01 of 10
A New Old-fashioned
Behind the Scenes
Introduced in 1969, Canadian Mist is a blended Canadian whisky distilled on the Georgian Bay in Collingwood, Ontario. Recently I was able to travel to Ontario to visit the Canadian Mist Whisky distillery and this photo gallery contains images from those whisky adventures, both at the distillery, with views of the inner workings and a whisky blending session, and a Mistology cocktail session with Tim Laird.
Canadian Mist Whisky Rundown
- Website: www.CanadianMist.com
- Retails for around $13 per 750ml bottle
- 40% alcohol by volume (80 proof)
- Distilled in Collingwood, Ontario: Harold Ferguson, Master Distiller
- Produced and imported by Brown-Forman Distillery Company
- Awarded gold medal at the 2005 San Francisco World Spirits Competition.
The evening before the distillery tour, I attended a cocktail Mistology session with Tim Laird, Brown-Forman's CCO (Chief Cocktail Officer), in Toronto. Laird, with over 20 years of experience in the hospitality industry, mixed up a few great cocktails with Canadian Mist that were as different from one another as could be, demonstrating the versatility of the whisky.
One of those drinks was a variation of one of the most popular whisky drinks, the Old-fashioned. Typically made with bourbon, this drink can have an entirely new aspect by using a different type of whisky. Using Canadian Mist in an Old-fashioned creates a light, refreshing drink and the recipe below, for the Mist Muddled Old-fashioned, is the perfect concoction. This recipe, in comparison with the old-fashioned Old-fashioned, muddles both a cherry and orange and is topped with lemon-lime soda. It can also be made with club soda, which creates a drier palate yet I have found it does not compliment this whisky quite as well and works better with bourbon Old-fashioneds.
Mist Muddled Old-fashioned
- 2 oz Canadian Mist Whisky
- 2 slices of orange
- 1 cherry
- 1 sugar cube
- 2 drops bitters
- lemon-lime soda to top-off
In a rocks glass, muddle one orange slice, cherry, sugar cube and bitters. Add ice, Canadian Mist and top with lemon-lime soda. Garnish with an additional orange slice.Continue to 2 of 10 below.
02 of 10
Mixing with Canadian Mist
The best description for Canadian Mist Whisky is simply delicious. As a straight whisky, whether on the rocks or a round of shots, this would probably not be my first choice, that is what the more darker whiskies are for. Instead, this whisky shines in drinks, as it embodies a mellow sweetness that creates a versatility that spans the spectrum of cocktail flavors. Canadian Mist definitely excels when employed in mixology (or Mistology), with an almost endless list of perfect unions, from ginger or lemon to maple or coffee. In comparison to other whiskies, those used to the robust bourbons or the smoky scotches will find Canadian Mist (more so, but in line with the standard characteristics of Canadian whisky) to be softer, as sweet as rum with the smoothness of vodka and the flavor of whisky. It is perfect for those who want the mellow side of whisky, an aspect that attests to its mixability.
Canadian Mist is distinct in its subtlety and sweetness in flavors. It holds a richness filled with the flavors of vanilla, caramel and dark fruit and the clean, super-smooth finish is surprising for a whisky.Continue to 3 of 10 below.
03 of 10
Many of the Canadian Mist recipes that Tim Laird shared with us were not the typical whisky cocktail flavors, rather they were flavors one would think of mixing with the whiter spirits. As a testament to this particular whisky's versatility we were served both a Cosmopolitan and a Margarita shaken with Canadian Mist instead of vodka and tequila. Both were great drinks and surprisingly close to the "properly" made cocktails, with an extra sweetness that punched through the fruit flavors.
