The Canadian Whisky tradition is very similar to the whiskey traditions in the United States. The Canadian whisky sold then and now have more in common with Bourbon and Rye whiskeys than the Malt whiskies of Scotland and Ireland. At the same time the Canadians, like the Scots and Irish, went down the road of blended whiskey in the late 19th / early 20th centuries when the American distillers pushed for straight whiskey with the Bottled-in-Bond Act of 1897 and the Pure Food and Drug Act of 1906.
Lorraine Brown’s book will help you understand how and why the Canadian whiskies started very much like the whiskey made in the United States, yet changed course later to become the blended product sold today. The book was funded by the big Canadian distilleries in the 1990s and focuses mostly on those companies, but there is enough research on the smaller companies to make the reader want to find out more about them. Like the small distilleries in the United States, they seem to have all been put out of business by a combination of government regulations and the economy of scale that made competing with the big companies impossible in the years after World War II. I do know that there has been a growing artisan distilling movement in Canada that has grown along side of the movement in the United States.
With the demise of Seagram as an independent company, Canada no longer has a huge distilling company in the international market. They still have some very large brands owned by people outside of Canada. It will be interesting to see if one of the smaller artisan distilleries in Canada can grow to be the next Seagram, Hiram-Walker or Gooderham and Worts in the 21st. century.
The Story of Canadian Whisky: 200 Years of Tradition, by Lorraine Brown. Markham, Ontario: Fitzhenry & Whiteside, 1994. Contents, Notes, Bibliography, Index, Illustrated, Pp. 149.
This book was copyrighted by the now closed Seagram Museum. It was paid for by the big Canadian distillers. With that said up front, the book is still a nice little history of Canadian Whisky distilling. Little is the key word here. There are only 149 pages and most pages are filled with illustrations. Clearly, the history is only a brief survey of 200 years of distilling.
The history starts with some of the earliest distilleries and focuses mostly on Seagram, Hiram Walker and Gooderham and Worts. The other distilleries are more afterthought than anything. The book’s charm is also its weakness. There are many interesting illustrations and photographs. They dominate the book and it would have been nice if Brown had expanded the text a little in some subjects, even if that meant dropping some illustrations and photographs.
Why is a book on Canadian Whisky a must for a Bourbon Library? The answer is simply that Bourbon did not grow in a vacuum and the Canadian whisky industry did impact the American whiskey industry. The most obvious case is Hiram Walker and the Canadian Club brand. Hiram Walker really created the idea of “Brand Identity” for American whiskey and it is important to know his story to understand what was going on in the Bourbon industry at the same time.
Photos Courtesy of Rosemary Miller