Canadian Whisky: As Good as it Gets
Is it finally time for Canadian?
It’s not like the whisky from the Great White North isn’t already vastly popular in the U.S. In some parts of the country, and especially with male whisky drinkers 25 and under, Canadian whisky has maintained its incredible sales record.
But it hasn’t exactly taken part in the cocktail renaissance; very few craft cocktail bars feature Canadian whisky in their drinks, and the kind of attention that Irish and Japanese whiskies receive these days from exploring consumers has mostly eluded the various powerful Canadian brands.
It’s very strength is one reason the category has been left behind among cocktail cognoscenti: smooth, easy to drink, soft and welcoming, Canadian whisky rarely offers the hard edges and assertive flavors required to fight it out in a glass with amaros, bitters, aperitifs and other ingredients routinely favored by bartenders today.
The rules governing Canadian whisky don’t help make most brands very appealing; a certain percentage of bourbon can be added, for instance, something other countries wouldn’t allow. And while Canadians routinely call their whisky “rye,” that’s down to a meager amount of rye added as a flavoring spirit in most brands.
But there are some gems worth considering, especially Lot No. 40, one of the array (along with J.P. Wiser’s and Pike Creek) of Canadian whiskies now being marketed in the US by Corby Distilleries owner Pernod-Ricard. Lot No. 40 is 100 percent rye, and while a higher rye content sometimes signals a too peppery and spicy whisky, not in the case of this one. Many bartenders routinely pour and favor American rye whiskies that are barely legal in terms of rye content, but this one brings all the advantages of Canadian blending and aging techniques to bear on some well-knit and tasty all Canadian rye. It also, unlike most other Canadians, retains a slightly higher proof (43 percent alcohol by volume) US bartenders like. Aged in new American oak and with a portion of the rye malted, it’s tangy and intriguing, and is the type of whisky that could return Canadian to its arguable place in a Manhattan.
Don Livermore, master blender of Corby Distilleries, is one of two known whiskymen with doctorates in distilling, and his skill in blending positions him perfectly to make the case that Canadian isn’t just an easy sipping whisky made well but without distinction. Livermore, who gamely toured the US in the midst of his beloved Montreal Canadians attempt to reach the Stanley Cup finals, presents all his babies - J. P. Wiser’s Rye, J. P. Wiser’s 18 Year Old, Pike Creek and Lot No. 40 - as distinctively different. But it’s Lot 40 and Pike Creek - a 10 year old that’s aged in a non-climate controlled warehouse in Ontario where it can get as hot as Kentucky in the summer but far colder in the winter, and then finished in port pipes - that offer the most to those thirsty for something a little different and distinctive out of Canada.