Maybe you wouldn’t know this, sitting in the middle of a major Canadian city, in a country known for its love of beer, but according to Statistics Canada the most popular spirit sold in this country is whisky.
A challenge many of us face – whether you are a connoisseur or a curiosity seeker – comes down to the different kinds of whisky that are out there, the different ways to enjoy it, all the different brands. I assumed the best whisky is found only in Scotland. That’s because all I have ever sampled is Scottish whisky.
Dr. Don Livermore, Master Blender at Corby Spirit and Wine Ltd., wants you to open your mind a little bit. No one is saying try Canadian whisky because it’s the patriotic thing to do. Try it because it’s great and diverse, creative and adaptable.
“We shouldn’t sell ourselves short when it comes to whisky,” he says. “We are doing good things here.”
What makes Canadian whisky unique? Why do products here taste the way they do? What makes it comparable to Scottish or Irish whisky?
Dr. Livermore says in Canada, there are big overarching rules that protect the consumer – aged for three years, made in Canada, wooden container less than 700 litres, made of grain, and minimum 40% alcohol. That’t it. That in turn opens the door for blenders like Livermore to use their imagination.
“At the end of the day, it becomes an interpretation, you become an artist,” he adds. “I wouldn’t want to be a master blender in any other place than in Canada. I can use wine barrels, rum barrels, wooden barrels other than oak, in maple, cherry. I can create my own style, and that’s what makes it unique.”
It’s wide open to different recipes, and that’s where our richness lies. The nature of Canadians, Dr. Livermore says, is to drink beer and whisky (Canadian whisky is often referred to as rye).
“We don’t realize how good our product is in Canada, and shame on us as whisky producers for not telling that story, for 70-80 years. We make award-winning, luxury, premium whisky here,” he adds. “We need to get more passionate about it.”
We de-value Canadian whisky, Dr. Livermore says. Of course he is biased. He’s the Master Blender for a company that makes Canadian whisky. But it drives him crazy to see Canadians paying $150-$200 for a bottle of 18-year-old Scottish whisky, when there’s quality Canadian product out there for $50.
Educational programs, product sampling, inch by inch, is how to build up that awareness.
So, what is a luxury whisky? It’s whatever is in the consumer’s mind – age is a factor, the type of barrel (maybe an exotic barrel, like a French oak barrel), or the number of pot distillations the blender does.
Some basics about whisky:
*Whisky (or whiskey in the United States and Ireland) is a broad category that encompasses a range of spirits distilled from grains, including rye whisky, scotch, bourbon and Irish Whiskey. International standards have been established that govern what each country can, and cannot, do when it comes to making their particular kind of whisky.
*There are three main influences on the flavour of a whisky — the grain used in the mash, the yeast and the type of wood used for the aging process. Any flavours of caramel, spice or earthiness will come from the type of grain used. Aromas and hints of citrus, grass, butter, fruits and flowers are from the yeast and the wood provides peatiness, nuts, smoke and earthy tastes.
*Bourbon is an American variation of a mixed-grain whisky that is column distilled then aged new charred oak barrels for a minimum of two years.
*Scotch hails from Scotland and is made from peated barley distilled a minimum of two times and aged in oak casks for a minimum of three years. It is available as a single malt or blended malt.
*Irish Whiskey is typically distilled three times using an unpeated malt and aged in wooden casks for a minimum of three years, although many are left to age for three or four times as long. It must also come from Ireland.
There are four ways to drink whisky:
*Neat: pour a shot in a glass and enjoy. No ice, no water. You can do it as a shot or sip and savour it
*With a splash of water: Adding a drop or two of water to your whisky will open up its “volatiles” — the fruity and floral aromas that define a whisky.
*On the rocks: Pouring over ice will reduce the volatiles, and provide a more smooth texture.
*Cocktail: Whether something simple like mixing with cola or ginger ale or a complex cocktail like a Manhattan, Whisky Sour or Old Fashioned, there are some delicious concoctions that can be made with a whisky base.
Dr. Livermore was named Blender of the Year at this year’s awards, held last January in Victoria, B.C. The awards are held every year, involving ten independent whisky experts blind-tasting over 100 whiskies. Other winners for 2019:
Flavoured Whisky Export – Black Velvet Toasted Caramel
Flavoured Whisky Multi-market – Crown Royal Salted Caramel
Whisky Value Domestic – Wayne Gretzky No. 99 Red Cask
Whisky Value Export – Pendleton
Whisky Value Multi-market – Crown Royal Blender’s Mash
Sippin’ Whisky Domestic – Canadian Rockies 21yo
Sippin’ Whisky Export – Rich and Rare Reserve
Sippin’ Whisky Multi-market – Pike Creek Rum Barrel
Award of Excellence – Innovation – Shelter Point Montfort DL
Award of Excellence – Line Extension – Corby NHL Alumni Series
Best Whisky Spirit – Ancient Grains
Artisanal Distiller of the Year – Last Mountain Distillery
Distillery of the Year – Hiram Walker & Sons Distillery
Flavoured Whisky Domestic – Forty Creek Cream
Connoisseur Whisky Domestic – Canadian Club 41yo
Connoisseur Whisky Export – Crown Royal Blender’s Mash 13
Connoisseur Whisky – Multi-market – JP Wiser’s 35yo
Best New Whisky – Bearface
Best Single Malt Whisky – Two Brewers Release 9
Best All-Rye Whisky – Forty Creek 22yo Rye
Best Blended Whisky – Gooderham and Worts Eleven Souls
Blender of the Year – Don Livermore
2019 Canadian whisky of the year – Forty Creek 22yo Rye