The Best Canadian Whiskies
Scotch and Bourbon whisky are the two most popular versions of the alcoholic beverage. But an underrated version of the drink is Canadian whisky. Canada is home to many whisky brands, which are popular all over the world. Canadian whisky is valued for its affordability, versatility, and smooth taste.
If you want to learn more about Canadian whisky, then you have come to the right place. This buying guide lists the best Canadian whisky for 2023 in various categories. But first, let’s take a look at something you should know and consider before you buy your bottle of Canadian whisky.
Things to know about Canadian whisky
Requirements: The Canada Food and Drugs act has a list of requirements that distillers must meet in order for their product to be labeled Canadian whisky. They are:
- The whisky must be mashed, distilled, and aged in Canada.
- The whisky must be aged in a barrel for 3 years or more.
- The whisky must have an abv (alcohol by volume) of 40% or more.
- The whisky can contain caramel and flavouring. This is optional.
Age: Like other whiskies, the older the age of a Canadian whisky, the better it is. With an older whisky, you get more interesting flavours, aromas, and textures. So, if those characteristics are things you prioritize, then you should go with an older whisky. If not, then you go with a younger Canadian whisky. Its also worth noting that older Canadian whisky have a higher price.
Canadian Whisky Types
Unlike scotch whisky, Canadian whisky has very few types. People usually separate them into two categories: rye and blended. Rye whiskies tend to have a spicy taste, while blended whiskies generally have smoother flavour. However, even if a company claims their product is a rye whisky, it might actually be made from multiple grains. Therefore, it would be a blended whisky. This lack of distinct types means that Canadian whisky has a variable taste profile. The taste you get from one brand to another can differ greatly.
Best Canadian whisky overall
Crown Royal is the most popular Canadian whisky brand in the world. Known for its crown shaped bottle, memorable logo, and the famous purple bag, Crown Royal have produced some beloved whisky. The Northern Harvest may be their most acclaimed version due to it being named World Whisky of the Year for 2016 by well known whisky critic Jim Murray. While this award was met with some criticism by whisky aficionados, Crown Royal Northern Harvest has many fine qualities that make it worthy of the title.
Crown Royal Northern Harvest is made form a blend of grains. This creates a versatile and interesting drink. The aroma of the whisky is dominated by spice and fruit scents like apple and apricot. People have described the taste as having hints of butterscotch, spiced vanilla, and oak tones. The finish is often described as smooth and creamy.
The consensus on Crown Royal Northern Harvest that it is a huge step above their normal whisky. Many people highlighted the smooth and sweet flavour of the whisky. Plus, this whisky usually sells for $33.00-$40.00, which is a good deal for popular whisky. The downside to Crown Royal Northern Harvest is that it has to live up to being awarded the best whisky in the world for 2016. When judged against whisky from places like Scotland, Northern Harvest holds its own. But it does not quite live up to the hype of being best in the world. Still, many whisky experts still feel that Crown Royal Northern Harvest is an excellent Canadian whisky.
- Affordable price for a higher-end whisky.
- Blended grains create a smooth and sweet flavour.
- Does not live up to the hype of being named the best whisky in the world for 2016.
Best affordable Canadian whisky
Canadian Club 1858
Canadian Club is another stable of Canadian Whisky. Founded in 1858, Canadian Club established its popularity during the U.S. prohibition of 1920s; the company sold their whisky to American gangsters like Al Capone. Canadian Club soon became the most smuggled whisky in the U.S. In 2023, the company continues their legacy with the Canadian Club 1858.
The aroma of Canadian Club 1858 is fresh and soft with hints of almond and peppery spice. The flavour is described as “spicy and zesty” with notes of oak and vanilla. This gives the whisky a sweeter taste. Lastly the finish is smooth and lingers with an oaky texture.
