For far too long, great Canadian whisky has been almost impossible to find in the States. Ask sales clerks about Canadian spirit and they will most likely point to a few offerings by Crown Royal or Canadian Club. Wiser’s is rare. The most coveted expressions are totally absent from the shelves. Hopefully, that is not the case in the rest of the world.
In the US, though, the abundance and competitive pricing of Bourbon and rye have kept Canadian whisky under-represented. But, at least in my opinion, what has minimised demand is the lack of appreciation for the distinguishing qualities of Canadian whisky. In other words, it’s a matter of consumer education or the lack thereof.
You may have heard the terms ‘Canadian rye’ or ‘blended rye.’ Canadians produce 100 per cent rye whiskies but also a variety of other grain combinations, to which they may masterfully blend in rye spirit as a flavouring agent. The result may be boldly rye led or a subtle, finessed spirit.
Canadian whisky is diverse and is not limited to variations on rye. They also produce single malts, for example, and Canada has a growing craft spirit movement. Fortunately, recent news articles featuring Whisky Magazine contributor, Davin de Kergommeaux, author of Canadian Whisky: The New Portable Expert, has spotlighted his native spirit and educated those of us who seek new whisky experiences.
Liquor stores that cater to speciality consumer niches have taken note, so lately premium and craft spirit from the north have been trickling southward. But just as we Stateside fans of Canadian whisky lauded their modestly increased representation in our shops, a cold wind blew in. And I’m not referring to the weather phenomena we in New York call a ‘Canadian front’, which now and then clobbers us with a teeth chattering drop in temperature.
Since June there’s been a lot of saber rattling about tariffs. For a flavour maven like me, the prospect of a whisky tariff on either side of the border would be a bonechilling punch in the mouth. But, as I write, the nasty rhetoric appears to be calming down as the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA) has just been announced. Freer trade is good for the palate! And that includes other food items, such as cheese and chocolate.
If the variety of northern spirit is limited in the States, Canadian cheese is beyond scarce. Calls to the best cheese mongers turn up, if lucky, a single brand of 'cheddar' per speciality counter. To me, that is outrageous! You will find dozens of cheeses from Britain, Spain, France, Switzerland, and Italy, but from our neighbour, next to nada. Yet, Canada makes wonderful cheeses of all types. They frequently win top awards in artisan cheese competitions here in the States. But don’t try to find any for sale outside the convention centres.
On the Canadian side, to protect their own dairy industry, large tariffs had been imposed on American dairy products. Reportedly, the new USMCA will make it easier for the US to export a little more dairy to Canada. But what about Canadian exports to the US? Why are Canadian cheeses so hard to find in the States? Do Canadians gobble up every morsel, leaving nothing to export? Maybe just their best.
I suspect the more industrial Canadian cheese makers find the abundance of inexpensive American dairy products as daunting a barrier to entering the American market as our whiskey has been for their whisky. Perhaps, under the USMCA, more Canadian cheese, particularly their artisan offerings, will show up in the States. Adventurous flavour cravers can only hope.
Unlike whisky and cheese, Canadian craft chocolate seems to fly under the trade radar, probably due to being produced in small (miniscule) batches, and is increasingly available in the United States. Canadian chocolate makers often take home the gold (as well as silver and bronze) in international competitions. You will find some of my favourite Canadian dark chocolate bars listed below.
In Canada, you can order them from the respective companies directly online. In the States, you can find their bars through online retailers such as The Meadow, Chocolopolis, Caputo’s, and others. In the UK, the bars are available through the online retailer cocoarunners.com. These beautifully crafted, artisan chocolates are well worth the inconvenience and the price.
On the following pages are suggestions for matching Canadian whisky to both dark chocolate and cheese. Because Canadian cheese is so difficult to obtain in the States, I am suggesting ‘types’ rather than specific brands. You will find a range of compatibility within each type, but achieving a perfect match may require a little trial and error. Enjoy these pairings and triads on your own or at your next gathering with friends. I suggest serving wholegrain breads to bridge the food items together. Sourdough works particularly well, while seasonal fruits and nuts make for a nutritious dessert.
Crack open the door to the world of Canadian whisky and chocolate to your friends. Long after, it’s sure to be the topic of conversation.
Single Barrel Canadian Whisky 40% ABV
This barrel boasts a beautifully balanced whisky, with floral, spice, maple, cherry, butterscotch and vanilla on the nose. Creamy and smooth on the palate, with fruity, peppermint, rye spice, oak and vanilla. Exits on oak, cherry and mild spice.
Hummingbird Chocolate Maker (Almonte, Ontario) Copán, Honduras 70%
The combination gives rise to rich fudge and caramel notes.
Soma Chocolate Maker (Toronto) CSB Chama, Venezuela 70%
Brings out nuttiness.
Lot No. 40
100% Pot Still Canadian Rye Whisky 43% ABV
The rye is so in-your-face that this whisky has been described as a bread basket. But there’s so much more going on, such as caramel, butterscotch, chocolate, and orange rind.
Palette de Bine (Mont-Tremblant, Quebec), Polochic Valley, Guatemala 70%
Boosts the rye with fruity and complementary caramel notes.
Soma Chocolate Maker (Toronto), Black Science, Ocumare,Venezuela 70%
Rich cocoa butter coats the tongue like a warm hug, allowing fruit, roast coffee and cocoa notes to emerge.
Comté aged 18-24 months.
Confederation Oak Reserve 40% ABV
This bottle served up more of a floral than spicy rye with maple in the nose, oak, caramel and toffee on the palate and vanilla upon the chew up. Lingered as dried fruit, anise and white pepper.
Sirena Chocolate (Victoria, B.C.), Esmeralda, Equador 73%
Plum and floral (gardenia) in the bar, turned spicy during the whisky encounter.
Hummingbird (Almonte, Ontario) Hispaniola 70%
The whisky brings out the fruit and coffee notes.
Moderately aged, sharp cheddar.
Copper Pot Reserve 43% ABV
Toffee, nuts and spice, candied orange zest, finished on dried fruit.
Soma Chocolate Maker (Toronto), Creole Gardens, Haiti 70%
A complex bar with fruit, roast notes and spice in the nose, raspberry, starfruit, roast peanut-almond and cinnamon on the palate. Finished on a whisper of coffee. Add the Forty Creek to boost the fruit – how is that even possible?
Bucheron/Bucherondin aged goat log.
10 Year, Rum Finish, 42 % ABV
While aged first in ex-Bourbon casks, the rum finish is very apparent with brown sugar and molasses notes. A surprising hint of cola, apricot and fig, black pepper and nutmeg.
Sirene Chocolate (Victoria,B. C.), Kokoa Kamili, Tanzania 73%
With its tangy fruit quality, add the whisky to release lemony notes while the rum is amplified.
Comté aged 18-24 months
A craft classic Canadian rye, named for a storm that hit Nova Scotia in October 1939. Expect cherry, caramel, clove and ginger notes.
Hummingbird (Almonte, Ontario), Copan, Honduras, 70%. Renders the caramel notes more subtle, layered on demerara.
Comté aged 18-24 months.