Now Trending: Canadian Whisky

Nov. 2, 2017

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As predicted, 2017 has been a big year for the Canadian whisky category.

At one time Canadian whisky was not-so-kindly referred to as “brown vodka” because of the spirit’s smooth and exceptionally light palate. Also, because a vast majority of Canadian whiskies are blended and feature no age statement, they were unfairly looked down upon as an inferior product when compared to Scotch or American whiskey.

Fortunately, that negative connotation is melting away as Canadian whisky producers continue to experiment with different mash bills, finishing barrels and even single barrel editions. These new Canadian whiskies are complex, ringing with maple, vanilla, cooked fruits and warm baking spices.

Innovation, it appears, is alive and well up north. As a result, the Canadian whisky category finally began to garner the attention, recognition and accolades it so rightfully deserves.

What is Canadian Whisky All About?

The Canadian whisky category is broad in definition. In the simplest terms, Canadian whisky is a type of whisky produced exclusively in Canada and must be aged for a minimum of three years in a wooden barrel. The final whisky must contain at least 40 percent alcohol by volume (80 proof). Outside of those few regulations, the rules of Canadian whisky are pretty loose.

Traditionally, Canadian whisky consists of a blend of two components: a base whisky and a flavoring whisky. The base whisky, usually made from corn, is very light in flavor and comprises the large majority of the whisky’s make-up. A flavoring grain whisky – typically rye – makes up the difference.

Riding Rye’s Rise

In the 18th century, Canadian distillers began adding small amounts of rye grain to their whisky mashes. The resulting whisky was a hit, and soon people began demanding this new rye-flavored whisky, referring to it simply as "rye." Ironically, Canadian law now allows Canadian whisky to be called Canadian whisky, Canadian rye whisky, or simply 

Rye whiskey sales in the U.S. are up more than 500%, which has led to many Canadian whisky producers increasing the amount of rye in their mash bills dramatically. The resulting high-rye spirits are closer in flavor and spice to American rye whiskeys than they are their Canadian predecessors.

Creative Finishing Casks

If there is one area where Canadian whisky really shines, it is with the use of finishing casks. The loose rules and regulations Canadian distilleries have to abide by allow for blenders to be incredibly creative with how they finish their whiskies. Ex-bourbon, rum and sherry casks have been in use for some time, but now blenders have moved beyond spirits and have begun to experiment with ex-wine barrels, including former ice wines casks. Others blenders are keeping true to their northern roots and are finishing their whiskies in maple syrup casks, adding a sweet note to that balances out those spicy rye mash bills.

Potent Price Point

While prices for American bourbons and Scotch whiskies continue to climb, Canadian whisky holds steady at an incredible value. The category’s entry-level price point makes it ideal for consumers looking to ease into the often intimidating whisky category.

This affordability also makes it easy for consumers to trade-up for a more premium product without breaking the bank. Award-winning bottles of high-rye whisky can be had for around $30, while bottles with a 20-plus year age statement are available for around $100.

Flavors Still a Factor

Despite the rise of premium and super-premium Canadian whiskies, flavored whiskies continue to perform well in both the on and off-premise markets. Flavor innovations such as honey, apple and maple have led to strong sales for companies like Crown Royal and Revel Stoke. These on-trend flavors continue to bring new consumers into the Canadian whisky category, and as a result, gives businesses an opportunity to up-sell them down the line.

As 2017 comes to a close, it is clear that Canadian whisky is making gains among consumers. Talk to your Breakthru Beverage Sales Consultant today to explore our Canadian whisky portfolio and get ahead of this trend.

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