On most liquor store websites, Canadian Club 1858 sells for $30.00. For a 720 ml bottle, this is a good deal. The main positive about Canadian Club 1858 is it is great to use in cocktails or on the rocks (whisky with ice). Many people said that the whisky paired well with ice and mixers like vermouth, bitters or cola. However, Canadian Club 1858 does not perform as well when drunk neat (on it own). One reviewer said that it had an overpowering acetone smell and taste, which only went away when ice or a mixer was added. Other people concluded that Canadian Club 1858 is a good drink, but there are better whiskies out there for a higher price.
- Works well in mixed drinks or with ice
- Good price for what you get.
- Does not perform well on its own.
- Not as good as higher end whiskies.
Best rye Canadian whisky
As mentioned earlier, Canadian whisky is either made from multiple grains or rye. While many Canadian whiskies claim to be rye, they are in fact made from a blend of grains; rye is just the main ingredient. Alberta Premium Cask Strength is an actual Canadian whisky made from 100% rye grains.
This whisky can be considered an upgrade from the companies regular Albert Premium. The Cask Strength version has a amber gold colour and sweet and woody scent. The rye grains adds spiciness to the flavour, but you will also taste caramel, vanilla, and chocolate. The spiciness and sweetness lingers in the smooth finish.
Alberta Premium Cask Strength is a good drink for fans of rye whisky. Many customers said that the whisky had a good combination of spiciness and smoothness. Another positive highlighted was the aroma and flavour. They were also described as sweet and spicy. On the downside, people who do not like harsh, spicy whisky will probably not enjoy Alberta Premium Cask Strength. If that is the case for you, water or ice can be added to take the edge of. However, the harshness of the rye whisky may still be too overpowering.
- Good for rye whisky fans.
- People who do not like rye whisky may find it too harsh/spicy.
Best flavoured Canadian whisky
Crown Royal Peach
Over the years, Crown Royal has released flavoured whiskies. Some popular examples include Green Apple, Vanilla, and Salted Caramel. In February 2019, the company released Crown Royal Peach. The whisky became an instant sensation. Liquor store could not keep the drink in stock; they would sell out in a couple of hours. The popularity of Crown Royal Peach is likely due to its sweet flavour. The whisky is infused with Georgia peaches. This ingredient gives the whisky its fruity aroma and flavour. Even though Crown Royal Peach is a sugary whisky, it still has a bit of the bite associated with whiskies.
People loved Crown Royal Peach for its fruity taste and smell. It was a popular ingredient in cocktails, but it was also enjoyed on it own or with a few cubes of ice. For those just getting into whisky, Crown Royal Peach could be a good place to start. The taste and finish is not as harsh as regular whisky, but you will still have the usual spiciness to the drink. However, Crown Royal Peach may be too sweet for some people. And whisky purists may not like the flavour of this whisky. They would likely prefer the spicier and subtler taste of traditional whisky.
- A nice starter whisky for beginners.
- Appealing peach taste.
- Might be too sweet for some people (e.g., whisky purists).
Best aged Canadian whisky
J.P. Wiser’s 18 Year Old
While they are not as prevalent, aged Canadian whiskies are still popular among whisky fans. The best of the bunch is arguably J.P. Wiser’s 18 year old whisky. This single grain whisky is primarily made of corn, and it is aged in barrels used to age bourbon. The wood of the barrel, along with the aging process, makes J.P. Wiser’s 18 Year Old a complex but well balanced whisky. The aroma is dominated by green apple and orange peel, but you can also smell caramel and maple. The taste is a blend of green apple, caramel and spices (mostly cinnamon). The flavour also has a smoky texture. The finish is heavy on spice and oak with hints of maple, orange peel, cinnamon, and anise. A bit of bitterness also comes through.
The complexity and balanced feel of J.P. Wiser’s 18 Year Old were two positives highlighted by people. The general consensus was that this whisky was great to drink on its own, with a few drops of water, or with a few cubes of ice. However, some people did not like the bitterness that came through in the finish. One reviewer said that it detracted from the overall experience. Another downside to this whisky is its price. A bottle will usually go for $76.00-$80.00 CAD.
- Complex and balanced in terms of smell, taste, and finish.
- Good option for whisky fans.
- Bitterness in the finish can be too strong.
