Mata Hari’s Guide to Canadian Whisky

Damen und Harren, Mesdames et Messieurs… Ladies and Gentlemen:

When you enter the LCBO, do you find yourself befuddled by the bountiful selection of brown liquor before you? Do you pace the store frantically in search of the best bang for your buck only to leave with Canadian Club, Crown, or, dare I say, Wisers?

For those of you who share in this confusion– fear shoddy Canadian Whisky no more. I will briefly bestow upon you the knowledge and skill necessary to engage in and be appreciative of the art of proper selection and consumption. But first I want to acknowledge the reader who is saddened to find an article on whisky as opposed to something a bit more palatable. To you sir (or miss) I say hogwash! Don’t blame your distaste of Canadian Whisky on your habit of consuming cheap swill. Now, back to the name of the game: getting a couple of chapters into a novel a la Canadian Whisky.

Pic Via Bullz-Eye Blog (Click to open in new tab)
Pic Via Bullz-Eye Blog (Click to open in new tab)

First, it is incumbent upon you to know the basics about a Canadian whisky before drinking the stuff so that you avoid needless hangovers due to cheapness of brand. Alas, the old adage goes that ignorance is bliss.  I doubt that this holds true though when one finds they are struggling to strategically embrace American Standard due to intolerance or tawdriness of brand.

The Basics:

  • Not all Canadian Whisky is rye.
  •  ‘Rye’ refers to brown liquor made from mash containing more rye (a grass grown as a grain) then other ingredients.
  • General rule of thumb is that, to be rye, the mash must contain 51% rye grain or more.
  • To increase alcohol content and to achieve consistency in both taste and aroma, rye mash from previous batches is added to new ones.
  • According to FAO, (the [International] Food and Agriculture Organization), the largest producers of rye are Northern and Eastern European countries
  • The difference between distilling and aging is that distilling is done when the alcohol is being made from mash  inside of, typically copper cisterns whereas aging is what occurs when the whisky is poured into oak (wooden) barrels for long periods of time to acquire refinement of taste as well as gain its notable colour

Now that you know a bit more about the brown liquor, let’s focus on distinguishing the gems from the cubic zirconia with a look into the top three Canadian whisky brands according to the Provocative Penguin.

40 Creek

forty-creek-heroForty Creek is made in Beamsville, Ontario – a small town nestled in a region better known for its grapes: Niagara. That being said, this whisky is amazing. Forty Creek is distilled in copper barrels and produced in small batches, aged with purposefully selected oak barrels. The barrels give it the unique taste and rich colour which we will turn our focus to again momentarily. It is undoubtedly a quality Canadian whisky and the fact that it is only under $26.45 for a 750 ml bottle makes it an easy staple, especially when one considers the outrageous cost of spirits in Ontario.

The distinguishing factor: It is aged in hand-picked sherry casks giving it a full bodied flavour with unrivalled smoothness and help from some understated but welcomed fruity notes. This smoothness of taste makes it ideal for mixing as well as enjoyable straight up without causing severe alteration to your exterior genetic makeup.

A word to the wise: Although the LCBO has a ‘special promotional offer’ on a handle (1.14 mL bottle) of Forty Creek, selling it for $38.45 – anytime is a good time to stock up as this makes the perfect Father’s Day gift, birthday present or friend on a cold not-so-spring-like eve. It may be interesting to note that the special offer mentioned above only translates into a 0.007 cent per milliliter savings anyways, so although you shouldn’t be fooled by the clever advertising of the LCBO, do pick up a bottle of this stuff!

White Owl

Whisky is a curious spirit. White Owl is more curious still. I use this term because its simplicity is what mystifies and differentiates it from other spirits; that along with the regulations involved in carrying and upholding the title ‘whisky.’ Whisky is not something to be tampered with, not true whisky anyways. There will never be the variety of flavour available that we see befall spirits like vodka or beverages like beer. Sour Apple or Pumpkin Caramel will never be followed by the word ‘whisky.’ As such, it is not one to fall prey to the attractive and vacuous consumers within the nightclub market. Rather, it is honesty in a glass. Whisky does not aim to be anything other than what it already is: a blend of malted grains artfully distilled and traditionally aged in casks. Although it does not change, it can and often is refined! Many craft and notable distillers claim ‘small batch’ and ‘premium’; on their bottles to indicate such improvements in process and quality. It is these refinements in the distilling process, cask selection, and ingredients that make a good whisky great. But what about a premium colourless whisky – is such a thing possible? Introducing White Owl…

Pic via All Wallpapers (Click to open in new tab)
This owl does not officially represent White Owl Whisky or any of its affiliates… We just wish it did.
– Ed.

