Blending In

Blending In

The importance of blends in the Canadian market

Production | 02 Sep 2016 | Issue 138 | By Blair Phillips

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Canadians are genetically predisposed to blending in. Have you ever seen a lumberjack skating down Main Street, maple syrup in one hand? That's because we Canadians blend in. So, when the conversation shifts from hackneyed clichés to blended whisky, it's no surprise that the art of blending is also embedded in the chromosomes of Canada's National Spirit and the people who make it.


Gibson's Finest


Bold 8 Years Old

Blended Scotch and Canadian whisky share blending methodologies. Canadian blenders generally distill two whisky types that are combined after maturation. The first type of whisky, called base whisky, is high proof, similar to blended Scotch's grain whisky. The second is the lower proof single-grain flavouring whisky commonly made with rye, wheat, barley or corn, while Scotch uses single malt whisky for flavouring.

Master Blender Brian Kinsman oversees the William Grant and Sons portfolio including Grant's Blended Scotch and the mesmerising Gibson's Finest Bold 8 Years Old. This Bold expression is a shift from the other Gibson's whiskies. Kinsman boosted the flavour with extra rye, coupled with eight years maturation in a mix of barrel chars and virgin oak. Gibson's Bold was born to satisfy the cola cocktail niche, so it's blended at 46% ABV to let you taste the whisky in a mixed drink.


Crown Royal


Cornerstone

There are no whisky regions in Canada. Each distillery blends its whisky according to its distinct style and process. That's why, like single malt Scotch, Canadian blenders generally make all their own whisky components. OK, occasionally, some Canadian distillers may source some whisky, but for the most part, blended Canadian whisky is single distillery whisky. There are the exceptions such as Gimli Manitoba's Crown Royal where some base whisky is made in Quebec.

Cornerstone Blend is the first of Crown Royal's Noble Collection. Three eight years old flavouring whiskies make up the cornerstones of Crown Royal's signature blend. A Bourbon style, a high rye and a succulent Coffey rye distilled in North America's only Coffey still, each aged individually in first-fill American oak.

Before being blended, these whiskies went on a tanker car vacation to take in the sights and sounds of Valleyfield, Quebec. Here they were re-barrelled and aged for another year. This wasn't a stunt, Crown Royal whiskies are often matured in distant warehouses as part of a disaster recovery plan. Then they are put on a train back to Gimli, to be re-barrelled into exhausted barrels, giving the blend time to marry.


Gooderham & Worts



Gooderham and Worts is another single distillery blend. "We were looking to pay tribute to the Canadian founding whisky barons, James Worts and William Gooderham," explains J. P. Wiser's Dr. Don Livermore. "There was evidence that their original mash bill had five grains. I didn't want to recreate what they did but pay tribute to what an early Canadian whisky would look like."

Livermore spent a lot of time layering flavours into this blend using his rye, corn, wheat and barley whiskies. "I tried to nail something that was complex and true to Canadian whisky yet looking at the palates of what people want today. Some of those ingredients are more concentrated and some are lighter. I was going for both a pleasing and complex whisky that was in the wheelhouse of a premium whisky drinker. I put the strength at 44.4% ABV as an inside joke. Since I was dabbling with four grains, why not make it 44.4%? It stuck. With the higher strength you get more of the grain and woody characters coming out. And since we were dealing with a four-grain whisky, let's keep the strength high."


Still Waters


Red Label

Still Waters 1+11 Blended Canadian Whisky combined sourced base whisky with a top dressing of Still Waters own. Warning: if you enjoy this blend, consider this last call. It's about to be replaced with not one but two new blends, Blue Label and Red Label.

The motivation was two-fold explains Barry Bernstein, "First, we have much more of our own whisky to use in blends than we had previously. Second, we felt it was important to introduce a whisky that was lower priced (Blue) in order to get greater market penetration. These blends contain a fairly high percentage of our own single malt and rye whiskies for flavouring, with a different base whisky than we had used previously."

Still Waters has become a hero on the Canadian whisky landscape with their single cask, single grain releases. These new whiskies blend everything good about Still Waters into one bottle, confirming they are whisky makers without having to rely on the 'c' word - craft for mercy sales.


Forty Creek


Founder's Reserve

Canadian blends must be a minimum of 40% ABV, fermented, aged and distilled in Canada, made of grain, aged in wooden barrels for at least three years and that's it, giving the whisky maker latitude for creativity.

John Hall, like many Canadian distillers milled, mashed, fermented, distilled and matured each grain separately. When he was satisfied with each whisky's flavour profile, he blended the single grain whiskies together creating a virtual whisky blending masterclass.

Founder's Reserve, Hall's 10th Annual Limited Edition whisky, is a tribute to John Hall and the impact he had putting Canadian blends back on the map. "It's bitter sweet," remarks Hall about this release. "Founder's Reserve represents the end of a personal career that spanned nearly five decades in the Canadian Beverage Alcohol Industry. It's a humbling tribute that Campari recognises my efforts as the Founding Father of Forty Creek Whisky."

John Hall's well-earned retirement may disappoint whisky lovers, but find comfort knowing this is not the end. "The passion, knowledge, innovation and taste has always been the cornerstone in the development and craftsmanship of Forty Creek. As I pass these standards on to Bill Ashburn, our Master Blender who has worked with me for the past two decades, I am confident that Forty Creek will continue to deliver great smooth tasting whiskies that will achieve further international acclaim."


Tasting Notes



Gooderham and Worts

Canadian Whisky 44.4% ABV
An endless blend of bready, nutty, sweet and spicey flavours served on a wooden platter. Chest warming rye punctuates the complexity with an exclamation mark.

Forty Creek

Founder's Reserve 45% ABV
Rich aromas of apricot and orange. Bold flavours of exotic spice with a long and dry finish.

Still Waters

Red Label 43% ABV
Still Water's beautiful flavouring whiskies brighten up the nose with sweet barley and curvy rye. Sweet honey, spice and equilibrium. This is a sophisticated blend.

Gibson's Finest

Bold 8 Years Old 46% ABV
Vanilla and loads of succulent rye. Sweet brown sugar dusts up more floral rye, spice and oak. Classic citrus pith finish invites the next sip.

Crown Royal

Cornerstone Blend 40.3% ABV
Packed with a thesaurus of flavours. Banana bread, rye, fresh lumber and the entire fruit section of a grocer's produce aisle is just the start.
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