- Price is expensive.
For this buying guide, our team spent over 8 hours researching various Canadian whiskies. We gathered information from whisky review sites and from posts made to whisky related pages on Reddit. These reviews and posts gave us details about the whisky’s aroma and taste profile. We only considered whiskies that were generally favoured by customers and reviewers. Lastly, our team tried to pick Canadian whiskies that would appeal to every type of whisky drinker, from the die-hard fans to the beginners.
Frequently asked questions about Canadian whisky
What is Canadian whisky made from?
Almost all Canadian whisky is made from a blend of grains. This includes barley, corn, rye and wheat. There are some Canadian whiskies that are made from a single grain, like corn or rye whiskies.
How is Canadian whisky made?
Since Canadian whiskies only have four requirements to meet, distillers have much more freedom in the way they make their whisky. Therefore, it is hard to find a standardized approach to making Canadian whisky. However, there are some shared practices.
In general Canadian distilleries do not use a mash bill, which is a combination of grains used in whisky. Instead, each grain is fermented, distilled, and aged individually. After they mature, the grains are blended together. One exception to this Crown Royal, which uses a mash bill in their blending procedure.
In terms of distillation, Canadian whisky has two methods. The first is called base whisky. This method has the whisky distilled to a high alcohol content, which is then aged in previously used barrels. The second method is called flavouring whisky. These whiskies are distilled to a low alcohol content in column or pot stills. They are then aged in virgin oak, ex-bourbon barrels, or rye casks. After maturation, most distilleries combine the two methods together when blending the whisky.
With maturation, Canadian distilleries will age each grain separately. This gives the distillery the freedom to tailor a cask type to a specific grain. For example, rye aged in a lightly toasted barrel will retain its spicy and fruity flavour. Corn whisky matured in a charred barrel will develop a silky texture.
The last common practise is the 9.09% rule. This is a piece of legislation which states that whisky being exported as a blend can add up to 9.09% of non-whisky spirits into their product. This rule has caused uproar with some Canadian whisky fans. They fear distillers will put anything into the blend, which might ruin the taste. However, very few distillers use the 9.09% rule. And those who do use it to enhance their whisky. Furthermore, the rule states that that any whisky that has added spirits for flavouring must be aged for at least two years. This limits which alcohol distillers can add to their whisky. Bourbon and cognac can be added, but spirits like vodka or gin can not.
Where can I buy Canadian whisky?
Canadian whisky can be bought in liquor stores across Canada. You can also order for delivery or pickup; delivery may be restricted to the province the store is located in. For international customers, you can find Canadian whisky on some websites. For example, The Whisky Exchange sells Canadian Whisky to customers in the United Kingdom.
What is the difference between Canadian whisky and scotch and bourbon?
All three whiskies are closely related to each other, but they all have minor differences.
Bourbon is a type of whisky made in the United States. Unlike Canadian whisky, bourbon has more requirements it must meet. For example, it cannot exceed a proof rating of 80%, and it must be aged for at least 2 years. Lastly , bourbon is aged in oak barrels. In contrast, Canadian whisky must be aged at least 3 years in charred or un-charred barrels, plus distillers have more freedom when it comes to the proof. Another big difference between the two whiskies is the ingredients. On top of the usual ingredients, Canadian distillers can add other alcoholic spirits into their product. Bourbon has stricter regulations on what goes into the final mixture. In terms of flavour, Canadian whisky is more spicy, while bourbon tends have a mellower, softer taste.
Scotch whisky is made in Scotland, and it is arguably the most popular version of the drink. The requirements for scotch are that it must be primarily made of malted barley (other grains are optional), and it must be aged in oak barrels in Scotland for a minimum of 3 years. Additionally, only water and caramel color can be added to the mix. Like we mentioned earlier, the loose restriction for Canadian whisky means distillers have the freedom to experiment with various grain blends and additives. In terms of taste, scotch and Canadian whisky are quite similar. Blended scotch has the spicy texture associated with Canadian whisky. Single malt scotch has a more woody and smoky taste to it.
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