 09-08-2007 at 11:11.

  10. #10
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    Re: The Mystery of Canadian Whiskey

    Quote Originally Posted by Gillman View Post
    By the way for those who still have a bottle of Lot 40, I am curious how the whisky is described. Is it called "Canadian whisky" (as I would think) or something else (e.g. rye whisky?). Thanks.

    Gary
    Gary,

    I recently sourced two bottles of Lot 40. They both say "Imported Canadian Whisky," but there is a small circular seal painted on the bottles that says "made with malted rye." In addition, on the neck of one bottle, there is a small tag that describes the whisky as "made from a mash of small grains and malted rye." This implies to me that some unmalted rye is in the mash too (otherwise why say "small grains" instead of "wheat"). I haven't cracked either bottle, though I plan to soon. Regardless, there is a definite attempt to play up the rye angle. There's also a small strip over the top of the bottles that says "single copper pot still." This exact phrase appears three times on the bottle, including once immediately before the words "Imported Canadian Whisky."
    Clearly overtures toward historical whisky are being made with the packaging (some of the best whisky packaging I've seen, by the way: I wanted the bottle before I knew a damn thing about what's inside). I look forward to seeing what the stuff tastes like. I seem to remember you saying there were two batches of this stuff produced, and the second was superior to the first? If so, I wonder if these bottles are from the same batch or if there's one from each. I'll report back with tasting notes.

 

 

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