A History of Our Whisky

Today, Canadian whisky ranges from timeless classics to unique tastes pioneered by a new crop of distillers in their own special ways. Here's where it all began.

“Innovation has always been at the heart of Canadian spirits,” says Davin de Kergommeaux, author of Canadian Whisky: The Portable Expert. The pioneers of Canadian whisky making were just that: humble farmers who would reserve a modest share of grains from their autumn harvest to craft their own personal stock. By the 20th century, Canada was home to the world’s largest spirits maker, Gooderham & Worts, in what is now Toronto’s Distillery District. Meanwhile, when Prohibition took hold south of the border in the 1920s, all was not lost here. Over the next few decades, brands such as Crown Royal, J.P. Wiser’s and Canadian Club grew into whisky icons, our spirits became synonymous with smoothness, and they were celebrated for their easy-going nature. To this day, our ability to distill smooth whisky — well-balanced blends made with locally grown grains — gives our spirits an enviable signature character.

The Legends

In 1858, Hiram Walker, a successful grocer, created a new whisky at his distillery near Windsor, Ont. An instant hit in Canada, it was sold exclusively in gentlemen’s clubs in the U.S., where it became known as “club whisky.” Eventually rebranded as Canadian Club, the smooth barrel-aged liquor helped solidify Canada’s reputation for exceptional spirits. Today Canadian Club — or, simply, CC — is one of the most iconic whiskies in the world. It's just one of the legends that have been around almost as long as the country itself (and, in some cases, even longer). For a taste of classic Canadian whisky style, start your sipping right here.

The New Wave

Today Canada is home to a growing roster of craft distilleries, which produce spirits that include tequila, gin, vodka, rum and, of course, whisky. “As interest in our homegrown spirits intensifies, our distillers are experimenting with new flavours and methods,” says de Kergommeaux. “People would rather drink better quality. That means more depth of flavour in the glass.” Our contemporary whisky makers continue to push the front edge of a hallowed Canadian tradition. These whiskies clearly declare that our pursuit of excellence is bred in the bone. (And best enjoyed with friends, of course.)

The Deluxe

How to stand out in the crowded field of great Canadian whiskies? Diverge from the path commonly taken and explore avenues that introduce greater depth and complexity to the resulting spirit. By adding fresh twists to the process, these distillers pay tribute to the craft and rouse flavours that are entirely unique. Although we're ever humble, the quality of Canadian whisky is truly something to be proud of, and the world has taken notice. These luxe whiskies are garnering international acclaim — for very good reasons.