Scotch and bourbon lovers are never at a loss for options, but if the cooler fall months have you in a funk, feeling burned out by that same old drink, now is a great time to branch out and try a Canadian whiskey. Canadian whiskey offers a smooth burn similar to bourbon with a flavor profile that is mellow and accessible yet capable of hiding layers of depth and complexity to rival your favorite scotch.
What Is Canadian Whiskey?
The history of Canadian distilling dates back to Quebec City in the mid-1700s, per the Canadian Distillers Association. The first distiller to produce proper whiskey in Canada is believed to be John Molson in 1799.
But the true history of Canadian whiskey predates all of that. Scottish immigrants initially made their whiskey exactly as they did back home, or at least as close as they could get given local resources, conditions, and available ingredients—an origin story very similar to those of Appalachia’s storied bourbons and moonshines. What we now know as Canadian whiskey evolved over the next two centuries from this rudimentary transplanted scotch, just like its cousins in the United States.
To fit the modern definition of proper Canadian whiskey, a product should be aged in charred oak barrels for three or more years. Most Canadian whiskeys contain rye but are not considered true rye whiskey (though some rye-forward products are specifically labeled and marketed as “Canadian rye”).
How to Drink Canadian Whiskey
When you’re first exploring Canadian whiskeys, simply take a small sip at room temperature and roll it around your tongue and mouth. Then, serve it to yourself at the bottom of a proper tumbler rather than in a shot glass so that you can get your nose inside for a good sniff.
Drinking it straight over ice or mixed with water are also excellent ways to trial new brands without masking the flavor.
They also make great mixers for the whiskey and coke or whiskey sour connoisseur.
Great Brands for a Budget
At Payless Liquors, we offer a number of high-end and budget whiskeys, and the budget brands offer good flavor while still offering a quality drink.
Windsor Canadian—A staple of taverns and man-caves throughout North America and the world, Windsor is a great entry point for people who want a prototypical Canadian whiskey experience without sacrificing quality.
Canadian Hunter—The iconic bottle design of a rugged hunter with his two imposing dogs belies Hunter’s bright, approachable flavor and almost sweet notes. Canadian Hunter is an excellent choice if you want the most whiskey for your dollar.
Canadian Club—Another brand you’ll find behind the bar at many a fine establishment, Canadian Club has a mellow, even-keeled flavor that makes it great for mixing or sipping over ice. (They also offer a 100% rye version on a green label.)
High-End Canadian Whiskeys for the Connoisseur
In addition to well-known national brands, many special releases, boutique products, and high-end brands make their way through the Canadian whiskey scene. Here are some to watch for:
- J.P. Wiser’s
- Pike Creek
- Forty Creek Confederation Oak
- Lock, Stock & Barrel