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Whisky, Eh?

January 8, 2010

I enjoy a good whisky. I also enjoy a good whiskey. Whether you keep or drop the “e” before the “y” traditionally depends on what you are drinking.

The Irish keep the “e” while their neighbors in Scotland drop the vowel.  Down in the United States we make Bourbon whiskey, while that other North American country makes Canadian whisky.

Regardless, we are in the grips of winter, and now is the time to break out the brown spirits.  But good whiskies are expensive.  Great whiskies are phenomenally expensive.  Still, price does not always go hand in hand with quality.  The drivers of price also include scarcity and demand.  If you know anyone who is a fan of the spirit, they are most likely into Scotch, and probably not just any Scotch but single malt Scotch (versus blended).

With the rejuvenation of the classic American cocktail, classic American spirits are also growing in popularity.  There are more great Bourbon and rye whiskeys available today than there have been in some time.  And they too are in demand.

You may even bump into someone who will talk your ear off about the joys of Irish whiskey.

But find me someone who is talking about the premier whisky of Canada.  I dare you.  It can’t be done.

This is a great example of how one can find value in a marketplace.  Scotch is so expensive because so many people want to drink it.

I follow F. Paul Pacult, editor of the Spirit Journal and author of Kindred Spirits.  The whiskey section of Kindred Spirits 2 has been turned into an iPhone app called iWhiskey.  My brother-in-law gave it to me for a present.  And when you tab through the sections, you find this to be true.  Better than average Single-Malt Scotches will cost at least $30 a bottle, while better than average Canadian Whisky can be had for $10-15.

So, one has to ask, “Whatever happened to Canadian Whisky?” Or maybe the even better question, “What the heck is Canadian Whisky anyhow?”

As opposed to Bourbon that is made from mostly corn, or Rye that is made from mostly, well, rye, Canadian whisky can be made from rye, corn and barley.  It does have to be aged for at least three years in wooden barrels, although most are aged longer.

F. Paul says on the matter, “While few specific details concerning Canadian Whisky production are made known by distillers, Canadian whiskies are considered to be among the most agreeable of all.” Later he describes them further as “Sweet and affably light.”

For the most part Canadian whisky is blended.

Sweet, light and blended are not three words one hears paraded around by whisky aficionados.  Which is fine by me.

One would think that with the popularity of Prohibition-era cocktails, Canadian whisky would be seeing a great resurgence.  While our distilleries were closing up shop, the Canadians were going strong.  And it was their production that fueled our speakeasies.  So where’s the love for Canada?

Recently, thanks to Albany Jane, I found out about a phenomenal deal on an F. Paul 5* (highest recommendation) Canadian whisky available locally for less than a third of his listed retail price.  Sure, it may not have the bombastic complexities of a single malt Scotch to knock your taste buds into next week.  But it is very nice indeed.  I already picked up two bottles, so I don’t mind spreading the word.  Still, you may want to hurry before they run out.

9 Comments leave one →
  1. January 8, 2010 11:44 am

    Nice post – I recently bought a bottle of Forty Creek on a whim and was pleasantly surprised. For the price it had a great mix of smokey and sweet notes and wasn’t too sharp. I believe it was under $25.

  2. Chris permalink
    January 8, 2010 12:16 pm

    Empire Wine also had (has?) the full line of Hudson Whiskeys and Bourbons a few weeks ago. They’re made by Tuthilltown Spirits, a semi-local company located in Gardiner, NY and are very good. I liked both the “Hudson Manhattan Rye” and “Hudson Baby Bourbon” during the in-store tasting.

  3. AddiesDad permalink
    January 8, 2010 1:21 pm

    My go to thirst-quenching cocktail is Canadian Club and soda, a drink both my grandparents drank until their dying day (they both lived to see 97). Even sipping on ice, I like CC’s smoothness and interesting taste. And it’s dirt cheap. Looks like I’m picking up a bottle of the Crown Royal Cask no. 16 this weekend!

  4. AddiesDad permalink
    January 8, 2010 1:22 pm

    For those further up north, Purdy’s in Saratoga Springs also has the Tuthilltown spirits, which I highly recommend, especially the four grain. At $35+ for a 375ml bottle, it’s not for the faint of heart, however.

  5. rob permalink
    January 8, 2010 1:50 pm

    In fairness to Canadian whiskeys, I stopped by this place a few years ago, and it looked like they were taking the single malt Scotch process pretty seriously:

    They didn’t have any ready at the time (they were relatively new), but I wonder if anyone out there has tried this?

  6. January 8, 2010 3:17 pm

    I started working part-time at a wine and spirits store, which has been pretty cool. I’m starting to learn a lot about wine (thanks to free tastings and a 25% discount). The store doesn’t cater too much to spirits and liquors, but we did have a Glenmorangie scotch tasting(!). Another day, a customer opened his $300 bottle of Bunnahabhain 25-year scotch and gave the employees a good taste. Score!

    The store also features a few super-special deals for employees: for example, Crown Royal Cask No. 16 for $22.50! I’ve been stocking up the bar with the “good stuff” for what I’d normally pay for the cheap stuff.

    One whiskey I’m interested in tasting and learning about is American rye whiskey. There doesn’t seem to be a lot of different products out there and I don’t know where to start. If anyone is familiar with rye, how would you describe the taste difference between rye and bourbon?

  7. Mr. Sunshine permalink
    January 8, 2010 4:15 pm

    A few weeks ago, I read (in Steve Barnes’s Table-Fopping blog) about an American rye that one a “best whiskey” contest against thousands of others in, of all places, Scotland. I couldn’t find it, so I ordered it from Purdy’s in Saratoga. $60! It’s Sazerac 18-Year-Old Kentucky Straight Rye Whiskey. Hated it and returned to Scotch.

  8. Mr. Sunshine permalink
    January 9, 2010 6:12 pm

    Amending my comment above, it’s the Table-Hopping Blog and “won” (not “one”!) a contest.

  9. January 16, 2010 10:52 pm

    Mr. Sunshine, I assume you are talking about the Thomas H. Handy Sazerac? I got a bottle not to long ago at Grapes and Grains in East Greenbush — and it was wonderful. Barrel proof and unfiltered — it may not be for everyone but I enjoy it.

    To put this in perspective I drink Balvenie Doublewood, Woodford Reserve and Johnny Black usually.

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