By Richard Thomas
Canadian whiskey has suffered an unjustified neglect in modern times, almost as much as rye whiskey. Among Canadian whiskeys, no label seems to have been overlooked as much as Canadian Club, a strange turn of events for a whiskey that was once ran like a river through Chicago speakeasies during the Prohibition-era reign of Al Capone. Once upon a time, it could have been argued that Canadian Club was America’s whiskey of choice, a historical note that period dramas Boardwalk Empire and Mad Men get right.
Canadian Club started with an American whiskey- and cider-maker, Hiram Walker. Driven to Windsor, Ontario by the mid-19th Century temperance movement, Walker’s Canadian Club dates its foundation back to 1858 and his original Detroit-based distillery, and the Windsor suburb of Walkerville is named for him. In the early days, Walker’s spirit was known simply as “Club Whisky” (Canadians use the Scots spelling), not putting “Canadian” into the title until 1890.
The core and entry-level whiskey of the extensive Canadian Club line is the 6 Year Old. This is basically the label’s classic, 150 year old product, albeit aged for one more year than was the case with Hiram Walker’s original whiskey.
Canadian Club is bottled at 80 proof (40% alcohol), unless you live in Australia and New Zealand, where it is cut to 74 proof (37% alcohol). The whiskey is made from a mashbill of rye, malted rye, barley and corn, and aged in new white oak barrels. It comes in an unimpressive brown glass bottle with a plastic cap top, but with an old fashioned label that speaks to Canadian Club’s long history.
In the glass, Canadian Club has a deep gold color. That left me wondering why the bottle was brown — why not show that coloring off?! The nose is very grainy, with the mid-bodied scent of sweet barley. The flavor is thickly sweet, and I would almost call it mellow if it were not for the hint of a spicy bite. The finish is the same: sweet, smooth, and with just a bit of spiciness. Canadian Club 6 Year Old is often used as a mixer, but unlike some other whiskeys in that category, it is pleasant enough on its own or with a little ice.
Canadian Club 6 Year Old is a mass market whiskey, so it often retails for a modest $18 or so per 750 ml bottle. However, you can find the stuff marked down to as little as $12 for the standard fifth bottle, or $20 for the big 1.75-liter bottle. In the UK, this whiskey goes for about 18£, and for about 20 euros on the Continent.