The best Canadian whiskey is known as being a smooth operator, and generally far more drinkable than other whiskies like bourbon or scotch.
They’re usually blended, giving distillers a greater opportunity to balance the blend into a pleasant flavor.
Because the blends can be made from cheaper grains, Canadian whiskeys tend to be a little more affordable than their American counterparts across the board- which is always welcome news.
There are a few technicalities that go into qualifying a Canadian whiskey. Firstly, it must be aged for at least three years in Canada, and be made from a mash bill recipe of cereal grains. It also has to come in at at least 40% ABV.
You can add up to 9.09% of another spirit to the base, as long as this addition has been aged for at least two years in wood.
Beyond that, everything else is fair game. Canadian distillers use different barrel types, recipes, and grain whiskies of varying ages to put their spin on the national treasure.
The smoothness that a high rye content provides makes Canadian whiskey a great choice for mixing into cocktails and is great for balancing out the vermouth in a Manhattan or Old Fashioned.
Best Canadian Whiskey- The 7Gents Guide
Most Popular Canadian Whiskey: Crown Royal – 40% ABV
Crown Royal is Canada in a bottle. It’s an incredibly smooth, medium-bodied whiskey that can be used as a mixer or enjoyed by itself. 50 Canadian whiskeys combine in white-oak barrels to produce this blend, and it very rarely misses the mark.
The nose is light vanilla and caramel, with the palate bringing through brown sugar and a pleasant oakiness. There is almost no alcoholic burn to contend with – this is a smooth, sipping whiskey with just the right amount of bite.
Adding a splash of water opens up chocolate, lemon zest, and dark fruit flavors.
It’s also a favorite of Foo Fighter Dave Grohl, who apparently always keeps a bottle backstage for after the show. It’s not difficult to see why.
Best for: Getting Your Bearings
Crown Royal is the granddaddy of Canadian whiskey and should be your first stop. I’d recommend it as a smooth and drinkable option for beginners that still has enough going on to keep more experienced drinkers on the hook.
Caribou Crossing – 40% ABV
Caribou Crossing is another blend where smoothness is the name of the game. With a relatively low ABV, this single-barrel Canadian whiskey slips down the hatch very, very easily.
The nose is faint leather and barn wood. You’ll feel a sudden impulse to slip a bottle into your saddle pack and take a mosey to the ranch.
Caramel dominates the palate, with flickers of charred marshmallows and chocolate adding a light sweetness. Mango and citrus flicker in and out to complete this delightful blend.
Best for: Blast From The Past
This smokey, moreish concoction belongs in a local saloon. A glass of this after dark will send you and your guests to a smokey speakeasy – or perhaps just to the store for another bottle.
Best Canadian Whiskey: Canadian Club – 40% ABV
Canadian Club goes way back to 1858, exploding in popularity during the prohibition period. Thousands of cases were smuggled over the border to the States, with clients including notorious gangster Al Capone. So you’re in good company.
The nose is spikey pepper coupled with a clean almond nuttiness. The palate brings citrusy zest and sweet spice, while the finish is dry with a nod towards woodiness.
This double-distilled Canadian whiskey is aged in white oak barrels, and the result is a highly mixable offering.
Canadian Club deserves its cult following. It is now owned by Jim Beam and is one of their most popular products.
Best for: Storytellers
The mythology around Canadian Club is just enthralling. Did you know the term “bootlegger” comes from the smugglers who would hide the iconic curved bottles snuggly in their boots as they crossed the border?
Pike Creek – 42% ABV
Pike Creek is a rum-finished Canadian whiskey that brings something a little different to the table. The whisky goes through a ten-year double maturation process, developing first in oak and then in port barrels.
The rum builds out a fruity flavor profile as if it is on a mission to prove there is more to Canadian whiskey than rye, oak, and vanilla. Winter spice and nuttiness meet rye bread in a blend that tastes like the holiday season.
Water opens up the flavor to sweet fruity notes of raisins and figs. Pike creek will be a home run with single malt aficionados who enjoy sherried or port-finished malts.
Best For: The Expert-In-Waiting
This is a great chance to convert a drinker who knows a little about what they like. Rum fruitiness helps to balance some of the bolder whisky flavors from the lengthy maturation, meaning that the inexperienced can enjoy a premium whisky without choking through it.
Lot 40 – 43% ABV
Designed in 1988, the fact that this family recipe has passed through seven generations is a testament to its quality. It’s still made the old-fashioned way, distilled in traditional copper pots that you don’t find commonly used by the big players.
This bold Canadian rye is peppered with winter spice, with plenty of fruity and winter spice notes. It has a festive feeling similar to Pike Creek, but perhaps lacks quite the same level of spice. This may be preferable to a scotch drinker who is used to something a little more straightforward.
Soft spice, rye bread, and pear combine to form a tempting palate that would be ideal for a safe birthday gift or dinner party accompaniment.
There is a little char from the American Oak aging process, which will appease a Bourbon drinker who is not used to the generally smoother Canadian Rye.
