Here in America we have categories like rye, single malt whiskey, bourbon, wheat whiskey, etc. But Canadian whiskey doesn’t have thus kind of system. Instead we have this:
- Almost all Canadian whiskeys are single-distillery blends
- Canadians don’t use mixed grain mash bills like Americans.
- Rather, Canadian distilleries make two or more single grain whiskey (Usually corn, rye, or barley.)
- A base whiskey is distilled to over 90% ABV. This produces a clearer, more neutral spirit than most traditional whiskey. It is then aged in oak barrels at over 80% ABV
- Critics say that the result is closer to grain neutral spirits, like vodka. For comparison, straight whiskey may be distilled to no more than 80% ABV, and barreled at no more than 62.5% ABV. This retains more of the grain’s organic molecules, which impart its characteristic taste.
- A flavoring whisky, from a different grain, is distilled, to a lower alcohol content, and aged in oak barrels, new or used, for at least 3 years.
- The distiller then blends together the base whiskey with the flavoring whiskey; this may then be aged for a few more years. The blend is usually more base whiskey, and less flavoring whiskey.
- By law they may add up 9.09% of additional ingredients: wine, brandy, rum, imported American whiskey, caramel coloring.
So we could defined a Canadian whiskey as a single distillery blend made of (a) some part pure-corn mashbill whiskey, aged 3 or more years, with (b) some part other-grain mashbill whiskey, aged 3 or more years, with (c) additional ingredients.
If this had been produced here in the USA?
If we produced this here in the USA, what would it be called, following Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) rules? Base whiskey would be halfway between whiskey and grain neutral spirits. CFR27 designates “light whiskey”, as “…whisky produced in the United States at more than 160 proof. So, if made in the USA, we could have:
solely base whiskey: light whiskey. Very few Canadian whiskeys fall into this category. Some award wining Canadian whiskeys are made this way, however.
base and flavoring whiskey : blended light whiskey.
Due to the distillers keeping their blends proprietary, it is not clear how many Canadian whiskeys fall into this category. Perhaps most. If readers know of such a list, please drop me a line.
base and flavoring whiskey, with 2.5 to 9.09% of additional spirits, wines, caramel and flavors: flavored whiskey. Most Canadian whiskey may fall into this category. At the higher end of this added ingredients range, flavored whiskey is what some people might call a mixed drink.
Historical terminology: Some call Canadian whiskey “rye”, because it often had some amount of rye in the mash bill, as opposed to a pure malt, wheat or corn whiskey. But for Americans that name is unhelpful. Most Canadian whiskey has only a low percent of rye, while American rye whiskey has a mashbill of 51% or more rye.