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Among the many whiskies of the world, Canadian whisky (as it's spelled everywhere other than Ireland or America) is known to be smooth, affordable, and great for mixing into cocktails. Canadian whiskies are generally blended, and the art that goes into this aspect should not be underestimated. The skilled blenders transform numerous grain whiskies of varying ages, along with other flavor spirits, into a delightful drinking experience. The fact that they can replicate the signature taste of a particular whisky in each batch is simply impressive.
There are some great brands of Canadian whisky to choose from and there’s something for whisky drinkers of every taste. Whether you enjoy a classic light-bodied whisky, one dominated by the spice of rye, prefer to sip it straight, or want something that’s infinitely mixable, there’s a bottle waiting for a spot in your bar.
Read on to learn more about the best Canadian whiskies available.
Crown Royal is an iconic brand in Canadian whisky, and there’s something for everyone. It's one of the most extensive portfolios in the style and encompasses Canada’s signature flavor profile. Crown Royal Deluxe (40 percent ABV, 80 proof) is the foundation of the brand and requires a master’s touch to blend 50 whiskies into the smooth whisky with oak and vanilla notes that is unmistakably Crown Royal. For an introduction to Canadian whisky and a taste of what has long been the style’s benchmark, it’s the bottle you need.
Reliable, affordable, and one of the best whiskies for cocktails, Canadian Mist has a lot going for it. It is a subtle, smooth, and mixable 80-proof whisky. Canadian Mist can stand up to anything you want to mix it with, from cranberry to pear and root beer to ginger ale. While it may get lost in recipes with too many flavors, it's perfect for simple cocktails with just a few ingredients. The softer profile of this whisky also makes it a great choice for drinkers who prefer white spirits like gin, rum, and vodka. Best of all, it’s one of the cheapest whiskies on the market, so it's one you can keep stocked in your bar without worrying about the price.
It's unusual to find a Canadian whisky priced over $100, but luxury bottles are out there. One worth tasting is Pendleton Directors’ Reserve (80 proof), a 20-year-old blend that’s smooth, spicy, and very enjoyable.
Pendleton is one of those cross-border whiskies that brings Canadian whisky to the United States to be blended. In this case, the brand was launched by Hood River Distillers in Oregon, and it has since been purchased by Proximo Spirits. That can make this whisky’s classification confusing, but Pendleton is a Canadian whisky, and Directors’ Reserve is one of the best (and most expensive) in the category.
Enjoy this whisky straight. A splash of water or an ice cube opens up its flavors, allowing you to fully enjoy its sweet caramel and vanilla flavors accented with a great spice and nut finish. The creamy mouthfeel enriches the experience and ensures you’ll be back for another sip.
Canadian whisky will often include a rye whisky in the blend, and it imparts a spiciness that is the grain’s signature taste. Many downplay this and choose to concentrate on the smooth sweetness of corn whiskies, but others play it up. Alberta Rye Whisky Dark Batch is a brilliant find from Alberta Distillers, the country’s top rye whisky maker.
Starting off with two rye whiskies, the finished blend is 91 percent rye whisky, 8 percent bourbon, and 1 percent sherry. It's bottled at 90 proof and the higher alcohol content ensures it has a big, bold flavor. The exciting elixir has a great spice backed by a smoky sweetness that is simply a joy to take in. Sip it or mix it into any rye whiskey cocktail—either way, it’s a great choice.
An import from Canada that’s marketed by Minnesota’s Phillips Distilling Co., Revel Stoke is the brand to look for when you want to simply have fun with flavors. Best known for its spiced whisky, Revel Stoke likes to stay on top of the trendiest flavors. The distillery has taken on apple, cinnamon, and honey whiskies, and even makes a pineapple whisky that is completely unique.
Peanut butter whisky is the latest craze in flavored whisky, and Revel Stoke’s version (70 proof) is one of the best. This is not just a sweet, nutty whisky, but it also has the brand’s spice notes hanging out in the background to make it a little more interesting. Be sure to mix it with raspberry liqueur for a yummy peanut butter and jelly shot.
From the Collingwood, Ontario distillery that produces Canadian Mist, Collingwood is as sippable as that whisky is mixable. This one may not have the same household recognition, but it has won numerous awards and is a premium upgrade that is worth savoring.
The base whiskies for Collingwood are distilled from mostly Ontario-grown corn, rye, and barley. The blending water comes from the Georgian Bay, and flavoring whiskies are added to the final blend. Yet, it's the finishing touch of resting the mature blended whisky that gives the Collingwood its distinct characteristic. The whisky has a maple syrup sweetness accented with vanilla and oak that leads to a long, warm finish. It is a sweet, soft dram that’s 80 proof, so it’s not for drinkers who like the bolder bottles. However, it is impeccably smooth and very easy to drink straight.
Forty Creek, an Ontario distillery, is producing some amazingly smooth whiskies. The brand's flagship is Barrel Select, an 80-proof blend of rye, barley, and corn whiskies that were aged separately in former bourbon and new American white oak barrels. This is a whisky you'll want for mixed drinks. It's affordable and has that smooth sweetness that’s expected from Canadian whisky. It makes very nice cocktails, including the impressive Forty Creek Caesar. Whenever a recipe simply says “whisky” without recommending a style, this is a great option and can easily become your go-to bottle.
Caribou Crossing is a Sazerac brand that was the first Canadian single barrel whisky. While others may have grabbed onto the trend, it remains a favorite and is certainly a top-shelf Canadian whisky that every aficionado should know. The whisky used for this blend is the cream of the crop from the Old Montreal Distillery and is bottled in Kentucky at Buffalo Trace. The whisky inside is as beautiful as the vessel it comes in. It's richly complex and ultra-smooth, with toffee sweetness fading into a creamy oak finish that has a hint of pepper.
This single barrel whisky is definitely at the high end of the Canadian whisky market. It’s excellent straight and will shine in very simple cocktails. Save it for special occasions and savor its smoothness with every sip.
Lot 40 is an interesting whisky. Distilled entirely from rye in a copper pot still, the bottles available today are a throwback to an 18th-century Ontario whisky and a time when rye whisky was Canada’s specialty. The modern brand originally launched in the 1990s and was discontinued in the 2000s, but has since been brought back to life. Today’s version is produced at the Hiram Walker Distillery in Windsor, Ontario and continues the small-batch tradition.
There has always been a large fan base for this whisky. Some who enjoyed it in the ‘90s say that the latest formula is better than the one they remember. However, it’s not a whisky for soft palates. This is as big, bold, and spicy as some of the American interpretations of the style. It’s bottled at 86 proof and has no age statement, though it tastes like it's enjoyed a good deal of time in the barrel. Mix it into any cocktail recipe and it will not get lost, or just go straight and get a taste of classic Canadian rye.
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Colleen Graham is a food and beverage writer with over a decade of experience writing about cocktails, beer, and wine. She is the author of two books—“Rosé Made Me Do It” and “Tequila: Cocktails With a Kick”—and has traveled to Canadian whisky distilleries for an insider’s look at the process.