The array of flavors we were treated to in the Canadian Mist cocktails included pear, ginger, berry, chocolate and maple (each in separate drinks). The Misty Pear stood out with the mixture of peach and pear nectars that accents the dark fruit of the whisky and the Asian pear garnish makes a stunning display (photograph above). Ginger makes a strong appearance and a nice match in the Ginger Mist, in which the whisky is shaken with ginger preserves for a simple, yet complex drink that pairs nicely with Asian foods, especially sushi. A sharp contrast to those drinks, the Misty Maple Leaf turns Canadian Mist into a super sweet dessert drink straight from the north woods.Continue to 4 of 10 below.
04 of 10
The Beginning of Canadian Mist
Canadian Mist is distilled in Collingwood, Ontario just off the shores of the Georgian Bay, whose waters play an integral part in the entire distilling process. This distillery uses the highest quality grains available. All of the corn used is grown within 100 miles of the distillery; the rye is also grown in Ontario and the barley malt ships in from Alberta. The corn is ground, mixed with water and spent-stillage and then mashed to extract the grain's starches, which lends the light taste to the finished whisky.
Once the corn mix cools, the ground malt barley is added in order to convert the starch to sugar. Specially formulated dry yeast is added to begin the fermentation process during which those sugars are converted to alcohol and flavor adding congeners. The resulting fermented grain mash is, at this point, "beer."Continue to 5 of 10 below.
05 of 10
The Finishing Distillation Touches
After fermentation the grain mash is distilled three times in a copper still. Copper is used because it removes many of the unwanted sulfur compounds from the whisky and the triple-distillation lends to the whisky's smooth qualities. The whisky is then vaporized to produce a product called "high wine."
The whisky is then mixed with water and steam from the Georgian Bay, removing some of the congeners, but not all as there is a certain amount of the flavoring compounds needed to capture the desired flavors of Canadian Mist. At this point the whisky is high-proof so it is cut with water and barreled for mellowing.Continue to 6 of 10 below.
06 of 10
Know Your Barrel
The importance of the barrel in the making of whisky is as important as fuel is to a car. The type of barrel, its condition and the time it's allowed to mature inside are responsible for turning the clear, almost flavorless liquor that leaves the still into the honey-colored spirit we see in the bottles. Canadian Mist is aged in white oak barrels until the desired flavors are obtained. These 50 gallon casks are made specifically for Canadian Mist by Brown-Forman and are charred to the prime specifications in order to give the whisky it smoothness and vanilla tones. The company manufactures their own casks and sell them to Scotch and brandy distilleries after using them only three times, it is that important to the distillers to have a consistent barrel. Harold Ferguson, Master Distiller of Canadian Mist, makes such a point of the barrel factor that he says, "…the key to whisky is to know your barrel."
There are many other small details vital to the Canadian Mist process that contributes to its quality and the company's efficiency. For one, a barrel machine that fills and empties barrels with ease as they travel along a conveyor belt with a vacuum designed to get every last drop from the dark barrels. To compliment this process the bungs, or corked holes, are placed in the top of each cask, offering easy access to the contents. And, just to cheat the "angels of their share" (natural evaporation through the wood that distillers expect and write off) the barrels are wet down before any liquor is added.Continue to 7 of 10 below.
07 of 10
A Warehouse for All Seasons
It never ceases to amaze me how hospitable and genuinely nice distillers are. There are pressures and challenges just like any career, but overall they seem to be a happy bunch. Maybe it's the industry, how could one not enjoy making liquor all day? Harold Ferguson, Master Distiller at Canadian Mist, is certainly no exception. This Montreal native with thin glasses at the tip of his nose is a great personality and he knows the craft of making Canadian whisky inside and out. Ferguson has worked at the distillery almost since the beginning and is a self-declared lifer. It was enjoyable to listen to him rattle off the facts, theories and wisdom he has picked up through the years with such great enthusiasm.
