Distillers Take a New Approach to Canadian Whiskies
on 20/04/11 at 10:21 amSpirits
PHILIP WARD, a noted Manhattan mixologist, was blunt when asked recently whether he had any thoughts about Canadian whisky. “Sure, I have thoughts,” he said in a deadpan reply. “I think about all the other whiskeys I’d like to drink before I’d drink a Canadian whisky.”
Canadian whisky has an image problem. As Scotch and bourbon were reframed as elite, cultured drams, as American rye resurrected itself, and as Irish and Japanese spirits won new measures of respect and popularity, Canada remained the unglamorous workhorse of the whisky world, producing dependable, light-bodied, mixing whiskies derided by booze connoisseurs as “brown vodka.” To add injury to insult, Canadian distillers’ long-dominant position in the United States (thank you, Prohibition) has receded in recent years as sales have been flat.
In the last couple years, however, Canadian whisky (rendered without an “e,” as with the Scottish version) has been taking baby steps out of the shadows. In the Canadian section of the liquor store, usually a model of stolid constancy, there are new bottles that proclaim themselves “small batch,” “single barrel,” and boast higher proofs and unusual wood treatments. Canadian whisky, it seems, wants to hang with the cool kids.
“I think we’re coming into a fairly excited time,” said Davin de Kergommeaux, a Canadian whisky writer who runs the blog Canadian Whisky (canadianwhisky.org) and is working on a book about his homeland’s whiskies. “Canadian distillers are getting together and trying to rebuild their image.”
A change was certainly needed. “The Canadian whisky category has been rapidly losing ground to bourbon, rye and Tennessee whiskey for 10 years,” said Chris Morris, the master distiller for the liquor conglomerate Brown-Forman.