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A Beginner’s Guide to Canadian Whisky

canadian whisky
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When it comes to Canadian whisky, not many people can claim to know more than Davin de Kergommeaux (if they do claim it, they’re probably wrong). He did, after all, literally write the book on the stuff. Canadian Whisky was such a success when it was first published that was brought back for a second round (and blurbed by the Great One himself in the process); the new edition was published in October 2017.

That’s why, when we had the chance to sit down with de Kergommeaux — a certified Malt Maniac and trained sommelier who has been drinking, talking, and writing about whisky for around two decades — we jumped at it faster than you can say “two minutes for cross-checking.”

During our conversation, we found out what you need to know about Canadian whisky if you know nothing about it (and where to start when you’re looking to buy some!).

How did you get into whisk(e)y?

At my annual physical many years ago my doctor told me that small amounts of alcohol were good for my cardio-vascular system. I loved whisky — Scotch first then all the rest — and by 1998 I was writing about it on the Maltmaniacs original website. People loved the site and we got lots of positive feedback, so I just kept going.

Image used with permission by copyright holder

Is there an overall flavor/taste that you would say can be said of Canadian whisky? If so, can you explain it?

There are three flavor touch points for Canadian whisky: butterscotch first, spice in the middle, and a pleasing citrus bitterness on the finish. In a couple of words: elegant, refined, complex.

What are three lower-end whiskies a Canadian whisky beginner should check out? 

Same question, but three higher-end whiskies?

Is there a Canadian whisky equivalent of the hubbub around Pappy?

Yes. Canadian Club 40 Year Old was $215-$250 when released last month. There was Wal-Mart-sale-style competition as people fought over it in the stores. It sold out instantly and already is going for $800 on the gray market.

Which smaller Canadian distillery (or two) do you think is/are primed to be the next big thing?

Still Waters in Toronto makes a great 100-percent rye and decent single malt whisky. They were the first of Canada’s new generation microdistilleries and have been very intelligent and strategic about how they make and market their whisky. I think it is just a matter of time before a larger distiller buys them out.

Anything else a newbie to Canadian whisky might want to/should know before buying their first bottle?

Yes. Don’t buy the cheapest or you will likely be disappointed. Spend just $5 more and you will be amply rewarded.

Want to know more about Canadian whisky? Check out this list of some of our favorites under $20, then go pick up Canadian Whisky and enjoy both together.

Sam Slaughter
Sam Slaughter was the Food and Drink Editor for The Manual. Born and raised in New Jersey, he’s called the South home for…
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