Liquor Laboratory

What Is Canadian Whiskey & What Makes It Different? (2024)

What Is Canadian Whiskey

Canadian whisky is one of the most underrated types of whisky, and while it is critically dismissed because of being a blended spirit, it has received global whiskey awards. 

But really, what is Canadian whiskey, and how well do you know this whiskey category? 

Keep reading because some interesting facts may surprise you. 

What is Canadian Whiskey? 

hand holding whisky glass

Canadian whisky is a type of whisky made in Canada and obtained from a mash of cereal grains.

To be called Canadian whisky, it must follow legal requirements from grains to bottling. 

Canadian distilleries must age the whisky for not less than three years in barrels, and it should not contain less than 40% ABV. 

Moreso, unlike other American spirits like bourbon and Tennessee whiskey, it may contain flavorings like caramel. 

Legal Requirements 

Production & Distillation Process

Canadian distillers must produce the whisky inside Canada. The mash bill is fermented, distilled, and aged separately.

The most common practice of large distilleries is mixing the whisky after the final maturation. 

The distillers use column stills to distill the whisky, which is commonly a blend of flavoring and base whisky. 

The base whiskies are distilled to a high proof, while the flavoring whiskies are distilled to lower proof.

Most Canadian whiskies are products of a single distillery, similar to Single Malt Scotch.  


whisky barrels

Like other types of whisky, Canadian whisky should be aged for at least three years in wood casks.

The fermentation, distillation, and maturation of each cereal grain separately are done in small wood for a reason. 

“Distillers distill grains separately to adapt better later to tailor to consumer demands” – Don Livermore, Hiram Walker Master Blender. 

Every single grain (corn, wheat, rye, malted barley) is processed separately so distilleries can fine-tune which cask is beneficial depending on the grain and should be aged in Canada. 

Mash Bill

By law, it is made from mash bills of cereal grain and fermented with yeast [1]. 

Canadians first started making whisky using wheat mash, and eventually, Dutch and German immigrants included rye in their whisky. 

The distillers deliberately strip the flavor of wheat or rye grain and allow it to develop taste, aroma, and character generally attributed to whisky. 

Barrel Type

old oak barrels

Canada is one of the countries that purchases used barrels from bourbon or rye whiskey producers to mature their whisky, as there are no required barrel types for this type of whisky. 

The oak barrels (used and new barrels) have vanilla, caramel, and tannin notes that contribute to the flavor profile of American whiskey

As whiskies absorb the properties of a used barrel, secondary flavors such as rye spice, floral, and fruit notes are attained. 

Alcohol By Volume

By law, all Canadian whiskies should not be bottled below 40% ABV or 80 proof. 

Crown Royal, Alberta Distillers, Black Velvet, Caribou Crossing, Forty Creek, and Canadian Club are some value brands bottled above 40% ABV. 

Originating Region

canadian flag on a blue sky background

Canadian whisky should be made in Canada and not in other countries. 

Unlike other liquors, Canadian whiskies have a geographical boundary, and distilleries should only make the whisky production inside Canada.  

While Canadian whisky is a distinct product of Canada, it is not only for Canadians.

Based on the Distilled Spirits Council of the US, there were 18 million nine-liter cases of Canadian whisky sold in the US.

Adding 9.09% Of Another Spirit Rule 

Another thing that sets Canadian whisky with other whiskies is that distillers can add 9.09% or less of flavoring, coloring, or other spirits as long as it is aged for at least two years. 

The blending rule applies to whisky exported outside Canada, which was applied to lower the taxes on whiskies. 

The blending rule for exported Canadian whisky does not need to contain American spirits like bourbon or corn whiskey. 

What Does Canadian Whisky Taste Like? 

man holding a glass of whisky

Canadian whisky is blended and Canadian distillers are free to experiment with different flavors.

Whisky connoisseurs will agree that Canadian whisky has rich flavor combinations. 

Canadian whisky hints at nuts, vanilla, cinnamon, and fruit.

Since it is legally allowed to caramel and coloring to the whisky, it has a mixed flavor of butterscotch, spices, and pleasing bitterness. 

Is Canadian Whisky The Same As Rye Whisky? 

Yes, Canadian whisky is similar to Canadian rye whisky.

Canadian law refers to Canadian whisky and rye whisky as exactly the same product, making them interchangeable. 

Moreso, even if the whisky does not contain rye in its grain recipe, it is legally allowed to be called rye whisky. 

How To Drink Canadian Whisky 

There are different ways to drink your favorite Canadian whisky.

You can consume it neat or with a splash of water. Also, you can consume it on the rocks or as a cocktail base. But what’s the best cheap Canadian whisky?

FAQs Related to What Is Canadian Whiskey

What makes Canadian whisky different?

The separate fermentation, distillation, and maturation of grains make Canadian whisky different.
Also, the geographical boundaries and age requirement sets the whisky apart from other liquors. 

Why is Canadian whisky so cheap?

Canadian whisky is cheap because distilleries can blend it with colorings and flavoring.
Canadian whisky is not held to high standards by non-Canadian whisky, which allows it to be sold at a lower price than other spirits.

How is Canadian whiskey made?

Canadian whiskey is typically made from a blend of grains, including corn, rye, barley, and wheat. It is distilled and aged in oak barrels, often with the use of a unique process called “continuous distillation.”

What flavors can I expect from Canadian whiskey?

Canadian whiskey offers a light and smooth flavor profile with notes of caramel, vanilla, toffee, and subtle spice, making it easy to drink neat or in cocktails.

Is Canadian whiskey similar to other types of whiskey?

While Canadian whiskey shares some similarities with other types of whiskey like bourbon and Scotch, it has its own distinct characteristics and production methods.

Can I drink Canadian whiskey neat?

Yes, Canadian whiskey can be enjoyed neat, on the rocks, or in cocktails, depending on personal preference.

What cocktails can I make with Canadian whiskey?

Canadian whiskey is a versatile spirit that can be used in a variety of cocktails, including the classic Canadian Club and ginger ale, Whiskey Sour, and Maple Old Fashioned.

Final Verdict

Despite the illogical claims against Canadian whisky, the recent whisky culture has been more open to it.

It has its standards from mash bills, production, and aging processes. 

Canadian Whisky Awards are meant to acknowledge Canadian whiskies and contribute to the growth of the whisky world in British Columbia. 


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