Compiling Canada

Compiling Canada

Davin de Kergommeaux talks about his recent publishing venture

Whisky & Culture | 25 Oct 2013 | Issue 115 | By Rupert Wheeler

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Who came up with the idea for writing the book. You or the publisher?
\r\nThe book began as a series of binders that I put together about Canadian whisky. I was very active with the Malt Maniacs writing about Scotch and other single malts. At the same time I was exploring some of the history of Canadian whisky and every time I turned around another long-held belief was exposed as a myth. I began digging into archives and so on and also tasting some of the less well-known Canadian whiskies.\r\n\r\nAll the while I was adding tidbits to my binders. At one point my daughter said, “Dad, you know you are writing a book.” The idea just grew from there and I ended up approaching an agent who then sold my idea on to a publisher. It was my ideas presented to a publisher by a reputable agent who took the time to understand the project, that got me the book deal.\r\n\r\n
\r\nHave you written any other books and if so what are they?
\r\nYes, I have contributed to several other whisky books. My book-publishing career began when, after much good-natured cajoling, Dave Broom agreed to let me write a draft for a chapter about Canadian whisky for The World Atlas of Whisky.\r\n\r\nDave fixed it up a bit, but essentially it was my work. He still continues to give me lots of helpful advice and welcome support. Not long after the Atlas came out, Dominic Roskrow approached me to contribute the Canadian entries for his book, 1001 Whiskies You Must Taste Before You Die.\r\n\r\nThat was a substantial piece of work and includes 45 or 50 pages of reviews that I wrote. I see the 1001 Whiskies book all over the world in many languages and it is very gratifying that Dominic trusted me to write the Canadian section.
\r\n \r\n\r\nDo you think the book benefited the Canadian Whisky Industry?
\r\nIt’s difficult to say so definitively, but I suspect that it has. As people learn about Canadian whisky they realise that there is a lot more there to enjoy. This is the first book ever to talk a about Canadian whisky with any real depth or insight and people seem genuinely interested. I think it helps a lot having me as a spokesperson who is not from the industry. In the beginning it was difficult getting the Canadian whisky industry to open up or to trust me. I am sure that all my years as a member of the Malt Maniacs helped establish my credibility as an honest reviewer and careful researcher and I think the industry has come to appreciate having an objective voice interpret their whisky to the whisky world.\r\n\r\n
\r\nHow does Canadian whisky stand out?
\r\nI like to describe a well-made Canadian whisky as “elegant.” It should be a beautiful synthesis of many elements that meld into one. There can be crispness from the wood, without too much boldness, and often there is a cleansing bitterness on the finish much like the pith of a grapefruit.
\r\n \r\n\r\nWhat is happening on craft distilling in Canada.
\r\nIs it becoming more popular and has there been any legislation introduced to cover it?\r\n\r\nCraft distilling has really taken hold and we have some really great craft spirits here. I think we are at 26 fully operational distilleries with product for sale. The movement is still young so there is not a lot of whisky ready for sale yet, but the other spirits show tremendous promise. Craft distillers operate within the same legislation as all other distillers in Canada. It has become very common among whisky bloggers to talk about legislation as if it is helpful to the industry and protects consumers. In reality, that is rarely the case. The three-year ageing law, for example, was introduced in Canada to make it easier to collect taxes, and to drive the small “nuisance” producers out of business. Scotland later copied our law for exactly the same reasons. It had nothing to do with quality. They always sell it to the public as a way to ensure or protect quality but the truth is that legislation is passed for one of three primary reasons: 1. To appease or secure a voting bloc and help someone get elected; 2. To increase taxes or other government revenues; 3. In response to powerful lobbies that are trying to hurt their competitors or put an end to something they see as a nuisance to their way of doing business.\r\n\r\nRemember, laws and regulations are made by politicians and bureaucrats and their motivation is power or money, not better whisky.\r\n\r\nTrade associations are no better because their motivation is to help their members to the detriment of everyone else, not to improve quality.\r\n\r\nA good example is the current movement in the US to define “craft spirits.” They have come up with some arbitrary criteria that benefit what their members are doing today, but are not very far-sighted. The real motivation seems to be that other small and independent whisky makers have come up with much more profitable business models. Rather than making everything from scratch, they take short cuts and since their products are gaining good consumer acceptance, the self-styled “craft” distillers want to define their more profitable competitors out of existence.\r\n\r\nVery short-sighted in my opinion and ignores the history that traditionally, most of the original American whisky makers were rectifiers who bought spirits from others and then turned them into whisky.\r\n\r\n
\r\nYou write in the introduction about prohibition and the false belief that Canadian whisky was the drink of choice during Prohibition. If some Canadian whisky was available in the US during Prohibition how did it get there?
\r\nA lot of whisky entered the US from Canada, but much of it was Scotch and Irish whisky, first imported into Canada from the UK. Canadian whisky also made its way into the US, it’s just that the flow of whisky was significantly reduced overall and that made it very difficult for Canadian distilleries to survive. The market for Canadian whisky in the US was HUGE before Prohibition and it was badly hurt by Prohibition.\r\n\r\nAlso the stock market crash of 1929 significantly reduced discretionary spending in the US. Whisky was exported from Canada by boat – across the Great Lakes, and various rivers, and down the east and west coasts of the US. Both coasts were known as “Rum Row.” Rum, of course, was whisky.\r\n\r\nPeople used any means possible to get whisky across the border. Planes, trains, cars, you name it. We should also remember that many of the bootleggers were Americans who came to Canada where they could still purchase whisky legally.\r\n\r\nThey didn’t really care if it was Canadian whisky or Scotch or Irish.\r\n\r\n \r\n
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