The History of Canadian Whisky

Canada has been that distant cousin of the US who gets left out at every major family gathering. It’s hardly surprising that when it comes to whisky, Canada is often not the country that pops up in your head, not even the fourth or the fifth time. Yet, Canadian whisky exists, and to the astonishment of many, has made a guest appearance in the very popular period drama, Mad Men.

The history of whisky making in Canada can be traced back to 1769, when the first distillery was built in the present-day Quebec. John Molson can very well be adjudged the Father of Canadian Whisky, distilling the golden tipple the way the Scots did. In fact, Scottish immigrants were the forerunners of distillers in Canada.

In less than a 100 years, the country had as many as 200 whisky distilleries sprouting over its length and breadth. Rumours have it that distillers would often throw in a handful of rye into the mash that went into making whisky, imparting an earthy aftertaste to the distilled amber spirit, that would later go on to become the unique, defining feature Canadian whisky.

In 1858, Hiram Walker, an American entrepreneur purchased some land in Ontario, by the River Detroit.  He began selling his signature ‘Hiram Walker’s Club Whisky’, and for the first time ever, whisky was sold in bottles in Canada. Before Hiram’s ingenious intervention, whisky was sold straight from the barrels in which it was matured, much like what the Scots and Irish were doing with their own whiskies. Walker’s Club Whisky was such a success that slowly a farm was built around the distillery, and people started trickling into the faraway ‘no man’s land’, giving birth to a township in the process.

But, all was not sunny in Canada. Beginning at 1916, Canada saw a brief period of Prohibition when the use of whisky was restricted to only military, industrial, scientific, and medical purposes. Most American and Canadian distilleries were being put to wartime use, as army shelters, training houses, a place to store food grain etc. With the Prohibition being ousted in America in 1933, Canadian Whisky, too, came out of its seclusion.

Contrary to popular belief, Canadian whisky isn’t always light-bodied. It can be quite rich and complex, for most distillers separately distil their grans before blending them into one gorgeous bottle of whisky. Made primarily from corn, with a touch of barley, and rye, Canadian Whisky has to be aged for a minimum of three years, in charred or uncharred wooden barrels. Barrels used are distinctive, there’s a mandate that they cannot be more than 700 litres in volume. Even though there’s a myth of all Canadian whisky being rye whisky that is not the case always. The habit of distillers adding rye to their corn mash often imparts a typical flavour to the whisky, but Canadian whisky can be, and is sometimes made without the addition of rye.

Yet, the recent years have seen Canadian whisky dabble in troubled waters. Rising taxes, and illegal imports from America have hampered whisky sales. But, here’s hoping the shy wallflower stages a comeback and wows whisky lovers all over the world with its unique appeal.

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Strathisla – The Home of the Chivas Regal

Said to be the oldest operating distillery in the Highlands, the Strathilsa Distillery was founded in 1786 by George Taylor and Alexander Milne under the name Milltown distillery and is the home of Scotch Whisky. The name was first changed to Strathisla in 1870, then to Milton in 1890 and finally to Strathisla Distillery again in 1951. In 1965, the number of stills at Strathisla was doubled from two to four. These new stills were steam heated from the beginning, but the two old stills weren't until 1992. The spirit isn't filled into casks at the Strathisla distillery directly. Instead, it is first transported to the nearby Glen Keith distillery via pipes to be casked there. Most of the casks are stored elsewhere, but a handful of them are transported back to the Strathisla distillery to mature on site. For this purpose, the distillery still includes two warehouses; one traditional 'dunnage' warehouse and a modern 'racked' variety. The rest of the casks are stored in one of the three bonded warehouses of Chivas Brothers and one of them is located in Keith.Often described as the most picturesque distillery in Scotland, Strathisla proves that beauty really isn't skin deep. Beneath the iconic twin pagodas, the copper stills have a distinctive shape that determines the unique character of every drop of Strathisla Scotch whisky – its signature richness that is fruity and full-bodied.The distillery itself was completed in 1786 (under the name of Milton or Milltown), making it one of the oldest distilleries from the 18th century which still in exists. This beautifully aged distillery has witnessed its fair share of history when Strathisla was blazed in flames in 1876. An explosion in the malt mill during 1879 also was a huge blow to the establishment.The Strathisla Distillery was quickly rebuilt, and this time with its own bottling plant. In 1880, William Longmore retired and his son-in-law John Geddes-Brown took control of the distillery. This resulted in the formation of William Longmore & Co. Ten years later in 1890, the name of the distillery was changed to Milton (referring to the nearby Milton Castle).Strathisla Distillery embraces the Scottish culture in all its produces and makes one feel closer to the true spirit of their rich and smooth Scotch whisky blends.

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