History

A year of Canadian sunshine

Our man looks at the state of Canadian whisky as the nation turns 150 years old
J.P. Wiser's One Fifty Commemorative Series bottle
J.P. Wiser's One Fifty Commemorative Series bottle
In August, North America caught solar eclipse fever. Millions travelled to a 70-mile-wide path covering parts of 14 states, to witness eclipse totality. News sources lost their minds with pre-eclipse analysis. They warned viewers not to look at the sun without eclipse glasses and reported that totality may trigger bedtime routines in farm animals – putting on pyjamas, brushing their teeth and settling down for a story.

For two whole minutes, America was in total eclipse. Then came the post-eclipse analysis. Left leaning news sources reported what farm animals were smart enough to avoid – President Trump looked straight at the eclipse without protection. Right leaning news sources skirted around the slip-up, scrambling to find a blind chicken.

In whiskydom, Wyoming Whiskey released an Eclipse Edition Small Batch Bourbon and Woodford Reserve announced that the barrels filled that day briefly matured in 97 per cent totality. Even conspiracy theorists reacted with claims of a faked eclipse. My theory? This eclipse coverage was a diversion tactic to cast shadows on the real news – Canada has turned 150 years old and its making splendid whisky.

“We’re celebrating Canada’s 150 birthday. We wanted to make this whisky in the tradition of the original Canadian whisky barons such as J.P Wiser and Gooderham and Worts,” explains master blender Dr. Don Livermore


“What can I say, it’s been quite the last couple of years for Canadian Whisky!” exclaims 2017 Icons of Whisky American Whiskey Brand Ambassador of the year, Matt Jones. “We are seeing more innovation, which has demanded more education, and subsequently more interest among Canadian whisky drinkers than ever before.”

Case in point – J.P. Wiser was making whisky a decade before Canada became a country. His whisky quenched the thirst of Canadians every second of the country’s history. J.P. Wiser’s One Fifty celebrates these moments with an innovative 7827 bottle release, each individuaally dated to represent one week in Canada’s 7827 week history.
“We’re celebrating Canada’s 150 birthday. We wanted to make this whisky in the tradition of the original Canadian whisky barons such as J.P Wiser and Gooderham and Worts,” explains master blender Dr. Don Livermore.

“We put the strength at 43.4% in celebration of that. Many whiskies back in the day sat at this strength, it’s authentically Canadian.” As soon as bottles hit the shelves, 'Poof!' they disappeared. Livermore can now add magician to his resume, having transformed whisky fans into history buffs seeking bottles with special meaning.

Jones shares this enthusiasm, “The range of Canadian whisky is getting bolder. Whisky consumers are ready for it. Of course, the first ever 40 years old from a Canadian distiller – Canadian Club.” In 1858, wheat whisky was king. Hiram Walker favoured a corn and rye blend and this is the way Walker distilled Canadian Club from day one. In 1977, while people were squeezing into polyester jump suits, Canadian Club was squeezing corn and rye distillate into barrels. This whisky waited for the Fonz and Beanie Babies fads to pass before it was ready.

Canada’s birthday got an early start when J.P. Wiser’s Dissertation took home the World Whisky Award for World’s Best Blended Limited Release. This is the result Dr. Don’s doctoral studies in how wood interacts with different spirits.
Gibson’s Finest Rare 12 Years Old Whisky got a Canada 150 facelift. The bottle displays the name stamped over a maple leaf. Crown Royal traded in its purple bag for a Canada 150 flag.

This year’s batch of Forty Creek’s Confederation Oak Reserve was given a special Canada 150 box with illustration by Calgary artist Sheila Schaetzle. Called 'To the Confederation', the package depicts three British Redcoats standing in a grove of oak trees.

“The craft segment is growing, and it will be interesting to see what the landscape looks like in the coming years.”


2017 has also seen third party Canadian Whiskies find their way into the mix. Twelve Barrels is named after the story of a pre-Canadian whisky pioneer, John Meagher, whose son performed Evel Knievel stunts on skates. Crowds gathered to watch him jump his father’s barrels. “I'm a sucker for anything Canadian,” explains founder Cole Miller. “I want to resurrect the style of old Canadian whisky distilleries and the founding of the country.” His first batch is beautiful.

“The best news is it’s not slowing down anytime soon,” says Jones. “The craft segment is growing, and it will be interesting to see what the landscape looks like in the coming years.” Inaugural batches of microdistillery whiskies, such as Central City Brewers’ Lohin McKinnon 150th Anniversary Edition, are impressive.

“Canada has always been about rye; we’ve been doing a single malt. Since we’re a brewery, we have lots of barley around, so it’s a natural progression,” explains brewmaster Gary Lohin. “This is a marriage of some rye washes we did and the lightly peated single malt that we love to do. That became the 150.”

Microdistillery veterans, Still Waters have also broken out the party hats. "While moving barrels to a new home, we stumbled on a few corn whisky barrels that we’d tucked away. With this over five year old whisky we formed the base of our Stalk & Barrel Canada 150 Blend. We’ve taken the best of our aged whiskies and combined them to offer Canadians a smooth over-proofed whisky to celebrate Canada’s 150th.”

Canada may be 150, but it’s still young with whisky at the top of its game. On the day of the eclipse, Livermore pulled six Lot No. 40 casks from the Hiram Walker warehouses into the sun. Writer Mark Bylok joked this was eclipse seasoned Lot 40. If these are the casks that I tried at the distillery, it’s proof that Canadian whisky is great everyday, not like some measly eclipse. Better yet, no one has gone blind staring at a glass of Canadian whisky.

TASTING NOTES

J.P. Wiser’s One Fifty 43.4% ABV
Classic Canadian whisky flavour profiles. Creamy caramel sweetness is supported by rye spice and lumber. A celebrated citrus pith finish invites the next sip.

J.P. Wiser’s Dissertation 46.1% ABV
Rye bread, black pepper and ginger baking spices interlock with chocolate, caramel and spring flowers. Floral honey transitions flawlessly to a studious orange pith finish.

Lohin McKinnon 150th Anniversary Lightly Peated Malt Rye Whisky 43% ABV
Sweet smoky malts unite with vanilla and honey. Mild oak and a buttery mouthfeel welcome a relaxed tangy finish with some enduring rye inspired spice.

Crown Royal De Luxe 40% ABV
Caramel sauce, butterscotch and vanilla shifting to wood spice, maple syrup and corn grain. Very fruit forward. Silky and soft with a quick white pepper hot finish.

Twelve Barrels 40% ABV
Spring orchard fruits and savory aromatic plants with an assortment of chest warming clove driven rye spices. Characteristic orange pith spritzes up the finish.
Forty Creek's Federation Oak with illustration from Sheila Schaetzle
Forty Creek's Federation Oak with illustration from Sheila Schaetzle