Exploring the World of Canadian Whiskey: A Guide to its Creation, Flavor, and Unique Qualities
Canadian whiskey is little known in the world, either for the lack of appeal of the big brands or for the fact that the collective imagination has elected Scotch Single Malt and Bourbon whiskey as the two polar stars to follow if you are looking for spirits of high quality.
Even though we are not in Scotland, we write whisky instead of whiskey. The Canadians come from the English colonies, where there were many Scots (see Nova Scotia).
And the problem with Canadian whiskey is just that: the fluctuating quality. Among the approximately 25 Canadian distilleries, you will find excellent whiskeys and products at the limit of drinking water due to the habit of producing almost exclusively blended products and the rather permissive “disciplinary.”
If it is true that every Canadian whiskey must age in wood for at least 3 years in barrels with a maximum capacity of 700 liters, it is also true that it is also possible to cut Canadian whiskey up to 9.09% of the mass with Port wine, Sherry, common wine, or even other spirits.
And honestly, in a world of spirits where everyone is trying to move towards a concept of purity that can recall a terroir, this choice is unacceptable.
Now there is no need for everyone to produce hard and pure single malts from biodynamic barley grown on their own and with the water of the glaciers of the rainbow unicorns, but at least prohibiting the blend with other spirits or wine would be the minimum.
We are no longer in the 1960s, when the first single malts were coming out; now even the general public has refined their palate, and we do not need these pandering and softened products that wink.
There is also Canadian Rye, but don’t think for a moment about American Rye whiskey, because in Canada, it is enough that there is 5–15% rye in the mash to be called Rye whiskey. The rye in the mash must be at least 51% rye in order to be considered authentic American rye.
A big difference is that if it is imported into the United States, the word “rye” on the label cannot appear unless the rye is raised to 51%. Only a couple of Canadian (Whitefly) distilleries use 100% rye mash, but generally, the average is 10% rye use.
How Canadian whiskey is made
The process is very similar to the production of Scotch grain whisky, from which it derives, as we have already said. The grains (wheat and rye) are ground, water is added, and the mash is cooked.
Thanks to the inoculation of yeasts, fermentation starts, and then this Canadian beer is fermented. The next step is distillation. When the wort is heated, the alcohol turns into vapor and rises up in a coil. The coil is then cooled, which turns the vapor back into a liquid.
A second distillation happens, the heads and tails are thrown away, and the master distiller decides which substances, aromas, and flavors to keep and which to throw away. The distillate is then put in barrels with a capacity of 700 liters for three long years.
Following the aging in casks, another step in the woods used to make Port wine, Sherry, or Madeira can be taken, followed by the blend and the addition of dyes, aromas, other spirits, or wine.
Few distilleries in Canada do not use dyes or cut whiskey with other spirits. One of the most interesting, and perhaps the most careful and rigorous, is the Still Water Distillers.
Surely these limits are not just flaws that keep the most demanding drinkers at bay, but the same goes for tequila, you might say.
Yes, of course, and in fact, tequila is becoming more and more of an industrial product, which is why many new artisanal distilleries are born, and mezcal is rising to become a flagship distillate, leaving tequila to eat the dust. Eye, we are talking about absolute quality, not sales.
On the plus side, Canadian whiskey is a cheaper product than Scotch Single Malt and is, therefore, “great” for mixing cocktails.
The taste of Canadian whiskey
It is difficult to outline a gustatory profile of a distillate that covers a nation as vast as Canada, given that there are many styles, spirits and wood refinements.
The Canadian tends to be velvety, very spicy, with flavors and aromas of wood, walnut, vanilla and an infinity of nutty scents due to oxidation.
When rye is present it makes itself felt, it adds hard and rough flavors, making the distillate more vertical and less tame. Overall, balance and docility are sought: quite the opposite of Scottish single malts.
But as we said Canadians are masters at creating blended, they are not very interested in the pure taste of malt. In summary, they have an eclectic style that takes inspiration from many other countries and then tries to pack pleasant spirits, not particularly reactive or territorial.
How to serve Canadian whiskey
Like all whiskeys, it should always be served without ice; otherwise, all that ice will numb your palate, and you can also drink boiling tar that will not change anything.
So no ice, but a drop of water is excellent for enhancing and bringing out the floral scents on the surface.
But it is not a way of saying, by adding the water the terpenes detach from the alcohol and come to the surface, bringing with them the most delicate aromas and at the same time lowers the alcohol content, making the distillate more enjoyable.
40 degrees of alcohol are always a lot and if you bring it to 35 you will be able to enjoy the nuances more without burning your palate.
Cocktails made with Canadian whiskey
There aren’t many, and many cocktails that used to be made with Canadian whiskey are now made with Rye whiskey. In any case, try the two most famous drinks, such as Manhattan or Toronto.
Recommended pairings for Canadian whiskey
Its soft and spicy, almost velvety flavor is excellent for pairing with chocolate-based desserts, smoked meat dishes, tuna and herring, but it is also to be tried with aged cheeses such as pecorino or with the classic apple pie.