Does this ‘whiteness’ make it better? Perhaps not. Does it make it cooler to drink? Definitely! The ladies seem to like it more too, perhaps because it reminds them of their comfort drink: vodka (soda). As such, it wouldn’t hurt your case to keep a bottle on hand for date night or suggest a cocktail from White Owl on a night out. But don’t let its niftiness fool you into thinking it is gimmicky. It is far more than that. White Owl is distilled by Highwood Distillers who are very reputable and well known in the industry. Unlike many other white whisky brands to the South of the border, White Owl stays true to whisky form, embracing the strict regulations that go with the name while blending high quality ingredients to present a smooth and strong spirit with little to no aftertaste. Insofar as the actual tasting experience is concerned, I was going to write some mildly eloquent cacophony but then I realised that that the LCBO did better than I ever could have so I have included it herein for your benefit instead…

“ [White Owl is] clean and clear watery white in colour; soft aromas of spring flowers and morning dew; soft and round with a sweet mouthfeel and notes of citrus and floral and a touch of vanilla”

The distinguishing factor: Its whiteness coupled with its preservation of quality and damn good taste.  This stuff might look like old pappy’s moonshine from yesteryear but it goes down like liquid gold (on the assumption that gold would, if liquefied, indeed go down well).  But all grand similes aside, White Owl is inarguably smooth and clean in taste.

A word to the wise: This is best when not mixed as it as so many subtle note and is pure and clean in taste. However, if you mix it with 7UP or something along those sugary lines – beware! It doesn’t taste strong at all and thus becomes quite deceptive, meaning that it will go down far easier than it will come up – and it will come up and at nearly $40 per 750 mL bottle – let’s not waste the stuff as bathroom tile disinfectant.

Collingwood

Collingwood Whisky

Collingwood is extremely new player in the Canadian Whisky business but it carries with it a lot of cred (no doubt due to some fantastic marketing). Collingwood made a name for itself outside of the winter wonderland way of life that is normally associated with the town when it introduced a refined take on a classic Canadian spirit. Collingwood utilizes the natural resources of the area as quality ingredients and means for improvement to the distilling process while maintaining its status as a rye whisky. All of these factors work together to give it its signature ‘toasted Maplewood mellowed’ taste.

The distinguishing factor: When paired with some Martini Rossi Sweet Vermouth, Collingwood’s natural oaky aromas and mellowed taste lend themselves to a warm flavour sensation like no other in the back of your mouth. Also the Arthur Wellsley makes for a pretty damn good drink.

Word to the wise: I got a nifty crystal decanter not too long ago and decided that filling it with Collingwood and leaving it on the kitchen island was a good idea. You know, because it secretly validated my Mad Men-eqsue ways. Well it did, but it also looked so attractive in its decanter that guests could not neglect it. It lasted little over three days and by Thursday morning it found a new home, empty and alone, inside the recycling bin.

Simply put, it may be best to keep this bad boy out of sight, because it is simply too good to resist.

Forever yours,

Mata Hari

About Mata Hari

Although the particulars of her past are sketchy at best, the following has been touted as being pure Mata: Possessing a gift of the gab and love of fine brown liquor, she enjoys drawing back on a Montecristo number four before sun-down many a day. She revels in ambiguousness and sly behaviour; often employing her knowledge of culture and language in clandestine ways. An able markswoman and a challenging poker player – skilled in the art of deception, she is one to be reckoned with. She has a particular weakness for shiny buttons and biscuits as well as a certain fellow by the name of Reginald Swithin, the 3rd Earl of Havershot - who has been known to get her panties in a twist on several occasions.