Questions about Canadian whiskey


Canadian whiskey is usually a blend of 2 products, from the same distillery.

(A) The base whiskey is distilled to over 90% ABV, which is what people in other countries usually call GNS (grain neutral spirits, like vodka) Then it is aged in barrels, sometimes already used ones, at over 80%, which is way higher than allowed in any other country.

The resulting product – if sold by itself – wouldn’t legally qualify as whiskey in Scotland or Ireland; it’d be closer to grain neutral spirit.

But then it is blended with (B) The flavouring whisky – distilled to a lower alcohol content.

Chuck Cowdery writes

“By Canadian law, Canadian whisky may contain up to 9.09 percent of alcohol sources that are not Canadian whisky, which might be wine, brandy, rum, etc., just about anything as long as it contains alcohol. For Canadian whisky destined for the U.S. market, American straight whiskey may be some or all of that 9.09 percent component.”

So may be more like flavored GNS (grain neutral spirit like vodka) than whiskey! Chuck continues:

” All Canadian whiskies are a blend of flavorful low proof whiskey and more neutral high proof whiskey, and they never talk about the ratios, but you can be confident that fifty-fifty is unusual. That ratio is entirely up to the distiller, there is no law about it, but in most products the percentage of high proof spirits is much higher than 50 percent. What’s more, 53.5 percent of the spirit in the bottle was aged in new, charred oak barrels. That’s virtually unheard of for Canadian whisky, most of which is aged in used bourbon barrels. The standard profile of Canadian whiskey is a little bit of flavorful low proof whiskey cut with a large serving of nearly flavorless high proof whiskey, which gives the product a pleasant but mild taste”

Question 1

I am wondering how low it is distilled? And barreled at what alcohol level?

In the US, straight whiskey may be distilled to no more than 80% ABV, and then it is barreled at no more than 62.5% ABV.

Seems like Canadian whiskey wouldn’t be very good, unless the flavoring whiskey had much lower alcohol percentages? Or is this why they need to often add additives?


Question 2

Got questions about additives, too: Davin de Kergommeaux writes:

> The addition of non-whisky flavouring − the so-called 9.09%
> rule − is sometimes talked about on chat boards, although it
> is poorly understood. This is a practice that is not nearly
> as prevalent as some people suggest. It is more of a
> footnote to a discussion of the elements of Canadian whisky
> production. In a nutshell, to aid U.S. producers, American
> tax law provides financial incentives for foreign spirits that
> include some American-made spirits. For high-volume
> bottom-shelf whiskies this is a substantial tax break.
> For lower-volume whiskies it is often not worth the effort.
> Thus, some Canadian whiskies made for the U.S. market
> include American spirits even though the version of the
> same whisky made for the Canadian market (and the rest of
> the world) often will not.

Ok, so up to 9.09% of a Canadian whiskey could be American whiskey, so they get to sell it in America with tax breaks. Fine. It is still whiskey, just a blend.

But is it always this? Nope. Some or all of this 9.09% could be other stuff.

> As well, in some cases, regardless of the intended market,
> small amounts of foreign spirit will be added to enhance
> certain flavours. This is further complicated by the use of the
> words “wine” and “sherry” to describe some of these
> additives, even though the actual liquid used bears little
> or no resemblance to what the general public perceives
> wine or sherry to be.

Some part of this is Ok. Like Scotland they allow a small amount of caramel coloring – but what other flavors might they add? How common is this?

Do any Canadian whiskey makers really add up to 9% of “flavors”, sugars, colors, etc? At that point it would be a flavored whiskey, or a cocktail.

Question 3 – “One can add any amount of imported spirits or wine, for example, to Canadian whisky” ?!

Is this in fact still allowed in Canada?

Is such wine-diluted “whiskey” sold here in the US as if it is whiskey?

Clarification would be much appreciated!

Gary Gillman said: Chuck, from July 1, 2009, the 9.09% rule no longer applies to Canadian whisky sold in Canada. One can add any amount of imported spirits or wine, for example, to Canadian whisky. The only restriction would flow from a separate part of the Canadian laws regulating this area which state that Canadian whisky must have the aroma and other character typically associated with Canadian whisky. In practice, I’d think it very difficult to apply that rule in practice, but theoretically in other words, if you added so much tequila to Canadian whisky such that it tasted like dilute tequila, arguably you have broken this rule, but again not one pertaining to 9.09%.

However, for exported Canadian whisky, the 9.09% is still relevant, in two ways: first, if more than 9.09% of the absolute alcohol in the bottle is non-Canadian whisky, e.g. bourbon, then if the age of the bourbon is lower than the age of the whisky it is added to, that age must be stated on the label. If the 9.09% is not exceeded, you can claim the age of the whisky it is added to even though it is younger.

Also, if the whisky is exported and the importer wants a certificate stating it is Canadian whisky, then the whisky cannot comprise more than 9.09% imported spirits.

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Map of Canada 1898


One comment

  1. A few points. Scotch Whiskey can be distilled at the same high proofs as Canadian. Few disparage the quality of fine scotch.
    Even at the higher distillation proofs, the regulations require the distillate to retain the character of the grain, this is the opposite of GNS.
    Canadian, Irish and Scotch Whisky must be aged for a minimum of 3 Years in Oak. American whisky has no length of age requirement.
    I think of the 9.09% rule as a shortcut that is analogous to cask finishing Scotch. A cask finish can easily add 9.09% of flavor but in a more roundabout way.


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