Canadian whiskey dominance, and in particular Seagrams, can be attributed to prohibition.
During this infamous dry period in US history, Canadian whiskey literally poured down the hill into America's illicit speakeasies.
After prohibition was abolished in 1933, the Federal Alcohol Administration allocated the importation of 3,314,443 gallons of whiskey (it was guessed for medicinal purposes).
Most of this came from Canada. The results of this boon can be seen in the various buildings, libraries, and hospitals in downtown Montrèal bearing the name Bronfman, the founding family of Seagram's.
The most popular brands of Canadian whiskey Crown Royal, Seagram's V.O. and C.C. and are called for in bars all over the world. For drinkers new to whiskey, these are some of the lightest and easiest whiskeys to swallow.
Canadian whiskey is often offered to the drinker who has ordered "a rye".
Some Canadian whiskies are even designated as rye on the label.
This is an accurate, but confusing description. Whatever their labels say, all Canadian whiskies are of the same style.
The classic method of production is to blend rye and perhaps other whiskies, with relatively neutral spirit. These are, indeed rye whiskies - but as blends. They are quite different from the traditional straight rye of the United States.
That is the original "rye".
The best Canadian whiskey has at least some of the spicy, bitter-sweet character of rye, lightened with the blending spirit. In some instances, this too is distilled from rye but the raw material hardly matters, since it is rectified close to neutrality.
More often, the blending spirit is made from corn. A further component of the palate is a dash of the vanilla sweetness to be found in Bourbon.
This may result from a proportion of Bourbon-type whiskey having been used in the blend, or it may derive from the wood used in aging. Such is the pungency of straight rye and Bourbon that their characteristics are powerfully evident in the palate of a good Canadian whiskey despite its being a very dilute blend.
There is as little as three percent of straight whiskey in some Canadian Whiskey, more often four or five, but not as much as ten.
This dash of flavour is counterpointed with the lightness of body provided by the far greater proportion of the neutral spirit.
One characteristic of many Canadian whiskey is its use of rye that has been malted. This provides a characteristic smoothness and fullness of flavour.
Unmalted ryes are also used.
Most blends include more than one rye whiskey, and for this purpose a single distillery may produce several.
The character and weight of these will vary according to the mash bill and distillation methods. The mash bill for a rye whiskey being produced for blending may also include more than one rye whiskey, and for this purpose a single distillery may produce several. The character and weight of these will vary according to the mash bill and distillation methods.
The mash bill for a rye whiskey being produced for blending may also include a small portion of barley malt, or perhaps some corn. The proportion of these ingredients can be varied to produce ryes of differing characters.
Canadian distilleries also produce their own Bourbon-type whiskies for blending purposes.
They also make corn whiskies, and even distill unmalted barley, again to produce components for their blends.
The biggest producers, Seagram's have half a dozen distilleries in Canada, using several different yeasts, and making more than 50 different straight whiskies for blending. A large number of these will go into some of the more complex blends, and general Canadian practice is to use perhaps 20 different whiskies.
Even the least complex blend will probably contain 15 whiskies, built around six or seven basic types.
The changes are also rung in the extent to which the various whiskies for blending are aged.
In the case of rye, aging tends not only to smoothen the whiskey but also to make it heavier.
This effect is more evident if the rye is aged as a straight - and that raises another variable. The extent to which whiskey is aged before or after blending is a matter on which there are different and passionate schools of thought in Canada.
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