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Canadian whisky deserves more attention. Collectors have known for a long time that the country’s great spirit ranks among the most exciting in the world, but it’s only recently that the wider universe of whisky obsessives has caught on.
“Canadian whisky is sold in over 160 countries around the world,” noted Dave Mitton, global brand ambassador, international Canadian spirits at Pernod Ricard, but “it’s arguably the most overlooked and misunderstood category of spirits.” Still, he added, “the category is going through a renaissance.”
The wider awareness of Canadian whisky is often traced back to 2016, when (now-disgraced) Jim Murray named Crown Royal Northern Harvest Rye the World Whisky of the Year in his Whisky Bible.
“It’s been produced and sold for nearly 200 years, and yet it’s still considered ‘under the radar’ to many enthusiasts,” Mitton explained. He added, “For decades, Canadian whisky has been stereotyped as unassuming, a bit bland, and adverse to change. It wasn’t considered premium like Scotch whisky, exotic like Irish whiskey, or fun like Bourbon whiskey; it just wasn’t cool. But these days, Canadian producers are challenging those preconceptions, celebrating our diversity and youthful spirit, and embracing innovation.”
The results have been stunning: The range of whisky being produced in Canada is deeply exciting, and shows a delicious diversity of styles. Consumers are responding positively. According to the most recent report from the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States (DISCUS), “Canadian Whisky is enjoying a resurgence over the past five years, growing 12 percent. In 2020, 18.7 million 9-liter cases of Canadian whisky were sold in the United States, generating over $2.2 billion in revenue for distillers.” All of that growth has been at the top of the category, with high-end premium Canadian whisky growing by 59.1 percent in the last five years, and super premium increasing by 34.2 percent.
I recently tasted a range of Canadian whisky for this piece, and came away from the experience beyond impressed with the quality and outright deliciousness of spirits being produced. Here are seven worth adding to your own collection, listed alphabetically.
Alberta Premium Limited Edition Cask Strength Canadian Rye Whisky
Though this is bottled at 132 proof, it never comes off as anything but perfectly balanced. Glorious aromas of butterscotch, brown butter, toasted coconut, maple pastry crème, and a touch of licorice define the nose. On the palate, this is sweet and spicy at once, incisive with flavors of black cherries, licorice, oatmeal-raisin cookies, a touch of chamomile, and candied ginger: It’s nothing short of extraordinary.
Benjamin Chapman Seven-Year Old Small Batch Canadian Whiskey
Blended and bottled by 3 Badge, the wine and spirits company founded by August Sebastiani, this is crafted from 51 percent 10-year-old rye whisky and seven-year old prairie wheat whisky. The result is pure silk in texture, with flavors of warm honey, cracked peppercorns, and dried nectarines. The sweetness of the wheat lends a real sense of plushness to the rye’s spice.
Crown Royal Noble Collection 16 Year Old Blended Canadian Whisky
This limited release whisky smells like chocolate-coated pretzels and toasted coconut, and the palate bursts with cooked honey, toast, caramel, brown butter, pralines, and a growing spice note on the finish. A complete, complex rye whisky: Excellent.
Gooderham & Worts Four Grain Canadian Whisky
This shows the sweeter side of Canadian whisky, likely a result of the impeccable balance of corn, barley, wheat, and rye. It’s lifts from the glass with peppermint, gingersnaps, orange-peel candies, and coconut macaroons. A bit of ginger spice tingles on the finish, lending lift and energy to this excellent spirit.
Lot No. 40 Canadian Rye Whisky
Aromas of maple syrup and molasses follow through to the palate, where they’re joined by candied oranges, a hint of bergamot, and graham crackers. There’s also a subtle touch of ginger powder spicing things up, and that note grows through the finish.
Pendleton 1910 12-Year-Old Canadian Rye Whisky
This is bottled by Hood River Distillers in Oregon, though the spirit is Canadian. In fact, Canadian law permits whisky to be bottled outside of the country and still labeled as Canadian as long as it’s been distilled and aged there. Aromas of carob and cooked honey set the stage for a rich, generous whisky with a velvety texture and floral notes lifting flavors of orange oil, crème brûlée, and dark cherries, all distinctly spiced with notes of root beer, which linger through the sweet-spicy finish. Pendleton’s Blended Canadian Whisky is also lovely, its white chocolate and nougat flavors complicated by just a hint of spice on the finish. Something about it reminds me of a Three Musketeers Bar, which is a very good thing.
Pike Creek 10 Year Old Rum Barrel
Dulce de leche flavors are joined by honey-grilled apricots, shortbread cookies, pralines, white raisins, and sweet spice, as well as toasty vanilla pod. This is generous yet not cloying, kissed with new leather, and wears its rum-barrel finishing brilliantly.