What is Canadian Whiskey?

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  • Written By: J. Leach
  • Edited By: Michelle Arevalo
  • Last Modified Date: 24 February 2020
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Canadian whiskey is a type of whiskey made according to Canadian law. To be labeled as such, the law stipulates that the alcoholic beverage must be mashed, distilled, and aged within Canada. It also requires that the whiskey be aged at least three years. These whiskeys are usually made from a fermented grain mash that can include corn, wheat, barley, or rye. A mash is a combination of milled grain and water. The whiskeys that Canada produces often have a light body and flavor.

The term whiskey can also be spelled whisky. The Scots and Canadians spell it without the e, whereas in Ireland and the United States an e is added. The earliest recorded use of either form of the word is from a 15th century Scottish document.

Each country that produces this alcoholic beverage has particular criteria for it, which creates distinctive regional characteristics. Most manufacture it by combining varying quantities of different grains, and the various mixes create unique flavors. Even the water used by each producer can alter the resulting taste.


The Canadian whiskey industry started in the 19th century. In its earliest Canadian forms, the beverage was made primarily from rye, and over time other grains were used. Rye confers quite a bit of flavor and gives whiskey a spiciness that can be smelled and tasted. Even today, Canadian brands are often a combination of rye and other grains. If the spirit has a high percentage of rye, it is usually labeled as a rye whiskey, but this does not mean that it does not contain other grains.

Most mixes for Canadian whiskey now contain quite a bit of corn and wheat. Corn, in particular, has increasingly become the most common ingredient in grain mashes. Mashes containing high amounts of corn create a much lighter-flavored beverage. Blends like this are very popular because their taste is often preferred in cocktails.

Once the Canadian whiskey has been distilled, it is poured into barrels and aged. During this process, the wood and alcohol undergo a chemical reaction which alters the flavor and color of the whiskey. The product is often not finished, however, once aging is completed. To achieve a consistent-tasting brand of Canadian whiskey, the batches usually need to be blended in order to match the existing product the company has on the market.

A master blender working for the company typically samples each batch of whiskey, and develops a master recipe. This is a formula to blend various quantities of different batches the distillery has produced. Once a master recipe has been created, the batches are mixed together and bottled.

Single malt whiskeys are made from only one grain, like barley. This type of spirit is quite common in Scotland, and, if it is made in that country, it is known as a single malt scotch. The only single malt whiskey that is produced in Canada is made in Nova Scotia, by the Glenora Distillery. It is one of the oldest single malt whiskeys produced in North America.


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