A premium product from Canada, Canadian whisky is a blended multi-grain liquor with corn spirit as the predominant ingredient. But it’s the use of rye in Canadian whiskies that incorporates a unique flavour into it.
Centuries ago, Canadian distillers added small quantities of rye to the whisky production, which instantly gained popularity among locals.
The use of rye can be traced back to the time when eastern Canada soil and climate were not favourable for cereal crops. Only the rye crop could sustain the winters, hence, it was used in distilleries. Over the years, farmers found better land in the West which reduced the significance of rye.
Whisky production in Canada dates back to the British rule in Canada. European and Canada settlers brought along with them distilling methods and technologies which were used in Canadian flour mills for distillation of excess grains. Their knowledge in distilling rye and wheat was used for the early Canadian whisky production where grains closest to decay were distilled with uncontrolled proofs. Before aging, these whiskies were sold in the market for consumption.
However, distilling companies swerved to rum production, as Atlantic Canada’s prevalent British sugar trade favoured rum. But this was not going to dampen Canadian whisky production, thanks to the efforts of Seagram, Molson and Walker.
In 1801, John Molson together with his son, Thomas Molson, and his partner James Morton, established a whisky distillery in Montreal and Kingston. Napoleon wars witnessed reduced supplies of brandies and French wines to England. And Molson’s distillery took advantage of this to become the first Canadian exporters of whisky.
Molson’s had new competitors when in 1837, Gooderham and Worts started whisky production apart from wheat milling in Toronto. And soon their production increased with a new distillery, which later came to be known as Distillery District. Likewise, in 1859 John Corby, alongside his gristmill operation, started whisky production. This defunct distillery and its surroundings today are known as Corbyville.
In 1857, American J.P. Wiser migrated to Prescott to work in his uncle’s distillery and later purchased the distillery with his success in rye whisky production. Another American Hiram walker moved to Windsor in 1858 to establish a flour mill and distillery. The year 1883 had a similar story, when Joseph Seagram progressed from being a worker at his father-in-law’s flourmill and distillery to become its owner.
American Civil War gave rise to export of Canadian whiskies. By then, Wiser and Walker had succeeded in aging whisky and could surpass the post-war tariffs. In 1890, Canada became the pioneer in establishing an aging law for whiskies with a minimum requirement of two years for aging. The temperance movement against alcohol consumption led to prohibition in 1916. All this and the storage charges accosted due to Aging Law for whisky added to the production woes. During prohibition, Detroit River was the hub of illegal Canadian whisky traffic to US and hence came to be known as ‘the river of booze’.
Some distilleries produced industrial alcohol to support the nation’s effort in World War II. But the whisky industry gained momentum after the war till 1980s as several distilleries sprung up nationwide. Later, the popularity for white spirits in American market, the surplus supply of Canadian whiskies resulted in longer aging of whiskies and their storage costs. This forced acquisitions of Canadian distilleries by international companies.
Corn and rye are the main characteristics of a Canadian whisky as the comparatively inexpensive corn with its high starch content is ideal for base whiskies. And though the Canadian whisky is also referred to as “rye whisky”, the authentic blending technique requires only a small amount of rye for the required flavouring.Here is a list of popular Canadian whisky brands listed as per the distilleries: