Land of legends

Land of legends

Canada is a great holiday destination and has a fascinating take on whisky production. In this guide we look at two centres:Ontario and Calgary

Travel | 08 Sep 2008 | Issue 74 | By Rob Allanson

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Walkerville/Canadian Club There are some legendary names scattered through the history of Canadian whisky but there are few bigger than Hiram Walker.And while it might be stretching it to credit him for inventing the category of Canadian whisky as we know it today, his influence on its development is immense, and his producing whisky has been emulated across Canada ever since.By the time he launched what was to become known as Canadian Club in 1884, the production method had evolved to one that is now recognisably a Canadian style.The whisky was made up of very strong base spirit mixed with a considerably weaker flavoured spirit,often made with rye. For this purpose a copper pot still was used to make a heavy, oilrich rye.The resulting whisky was lighter and cleaner than whisky would have been at the time, and it was an immediate success, prompting other producers to turn to the same production methods.The distillery was expanded in 1894, with great fanfare, and a town grew up around it to accommodate distillery employees.Known as Walkerville, the area is still home to the original distillery and much of it is a throwback to Hiram Walker’s time.The production methods haven’t changed massively either, and much of the old equipment remains in place though not necessarily in use.Canadian Club has of course remained a world famous brand, but under its name there are a range of whiskies.Mostly they are distilled and then blended before maturing.The standard Canadian Club is six years old,but Canadian Club Reserve is 10 years old and contains a higher proportion of rye, while the Classic 12 Year Old has a higher proportion of malted barley.Best of the range though are the 100 proof version and the Canadian Club Sherry Finish, which is eight years old and which benefits from the additional cask fruitiness.Canadian Mist,Georgia Bay, Collingwood,Ontario Canadian Mist is testament to the boom times for Canadian whisky, built with almost indecent haste to catch the wave of demand before it passed by. It was built 40 years ago, and from the foundation stone to production took just five months.It sits in the heart of Ontario by the small town of Collingwood and close to the vast freshwater beach of Georgia Bay.And it is one of the few Canadian distilleries that produces whisky and nothing else.It is a continuous still plant and it’s neither particularly pretty or on the face of it, particularly interesting.That’s until you look at it purely from a whisky enthusiast’s point of view. For in actual fact it has three peculiarities that make it unique in the entire world of whisky.Firstly,Canadian Mist is made without any exposure whatsoever to copper.The production equipment is entirely made from stainless steel and purists will tell you that the finished whisky shouldn’t work as a result.More than two million cases sold in America each year argue emphatically that it does.Secondly, it is the only Canadian whisky made with a mash of corn and malted barley.And thirdly, the distillery does not produce any rye for flavouring.Instead it brings rye from one of Brown Forman’s Kentucky distilleries as well as an amount of Kentucky bourbon.Under Canadian law whisky may contain a fraction of over nine per cent of flavourings and the American whiskey constitutes part of this.Kittling Ridge,Grimsby,Ontario If it’s dramatic locations you want for your distillery, then Kittling Ridge Estate Wines and Spirits fits the bill perfectly. It sits close to the beaches of Lake Erie and about 65 kilometres from Niagara Falls.It’s a small independent company founded in 1971 by a Swiss stillmaster to make European-style fruit brandies and expanded in to other spirits soon after.The wine link came when original founder Otto Reider retired and winemaster John Hall took over.And it’s his precise and wine-like approach to whisky making that has helped define this distillery’s products and in particular Forty Creek Barrel Select, one of Canada’s most appealing and intriguing whiskies.Forty Creek is made using three grains but there is no mash bill for them.They are fermented in batches and then individually distilled in copper stills. Each of them is then matured separately in white oak casks that have been picked specially for them, each with a different level of charring.The whiskies are aged between six and 10 years before being blended and finished for a further six months in sherry oak casks that have previously contained sherry made by Hall himself.The resulting whisky puts to rest once and for all the lazy theory that Canadian whiskies are bland and uninteresting. It has a varied and impressive taste profile thatmakes it not just unique to Canada but unique in the world. If you’re looking for hope for the future from Canada, this distillery is surely it.Kittling Ridge does have a couple of more conventional whiskies in Pure Gold and the recently-released