O Canada! Home of Great Whisky

let’s begin

Canada is home to some of the best loved whisky brands in the world and they have an incredibly interesting history.

Canadians might hate it when they get mistaken for Americans, they do owe something to the country for the popularity of Canadian whisky. While it might have been able to stand on its own to feet at home, it wasn’t until prohibition that Canadian whisky really took off in the states. This in turn made it massively popular around the world.

Canadian Club, which started as Hirim Walker’s in 1857, was initially “traded” across the Delaware river, where the eye of the law couldn’t see them. Hirim Walker himself had grown up in Detroit and was a successful businessman. He bought land right across the river from from Detroit, in Ontario, and from here is distilled whisky. This was the first iteration of Canadian Club.

Hiram Walkers’s Canadian Club became so popular in fact, that the infamous Al Capone could buy it for $7 and sell it on for $75.

The rise and rise of Canadian Club

Because of the huge popularity of Walker’s malt, American distillers took to the law to try and claw back some of their market share. This lead to laws including labelling restrictions that meant bottles had to indicate where a whisky was made and how long it was matured for. Candian Club still thrived due to the quality of the spirit.

With the introduction of Prohibition in 1920, things were only looking up for Canadian Club, as virtually all of its competitors were knocked out of the game.

Seagrams and the Royals

Another notable Canadian whisky is Seagrams, which was started by Joseph Bronfman in 1857. He is credited with uplifting the image of whisky from the world of illegal trading into the courts of the Royals.

The brand created a new whisky when King George VI and Queen Elizabeth visited Canada. This was the perfect way to introduce a new whisky and garner some attention at the same time.

Unfortunately Seagrams itself was dissolved in 2000, but Crown Royal lives on and is now made by Diageo.

The Future of Canadian Whisky

Like in the Prohibition era, the US is the biggest importer of Canadian whisky and they are becoming more and more popular around the world. Whisky as a category is increasing in popularity and Canadian whiskies are seeing an impact. This is despite the country seeing gruelling taxes on whisky and the fact that all nine of Canada’s major distilleries are owned by huge foreign companies.

However, there are smaller craft, home-grown distilleries popping up at the same time. Craft distilleries and small batches seems to be the way forward for whisky all over the globe and Canada is certainly embracing the new traditions. In fact, an incredible 30 new craft distilleries were opening in Canada at the end of 2014 alone, and you can bet there have been more since.

Canadian whisky is swiftly becoming a major competitor for other countries like America, Scotland and Ireland. But they’ve been top of the game before, so it shouldn’t be a surprise now.

What do you think of Canadian whisky? Let us know in the comments!

Tags: CanadaCanadian clubCanadian WhiskyGreat WhiskyHirim Walker
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My name is Greg, and I’m a brand strategy consultant, writer, speaker, host and judge specialising in premium spirits. My mission is to experience, share and inspire with everything great about whisky, whiskey, gin, beer and fine dining through my writing, my brand building and my whisky tastings.

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1 thought on “O Canada! Home of Great Whisky”

  1. Hi Greg, first, I enjoyed reading the fine articles you have on Canada and the really good things Canada has done and continues to do with whisky. They sometimes get a bad rap for what some label a lack of flavorful expressions in their whisky. However, with craft distilleries and some of what the larger foreign corporations are beginning to put out, the future does look really strong for Canadian whisky. Unfortunately to my knowledge, these more unique expressions are hard to find here in the States and certainly where I am. Perhaps closer to the border that is different. I do have access to the standard bottling of Canadian Club, Pendleton, and Crown Royal among a few others. I must say I enjoy immensely, the basic Lot No. 40 Canadian Rye from Hiram Walker, a beautiful pot still rye whisky even in the standard bottling. Crown Royal’s Northern Harvest Rye is also very good. Thanks Greg!


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