Canadian Club Reserve, which comes pretty well in a Jim Beam Black Whisky bottle (Canadian Club is owned by Beam, which is now owned by Suntory), used to be a 10 year old offering, but is now a year younger, following the trend of many distillers nowadays – offering up younger stock to keep up with demand, or else utilizing barrels which are younger but still fit the flavour profile. Many times, it may not matter at all – age is not as good an indicator of taste and quality as many believe.
One of the best selling Canadian Whiskies, Canadian Club is full also of history (and myth). It is sold in more than 150 countries, and is produced out of the Hiram Walker distillery in Windsor, Ontario and originally crafted under Hiram Walker himself. In the 19th century, this whisky was very popular in gentlemen’s clubs, and it hence received the name “Club Whisky”. Eventually, “Canadian” was added to the label, due to pressure from the States in order to tarnish their competition (this part of the story, I believe, may be more legend than truth). Regardless, as it was known for quality, the “Canadian” helped the whisky’s success, resulting in other non-Canadian brands falsely putting “Canadian” on their labels. One big reason for the relative quality of Canadian whisky at the time was the institution of aging requirements before they were instituted in any other country (1 year in 1887, 2 years in 1890, and then 3 years in 1974; source: Canadian Whisky, Davin De Kergommeax).
Here’s another whisky from Hiram Walker distillery, and one of the budget brands of Corby (also producers of Pike Creek, Lot no. 40, among others). According to the label, it’s been around since 1881 – which would have been a time when Henry Corby would have been around (though at 75 years of age) and his son, Harry, was about to take the reigns at the Corby distillery in Corbyville, near Belleville. Henry Corby is one of the founding figures of Canadian whisky, and, among other things, was a member of parliament and, obviously, now has a town named after him. And, of course, he made a lot of whisky.
Here’s another Canadian whisky with histroy. According to Davin De Kergommeax’s fabulous book Canadian Whisky, it was first produced at the McGuinness distillery in Toronto, but in the 1980s production was moved to Corby distillery in Corbyville, near Belleville. When this was closed, moved to Hiram Walker Distillery.
This whisky was first made in 1951, by master distiller Jack Napier. He called in “Black Velvet” after loving the taste. It is distilled in the Black Velvet distillery in Lethbridge, Alberta, even though originally it was distilled at a Toronto distillery where demand caused a new distillery to be built in Alberta. It is “blended at birth”, which involves blending an aged 90% rye whisky (aged 2 years) with corn spirit right off the still before being put into Buffalo Trace bourbon barrels. This whisky is extremely popular in the US – less so in Canada, and can even be hard to find in Ontario.
This whisky has also been around forever. According to the bottle, OFC stands for “Original Fine Canadian”. The back of the bottle references 25 gold medals in 27 competitions of Monde Selection, dating back all the way to Paris in 1973. Impressive. However, I did wonder what monde selection was – it’s an international quality competition that evaluates everything from wine, spirits, and beer to soft drinks and other food products. Online, it was hard to find exactly how OFC did, and when they last won – and, frankly, how prestigious those awards are as I don’t often see mentions of the competition.
This whisky is a marriage of three whiskies, of different ages, to create a whisky which has both the body and complexity of an older whisky and the bite of a younger one. It’s been around for a long time – since 1856. It is made, most likely, at the Valleyfield distillery in Quebec.