One of the most fascinating and memorable parts of the distillery tour was the all-season storage warehouse. At any given time Canadian Mist has 250,000 barrels cycling through their six warehouses and within that rotation is a stint in this double-steel-doored room. This time is meant to artificially speed up the seasons because whisky matures best in spring and fall, leading to more consistent flavors and a shorter period spent aging. It had to have been July on my visit as the heat and humidity seemed to be at their peak when we walked into the space. Whisky and oak boiled through the air, overtaking the oxygen. It was overwhelming to say the least and intoxicating to the point of a light buzz. The feeling is definitely one that needs to be experienced first-hand to fully appreciate the intensity and, after only ten minutes inside with open doors, the fresh air outside (yet still inside the warehouse) was refreshing and necessary.Continue to 8 of 10 below.
08 of 10
The Art of Blending
Blending, the final stage for Canadian whisky, is a craft, an artform that requires taste, knowledge and uniformity. Unlike mixing cocktails, things can go bad really fast and mistakes are often beyond repair. For the master blender it is not only a factor of creating a good blend, but to create that same successful spirit day after day, that is where the real craft comes in. Canadian Mist is a blended whisky of rye, corn and malt, it seems like that would be a simple mix, but it is far from it, as our blending session demonstrated.
Canadian Food and Drug Regulations are very particular about what characteristics and elements whisky must have to be labeled Canadian whisky. Obviously it must be produced inside the Canadian borders, but beyond that all whiskies must be aged in small wood for at least three years and be at least 40% alcohol/volume, or 80 proof. As far as blending is concerned, the whisky can only contain 9.09% flavoring ingredients, of which only a select few may be used.Continue to 9 of 10 below.
09 of 10
Let the Blending Begin
The intimate conference room at the distillery was transformed into a grouping of miniature chemistry labs, complete with beakers, flasks and various liquids. Our challenge was to use the ingredients lined up in front of us to create a blended whisky while abiding by the Canadian whisky regulations. A Canadian base whisky, Canadian rye whisky and wheat whisky along with an imported rye whisky, brandy, sherry and port were our options and, other than water, all that we had to work with.
I will put it forth and say, "I am no blender." In fact my concoctions were complete and total disasters that easily could have been used to fuel a small jet. As the pros do, the blends are made at cask strength, highly intoxicating and virtually undrinkable, this out-of-the-barrel whisky is rough and is diluted with the pure Georgian Bay water before it's considered drinkable. However, as my luck would have it, even the softer version of my blend was gruesome and after the session I gained a renewed appreciation for the blender's task.Continue to 10 of 10 below.
10 of 10
Recap on an Enlightening Trip
The experience of diving into one distilled spirit for two days leaves many lasting impressions. It's an opportunity that allows one to not only appreciate what goes into the production, but to find the aspects and characteristics that are enjoyable and those which are not. Overall, my trip led me to a whisky, which although I've had before was one I was not fully acquainted with, which I found refreshing, versatile and complexly light. I would put Canadian Mist near the top of my list of bottles to keep in stock, simply for the fact that it can go anywhere in the spectrum of drinks, from warm to fizzy, and thick to light. Would I sip it as a whisky nightcap, probably not. I also did not particularly enjoy it with chocolate or cola, save those flavors for other spirits. Canadian Mist is impressive and a great whisky for those with a lighter palate, especially those who prefer white spirits (gin, rum, tequila, vodka).
On an endnote, every trip is not without it's side roads and mine often end up in, where else, bars and restaurants. While in Toronto we dined at the Canoe Restaurant high above the city with a beautiful view of Lake Ontario and an exquisite menu, although my attempts at enjoying a Manhattan before dinner proved futile as the bar was out of sweet vermouth (rather surprising, I thought). After dinner called for a Martini at the Library Bar in the Fairmont Royal York Hotel. My research prior to the trip led me to this intimate oasis with it's high ceilings, leather lounge furniture and well-endowed bar that was touted as having the best Martinis in the city. I don't know what other bars in town were serving but the Library did create the best Dry Tanqueray No. 10 Martini stirred in a snifter with crushed ice I've had yet.