Lot 40 packs a serious punch at 43% ABV. If you’re looking for something a little less potent, adding a couple of cubes of ice takes the edge off nicely. Overall, this is a unique budget rye option that will please beginners and whiskey veterans alike.
Best for: Bourbon Fans
The American Oak aging process sets Lot 40 apart from the best Canadian whiskeys and makes it the obvious choice for anyone looking for a little more bite in their dram.
Alberta Premium Cask Strength – 66% ABV
Alberta Premium is all about high-quality ingredients. Their rye grain is sourced from the Prairie Provinces, known for producing some of the finest wheat in the world. Excellent quality water is sourced from the Rocky Mountains, and the combination of these two simple ingredients takes Alberta Premium to another level.
On the nose, you’ll meet unpretentious vanilla and woodiness, before the palate brings forward spiced notes of cinnamon, dark fruits, and nutmeg. There is a little honey sweetness that definitely helps things along rather than getting in the way.
This is a strong one. At 132 proof, you may well want to add a splash of water if you’re settling in for a session. As the spicing is quite subtle, you’ll want to use water instead of ice to offer dilution while still retaining powerful flavor.
The only thing preventing this from being one of my all-time favorites is it perhaps lacks a little complexity, but this may suit you if you’re just beginning to explore premium Canadian whiskeys.
Best for: The Would-Be-Expert
This unfussy blend puts quality ingredients first, and it shows. Get involved for a premium blend that doesn’t take vast experience to decipher.
Alberta Rye Dark Batch – 45% ABV
Another blend from the Alberta distillery, this Dark Batch uses a lot of toasted rye and tastes relatively similar to the port-aged Lot 40.
The twist here is that a dash of sherry is added. You can definitely tell it’s there and it makes for a nice detour from most whiskeys on the market.
Alberta Dark Batch is not just a gimmick and is a perfectly pleasant (if somewhat unusual) blend.
There are fruity notes in the nose, with ripe peach and lemon meeting earthy sawdust. On the palate, peppery notes add heat and spice which brings the orchard sweetness back down to earth. The mouthfeel is smooth with a medium body, while sherry remains strong in the finish evoking raisins and dark chocolate.
Best for: Sherry or Port Drinkers
Sherry is at the forefront of Alberta Rye Dark. If this deep and rich blend is down your alley, you won’t look back.
Caribou Crossing Single Barrel – 40% ABV
For our final whiskey, I thought I’d choose something a little bit special. Caribou Crossing Single Barrel is much like the regular Caribou Crossing offering, but the single barrel process means that each element of the original gets a little brighter. This tastes like somebody turned the resolution up on Caribou Crossing; everything just feels a little clearer with this premium offering.
It’s an uncomplicated experience that does not overwhelm, instead focusing on allowing high-quality ingredients to speak for themselves. Simplicity is the name of the game here.
There are sweet notes in the nose with marshmallows and caramel popcorn rushing forward. The palate is a little more balanced, with oak and corn adding heartiness to the blend. The finish is relatively short, with a hint of citrus rounding off the dram.
Best for: Moving from Basic to Premium
If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Caribou Crossing Single Barrel takes everything that is great about Caribous Crossing and supercharges it. If you’re a fan of the original, this will be a natural and deeply satisfying next step.
The History of Canadian Whiskey
Canadian whiskey rose to prominence during the prohibition era, where American whiskey companies were forced north of the border to continue producing their wares.
Whiskey was, in theory, ‘exported’ to small countries that made it difficult for authorities to trace sales. In reality, thousands of cases per month were being smuggled over the America-Canada border overnight in small and fast boats. This is why the majority of early distillers were clustered around strategic border crossings like the Detroit River.
As the prohibition came to an end and bootlegging routes became less crucial, distilleries began popping up deeper into the county – and now we are spoilt for choice.
A Couple of Recipes
Take a look below for two of my favorite cocktails with a Canadian twist.
Canadian rye whisky will offer a smoother experience than using a heavy bourbon, allowing the citrus a little more room to breathe.
Just make sure that you factor in the sweetness of your whisky and remember to adjust your syrup amounts to taste.
50 ml Canadian whiskey
25 ml Vermouth
A teaspoon of cocktail cherry syrup
2 dashes of Angostura bitters
For the garnish
Twist of lemon rind
- Fill a cocktail shaker with fresh ice cubes.
- Add 50ml of your favorite Canadian whiskey, 25ml of Vermouth, 1 teaspoon of cocktail cherry syrup, and a couple of dashes of Angostura bitters to the cocktail shaker.
- Mix well and strain into a cocktail glass.
- Garnish with a twist of lemon rind and a cocktail cherry.
Canadian Old Fashioned
50 ml Canadian Whiskey
2 dashes of Angostura bitters
A teaspoon of granulated sugar
A teaspoon of water
For the garnish
A twist of orange peel
- Combine the water, sugar, and bitters in a rocks glass. Stir until the sugar is fully dissolved.
- Add a few cubes of ice and the Canadian whiskey. Stir well.
- Garnish with the twist of orange peel.
- You can add a splash of soda water to dilute the cocktail, if you’re finding it too strong.
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