The plural of moose is moose. I like this. In fact, I like it so much that today I am boarding a plane slightly larger than a mid-1970s Volkswagen beetle – with pontoons in place of wheels – and flying to the land of moose.
Ok – if I’m honest I’m not going because of the moose. I’m going because of the whisky.
Tonight is the Eighth Annual Canadian Whisky Awards – held at the Hotel Grand Pacific in Victoria, British Columbia. And tomorrow and Saturday are the Victoria Whisky Festival – conveniently located also at the Grand Pacific. This is a great time, and I’ve been looking forward to it since blearily departing Victoria (again, in a frighteningly small flying contraption) one rainy Sunday morning last January.
It is an exciting time in the world of Canadian Whisky. As recently reported in the New York Times, the category has recently seen a tremendous resurgence. This has meant new producers entering the market with interesting offerings, as well as consumers (both inside and outside Canada) taking a second look at some old favorites. And while there are many reasons for this uptick, it is probably fair to heap a significant portion of the credit to one guy – Davin de Kergommeaux. Mr. de Kergommeaux – who I’m pleased to have had the good pleasure of meeting on a couple of occasions and who will be presiding over the Awards ceremony this evening – has been a tireless evangelist for Canadian spirits. His efforts have paid off.
So how is Canadian whisky different from spirits produced elsewhere? This is a question too large to fully answer in a single blog post (go read de Kergommeaux’s Portable Expert for a full discussion). But at the risk of vast oversimplification let me say that one primary difference is that Canadian whisky is quite commonly blended whisky – often containing distilled grains of many different types (e.g., barley, wheat, corn, rye). This means that Canadian producers are as much chefs as they are chemists – spending a lot of time matching aroma and flavor profiles from barrel to barrel to produce the specific desired expression. There is an awful lot of art to this (though still quite a bit of science).
From a legal perspective, here in the U.S. for something to be labeled Canadian Whisky it must have been produced… in Canada. And of course the TTB standards of identity call for two different versions “Canadian Whisky” – which must be unblended whisky manufactured in Canada in accordance with Canadian law – and “Blended Canadian Whisky” (or “Canadian Whisky – A Blend”). Care to guess the difference between the two types?
And what does it mean to be “manufactured in accordance with Canadian law”? Well, I’m not licensed in Canada so take this with a grain of salt – but based on some quick research it appears that it simply needs to have been mashed, distilled and aged in Canada for a minimum of three years, and have at least 40% alcohol by volume. That’s it. Simple. You want to make a quinoa and farro mash, take it off the still at 90% ABV and call it Canadian Whisky? No problem – as long as its done entirely in Canada, you age it three years and you don’t dilute it too much. Canada’s laid back like that.
Just like the moose.