Those who understand whiskey lore will realize that my first taste of whisky was not bourbon, not Tennessee whiskey, and not American whiskey. The hint is in the spelling. I realize that there are American distilleries that drop the E for marketing purposes. Maker’s Mark is famous for using whisky vs. whiskey on its label.
Whisky vs. Whiskey
A rule of thumb is that countries containing the letter E, such as America and Ireland, refer to their fermented grains as whiskey. Scotland, Canada, and even India use the spelling of whisky. I apologize if you already understood the difference. Many readers do not. Therefore, my first taste of whisky was not an American product, mainly because my family would not spend the additional dollars for a premium brand like Maker’s Mark back in the day.
Living in Detroit
I was born in Dearborn, Michigan but lived most of my youth in several Detroit neighborhoods. Some areas were better than others, but every Detroit neighborhood is located close to Windsor, Ontario. Many of my earliest memories of whisky involved Canadian brands. I remember a Christmas season gift brought to many parties: a bottle or a box containing Canadian Club Whisky. Usually with a festive bow attached. Canadian Club was the “good stuff,” and lesser brands such as Corby’s were around but not usually presented as a gift. It was not all Canadian, as I remember bottles of Kessler’s and Seagram’s Seven Crown, but the Canadian Club made an impression. Canadian Club was the signature drink of Don Draper in the Mad Men series, so it has a lot of street cred.
Bourbon Whiskey vs. Canadian Whisky
I love the purity of bourbon whiskey. Bourbon is made from grain mash with at least 51% corn and some yeast and water. Add that to a new charred oak container, and you have bourbon. It is a wonderfully simple and unadulterated product. Canadian whisky is a vastly different animal. It is often a blend made from corn whiskey with a bit of rye whiskey flavoring added. Caramel and flavoring can be added to Canadian Whisky by distillers to enhance their products. Also, used barrels are used in the maturation process, frequently producing a lighter color common among Canadian whisky.
Back to my first taste of whisky
When I was young, I remember a combination of whisky, honey, and lemon for a sore throat and cough. I am pretty sure it also helped me sleep through the night. I actually remember my pediatrician, whose office was in the historic Fisher Building in Detroit, agreeing with that homemade medicine. Does it sound like a hot toddy without the heat? However, I never remember it being warm other than the heat of the whisky.
Canadian Club on steroids
The Hiram Walker Company created Canadian Club Whisky in Detroit. He moved his business across the river as Michigan was going dry just before prohibition. There is no doubt that Canadian Club was smuggled across the river and found its way to speakeasies throughout the Midwest. Canadian Club is now a brand made by the Beam Suntory Group. For those who identify with or are curious about Canadian Whisky, we just sampled two distinct Canadian Club releases from their Chronicles series. One is forty-two years old and titled “The Dock Man,” The second is called “Speakeasy” and is forty-three years old. Please find out how they are vastly different by watching HERE.