We’re neck-deep in a modern whisk(e)y boom but, somehow, Canadian whisky still hasn’t received its due. Part of that is that a lot of the best barrels produced in Canada are sent down to the U.S., where they end up in WhistlePig and Barrell Craft Spirit bottles (among many others). Another part is that the style hasn’t quite made an impression yet on its own. Root causes aside, it’s a shame that Canadian whiskey doesn’t get its due, because there are some gems being made right now.
To help you dip your toes into the tipple from up north, I decided to pull the eight Canadian whiskies that won double gold at the 2022 San Francisco World Spirits Competition. There’s really not a better place to start than with whiskies that wowed the pros. After looking at the results, I realized that there were only 34 Canadian whisky entries this year, which is less than the American whisky entries by about a factor of 30. Moreover, I’ve never heard of some of the whiskies that actually took home the double gold this year, and I sample a lot of whiskies, folks. So, I’ve filled in my tasting notes where I can and grabbed tasting notes from the distillery where I couldn’t.
Let’s get into and find you a Canadian whisky to try.
Also Read: The Top 5 UPROXX Bourbon Posts Of The Last Six Months
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- The Best Ten-Year-Old Bourbon Whiskeys, Tasted Blind And Ranked
BEARFACE Whisky Elementally Aged Triple Oak
Average Price: $44
This single grain whisky from the northern Ontario wilderness is all about the aging process. The juice spends seven years resting in ex-bourbon barrels before being transferred into both old French oak and toasted Hungarian oak for a final maturation. That whisky is then blended and cut down with natural spring water for bottling.
Tasting Notes (from the distiller):
“Honey, marzipan, crème brûlée, butter and natural vanilla. Dry fruits and cranberry. Subtle flavors of saffron, balsamic, apricot, and a hint of pear. Spice, black cardamom, orange peel, mandarin, brown sugar, and smoke.”
They had me a “marzipan” and “cranberry.” Seriously, this sounds delicious and I’m definitely going to spend some time seeking it out.
Eau Claire Distillery Rupert’s Exceptional Canadian Whisky
Average Price: $28
Coming from Alberta, this whisky is blended by Master Distiller Caitlin Quinn to feel like the brand’s signature single malt. The whisky is aged in oak for an undisclosed amount of time before blending, proofing, and bottling to highlight fruits and honey.
On the nose, Rupert’s Whisky starts with a sweetness and a hint of red fruits, chocolate, and nutmeg. The whisky then continues to a dried fruit and slightly nutty finish.
This is a whisky that I’d keep an eye out for if I was in Alberta. It’s nice but a little more like a cocktail base than a killer sipper.
The Fort Distillery Mountain Pass Canadian Whisky
Average Price: $29
This northern Canadian whisky is made with a 100 percent corn mash. It’s then aged for four to six years in ex-bourbon barrels before it’s blended, proofed with glacier water, and bottled.
There’s a sense of that corn on the nose with a hint of dried-out cobs that give way to old vanilla beans, a hint of dark spice, soft raisins, and plenty of rocky water. The palate leans into the vanilla with a line of butterscotch, cinnamon, and sweetgrass rounding things out. The finish is short with a return of those dried cobs, a little more butterscotch, and plenty of vanilla.
I tried this at a tradeshow last year. It was fine but fell squarely in the mixer column.
Pendleton Midnight Whiskey
Average Price: $39
This whisky is part of Hood River, Oregon, and part of Canada’s northern wilderness. The whisky starts off in Canada and ages for six years in American brandy barrels. That juice is then sent to Oregon where it’s blended and cut with glacier runoff from Mount Hood.
The nose opens with a mix of prune, figs, dark berry fruit leather, cinnamon sticks dipped in apple cider, a hint of eggnog, and a whisper of ginger snaps. The taste largely follows in the nose’s footsteps with a banana bread vibe with plenty of nutmeg, walnuts, butter, and a hint of old cedar box. The dry cedar carries through to the finish with a hint of walnut tobacco that’s just touched by the spice and leathery dark fruit.
This is a pretty solid sipper all around, especially for $40 (give or take). The best part is that you can actually find this pretty easily on the West Coast and a few other states around the country. If you do snag a bottle, try it over some rocks first and they start experimenting with cocktails from there.
Pike Creek 10-Year-Old Canadian Whisky
Average Price: $33
Hailing from the famed Hiram Walker warehouses in Ontario, Pike Creek 10 is a blend of rye and corn whiskies. Those whiskies are blended and then filled into rum barrels for a final maturation before blending, proofing, and bottling.
The nose opens with a mix of dried fruits and old nuts with a hint of chocolate and spice, kind of like a wintry trail mix. Dark fruits dance with rich caramel, vanilla, and rum molasses. Toffee, cream soda, figs, and plenty of rye spice counterpoint that rum sweetness on the palate. Freshly milled lumber arrives with a hint of orange on a sweet and warming finish with a touch of rainwater cutting things a little short.
This is a pretty solid whisky all around. It has a serious depth but still feels very drinkable, thanks to those low ABVs. I do think this would be a killer if it wasn’t cut down so low on the proof though.
Shelter Point Distillery Single Malt Whisky
Average Price: $82
This is a classic single malt, made with malted barley, from Oyster River, British Columbia. The whisky around five years mellowing in ex-bourbon barrels next to the seas, which emulates the great single malts of the Islands of Scotland.
Tasting Notes (from the distiller):
“The whisky shows a balanced marriage of fruits, caramel, barley, baking spices, honey, seaside whiff, hints of wine, smoke, and the sweet leathery mouthfeel of a high-quality single malt.”
This had me thinking about driving up to Vancouver. A seaside single malt from a place called Oyster River sounds like something I’d like a lot.
Shelter Point Distillery Smoke Point
Average Price: $58
This is the same whisky as above but with a few ripples. In this case, the whisky is made from malted and unmalted barley. That juice is then filled into ex-bourbon barrels for five years. Those barrels are then blended and filled into ex-peated whisky barrels from Islay for a final maturation.
Tasting Notes (from the distiller):
“Smoke Point whisky is sweet, medicinal, and smoky on the nose with vanilla and caramel, with hints of a campfire. The palate is sweet and salty, with peated warmth comforting the soul. The satisfying finish is a delicious combination of creaminess with spices and toffee.”
You had me at “Islay peated whisky barrel finish.” I’m going to get my hands on these whiskies for reviews very soon. Stay tuned!
Swear Jar Craft Distillers Whisky
Average Price: $22
Coming from Quebec, this whisky is made with a mash of Canadian rye, wheat, and barley. The whisky then spends three years mellowing in oak before blending, proofing with local well water, and bottling as-is.
This has a nose full of lemon pepper, transporting you straight back to 1995, alongside hints of sweet oak, allspice berries, and a sliver of Irish Spring soap. The palate balances wintry spices — cloves and anise especially — with black peppercorns, a touch of stained pine panels, and boot polish. The finish leans into the polished leather as the pine and cloves mellow toward a soft caramel sweetness that’s slightly washed out by the low proof.
This is a wild ride. The first time I had it — at a whisky show last year — I didn’t really get it. I had one more time and it’s still a hard sell for me, even on a lot of ice.