Despite its image as being tasty with Coke or ginger ale, Canadian whisky is in the middle of a resurgence. Craft distillers are popping up left and right, and larger brands are introducing new programs and innovations. To give you a taste of the spirit, we’ve put together seven things you might not know about it.
1. All Canadian whisky can be labeled rye. According to Canadian Food and Drug Regulations, a product must “possess the aroma, taste, and character of Canadian whisky” to be labeled Canadian whisky, rye whisky or Canadian rye whisky. Within Canada, they’re synonymous. For about 200 years, Canadian whisky producers have been using rye to make their product more complex. This practice was established more than 150 years before the U.S. required 51 percent rye content to be called rye.
2. Prohibition didn’t make Canadian whisky popular in the U.S.—the Civil War did. Many of the whiskey distilleries in the South were either abandoned or destroyed during Civil War battles. Since troops used whiskey as an anesthetic, they turned to imported Canadian whisky to fill the gap when their stores dried up.
3. 70 percent of Canadian whisky is exported to the U.S.
4. Canada was the first country to legislate an age requirement for whisky. In 1887, Canada passed a law that required a spirit be aged for at least one year in wood to be called whisky. Great Britain was 25 years behind.
5. With few exceptions, Canadian whisky is blended after distillation. Instead of combining the grains in a mash bill before distillation, each grain is distilled separately and later blended. Therefore, the most important figure in a Canadian whisky distillery holds the title of master blender rather than master distiller.
6. During its infancy, Canadian whisky was made mostly from wheat. Canada had an abundance of wheat, so settlers used it to distill their whisky. It wasn’t until German and Dutch immigrants wanted more flavorful whisky that rye was added, but this style quickly became so popular that wheat whisky most disappeared.
7. From 1865-2010, Canadian whisky was the best-selling whisky in the U.S. As of 2010, bourbon outsold Canadian whisky in the U.S., but Canadian whisky is still the best-selling whisky in all of North America.
Special thanks to Canadian whisky expert Davin de Kergommeaux for the information!