Mountain Rock, which comes in a plastic unbreakable bottle ‘easy to pack when traveling’and a range of other home-produced spirits.WHAT TO DO When we’re talking about Ontario,we’re talking about big.Big nature.Big cities.Big water.Big fun.For lovers of the outdoors this is the place to come,with more than 200 recreational facilities,more than 100 provincial paths, six national parks and amazingly, more than 400,000 rivers, lakes and streams.Wildlife spotting is thoroughly recommended as is taking to the air to see some of the state and to travel down to Niagara falls.Helicopters,hot air balloons,paragliders and gliders are all on offer, as are parachuting sky-diving and any other number of crazy pastimes.The fishing is among the best in the world, and there are plenty of nature reserves to take the family to see moose, deer, rare birds and caribou.WHERE TO STAY Ontario offers all types of accommodation, from big city hotels to country inns and town bed and breakfasts.The camping is excellent in Ontario, and five of the six national parks offer dramatic camping sites.Or why not try a few nights in a yurt – an isolated fishing lodge.For more details go to CALGARY THE DISTILLERIES Alberta Distillery,Calgary Calgary sits on the verdant plains of Alberta where some of the world’s finest rye is cultivated, and beneath the awesome Rockies from which pure mountain spring water can be drawn. Ideal, then, for a ryeproducing distillery like Alberta.Alberta Distillery was founded in 1946 and for the last 20 years has been owned by American giant Jim Beam Global. It has the capability to produce about 20 million litres of alcohol a year.Despite its formidable size and its international owner,Alberta has managed to preserve its reputation as a maverick distiller producing an uncompromising and unconventional group of whiskies dominated by rye.The distillery has the capability to produce in batches or continuously. It has a pot still which is used for speciality whiskies.There are two main whisky types produced in the main production process.The bulk of the distillery’s blends are made up of a base spirit, unusually made with rye rather than the traditional corn. It is first distilled in a beer still and then distilled again in either a continuous rectifier or a batch one. It is distilled to around 95 to 96% ABV.A second whisky is made from rye but this time it is only distilled once, the effect of which is to produce a spirit with a relatively low ABV of about 65%.One distillation means that oils and congeners are left in the spirit, making it heavy, oily and rich in flavour.The two spirits are blended and maturation takes place in first fill bourbon casks or even virgin new oak casks.The longer rye of this nature is in the cask the mellower it gets, so the younger expressions of Alberta’s output are the most aggressive,uncompromising and impressive. For this reason Alberta Premium at just five years old is held up in some quarters as a world class whisky.Other whiskies from the distillery include Alberta Springs, which is 10 years old;Tangle Ridge, the distillery’s most commercial product containing 10 year old whisky with sherry and fruit flavourings as permitted under Canadian law; and Windsor, a fairly aggressive rye dominated blend.Highwood Highwood is a remote independent operation nestling in the middle of some of Canada’s most fertile grain-producing land and it seems to be a distillery on the up, albeit from a fairly low base.In fact it’s effectively two distilleries for the price of one, because a couple of years ago it bought Potters Distillery, which at the time was British Columbia’s only surviving distillery and brought its brands under its wing.Its point of difference is a shaky one. It is the only Canadian distillery that produces its neutral base spirit from wheat.The 13 Years Old and 15 Years Old whiskies produced under the Century Reserve label are single cask pure rye whiskies and have a great deal of personality and hint at the premium direction this distillery could take in the future.Highwood is also home to the brands produced by Potters, a distillery originally founded by Ernie Potter in 1958 and bought at the end of 2005.WHAT TO DO Calgary is in cowboy country and lies just an hour from the stunning Rockies so horse riding and mountain trekking are both recommended choices, as are sleigh rides in winter.There’s even a 10 day rodeo festival known as the Calgary Stampede.Calgary itself is a bustling cosmopolitan packed with history as well as the more usual attractions a big city can offer.The Calgary Tower offers spectacular views across the city and out to the mountains, and the city has a historic fort.Another must-see destination is the Heritage Park Historical Village, which plots life in Western Canada before 1915 and includes the paddle steamer SS Morgue.WHERE TO STAY Calgary has more than 11,000 rooms of all types.Our suggestion is to go to one of the historical inns or bed and breakfasts to get a true flavour of the city.Calgary prides itself on outstanding hospitality and service.For more information go to
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