Canadian Whisky

Our man behind the stick delves into a flavourful world
By Ryan Chetiyawardana
Since I started bartending (more than 10 years ago now), there was always some confusion around Canadian whisky. From the bar side, it was kind of neglected as people didn't know much about it, and there was rarely more to be encountered than a dusty bottle of Canadian Club.

From the customer side, it was often called a 'rye' and you'd get the odd staunch call for a Manhattan to be made "properly" with a rye whiskey - which was stated to be Canadian whiskey.

Thankfully, confusion around the category has lifted. It still causes some ambiguity with American patrons where Canadian whiskey does get generically dubbed a 'rye', but on a whole, knowledge of the products has risen. Although this is partly due to a general elevation in professionalism in the bar world, it is also due to more spirits becoming available, and more information being around.

With the resurgence in Irish whiskey, and World whiskies as a whole, perhaps we'll see more of a focus on Canadian whiskies in bars? The whiskies themselves I've found to be lighter than a Scotch, and lacking the full-frontal sweetness of a Bourbon. Although they share a similar grain-bill to American whiskies - a high corn content, and yes, rye - they don't share the same reflection of the mash-bill like their American cousins. The rye doesn't appear in a spicy, nutty sense, and the corn doesn't develop into a buttery, vanilla rich spirit. There certainly doesn't seem to be the dominant oak notes you find in Bourbon.

As a result, I've found myself mixing them akin to a blended Scotch, but with a slightly sweeter lean like I would use a Bourbon. I suppose, much like I've found with tasting them, I've ended up mixing the whiskies like a halfway point between a Scotch and a Bourbon.

Often with mixing a spirit, I like to give a nod to some of the other flavours of the country of origin. I always like to think how the spirit will reflect the flavours of its home country, and by mixing it with other local flavours, it creates a nice homage.

Of course, this meant maple syrup. Not only do I love the stuff (I've actually never met anyone who doesn't like maple syrup), its rich sweetness with a background hint of smoke and meatiness seemed a good partner for the whiskies; it lifted the golden, honeyed tones and provided a backdrop of spice. Other famous exports didn't seem so appealing - salmon and poutine in cocktails seemed frankly too weird even for me - but Ice Wine and Canadian bacon worked a treat.

Bacon and Bourbon was a combination that was made famous by PDT in New York showcasing a process called 'fat-washing'. This technique allows you to use a highly flavoursome fat source to safely, and in an aesthetically pleasing manner, flavour a spirit. I had great success with frying some streaky bacon and using the fat to season some Seagram's VO. Simply fry the bacon and pour the fat into a tall container containing your whiskey (I did four rasher's worth of fat into 500ml). Shake it up, leave it to settle, then refrigerate. Poke a hole in the fat once it has solidified, and strain the mixture through a coffee filter. It makes a very tasty Old Fashioned with maple syrup a la PDT's 'Benton Old Fashioned'.

Having revisited some of the brands, I found the whiskies eminently mixable. They didn't tend to provide a huge amount in the bolder (often stirred) drinks where fuller flavoured Scotch and Bourbon shine, but where blended Scotch has a strong foothold, I found the Canadian whiskies stacked up well.

The better Canadian ones don't compete with blended Scotch on price, so I doubt they will be ousting any bar spots very soon, but as more whiskies start to make it onto back bars and menus, hopefully we'll start to see more Canadian whiskies making an appearance in the bar scene.

The cocktails

Canadian Rabbit Hopping Club


  • 60ml Seagram’s VO

  • 15ml Orange juice

  • 10ml Lemon juice

  • 10ml maple syrup

  • 1 dash angostura bitters

Shake all ingredients hard with cubed ice, double-strain into a chilled cocktail glass.

A cherry.

Canadian Glory


  • 40ml Canadian Club

  • 10ml Lemon Juice

  • 10ml Apricot Brandy

  • 10ml Dry Curacao

Shake briefly with ice, strain into a chilled cocktail glass.

An orange twist.

French Canadian

By Jack McGarry, Dead Rabbit, New York


  • 35ml Canadian Club

  • 15ml Creme de Mure

  • 25ml Lemon juice

  • 10ml cane syrup

  • 2 dashes absinthe

Shake with ice, and strain over cracked ice in a rocks glass.

Garnish with a blackberry and a lime wheel.