Join the Club: the Story of Hiram Walker's Famous Whisky

Ransom Riggs

I've been a Scotch Whisky aficionado for a few years now, and if someone offers me a nice bourbon, well, don't mind if I do. But until recently, I didn't know much of anything about Canadian whisky -- until I was able to get my hands on a fancypants limited edition bottle of Canadian Club 30-year-old. Turns out 2008 was the company's 150th anniversary, so in commemoration they made 3,000 bottles of this smooth-drinkin' stuff (I got hand-numbered bottle number 93). I can't speak for the lower-shelf versions except to say that it seems to be the drink of choice for most of the characters in Mad Men, James Bond when he wasn't sipping martinis (it's featured in Dr. No and The Spy Who Loved Me), and Nick Nolte and James Coburn in Affliction (check out this hard-to-watch clip, in which Nolte uses a mouthful of the Club as a folk anesthetic before performing a little oral surgery on himself, then sits down to share a glass with his father -- very touching).

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Walker's competitors tried to use the fact that his company was located in Canada against him; when Walker's Club became popular, they forced the passage of a law requiring foreign whiskeys to state their country of origin on the label -- which is how Walker's Club became Canadian Club. But this change didn't hurt Walker's sales at all -- in fact, it boosted them -- and when another law was passed a few years later mandating that whisky labels include maturation time, it helped his sales even more.

(Most bourbons and American rye whiskeys at that time were matured for a year or less, whereas Walker's was aged in oak barrels for at least five.)

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