“Damn right your dad drank it!” – Canadian Club advertising slogan
See if you can guess which unassuming country turned the big “one-five-oh” this year? It didn’t make a big deal about it, you could have very easily missed it. But Canada did it! It had its little celebration that lasted barely twenty-four hours, there was a speech by Trudeau (the newest one), a polite gathering on Capital Hill, and then it was all over. No international party with dignitaries, no Drake. No big fireworks display spelling out “We Stand on Guard for Thee”. No fuss. So so Canadian.
But I’d like to extend my own kind of congratulation, if I may. I wasn’t born in Canada, but they’ve extended me the courtesy of allowing me to live in their country for more than three decades, so I consider myself something of an honorary citizen. (I’m no Dalai Lama or Raoul Wallenberg – there are only six honorary Canadians?!? – but I do what I can.) And so I’ll do what I do best – salute you with cocktails. And to celebrate the momentous occasion, they’ll all feature that Canuck staple – Canadian Club.
Canadian Club, or C.C., is a whisky first created by Hiram Walker back in 1858. He began the process over in Detroit, Michigan (stateside, as they say). And he was doing pretty well with it, but with the Prohibition movement gaining momentum in the U.S. Hiram decided to pick up shop and move over the border into Canada where he founded a new distillery and the small community that was needed around it. (The newly-founded town became known as Walkerville and at one point the distillery employed almost the entire population of the town – they had their own police force and fire department, they built their own water system and installed street lights, and in 1890 the Canadian government recognized Walkerville as a legal town.)
He produced his whisky, and he exported it across the border, where it continued to gain popularity, specifically in the gentlemen’s clubs where it gained the nickname “Club Whisky”. But American distillers were becoming increasingly worried about C.C.’s widening acceptance as they saw it as a threat to their business, so they petitioned the American government to mandate that all imported whisky would have to have the word “Canada” clearly marked on the bottle. The government acquiesced and while other, smaller Canadian distillers tried to circumvent the law by putting it in a small font or by camouflaging it into the background of the packaging, Walker chose to highlight it, including it prominently in the name and rebranding it clearly as Canadian Club.
But on January 16, 1920 everything changed, with the introduction of the Eighteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution – better known as prohibition. The entire U.S. went dry overnight, as did most Canadian provinces. But while public drinking was forbidden in Ontario – the Canadian province that bordered Michigan and New York, and the place where Walker had set up his new distillery – the manufacture and export of alcohol was not illegal, and it was that loophole that Walker seized upon. He continued to produce Canadian Club and then left it up to the market to ensure that before long it had become the #1 smuggled whisky in the U.S. with famous gangsters like Al Capone smuggling thousands of cases into the U.S. via Detroit.
Speaking of Al Capone, if you feel like Canadian Club might have been a bit more in the zeitgeist recently then you may want to thank your TV. Because of its inclusion on a couple of very prominent (although now ended) television shows, people have been more aware of it recently. It was the drink of choice for Don Draper on Mad Men, a bottle sitting prominently on the credenza in his office in most episodes. And it is (obviously) the product that Al Capone chooses to smuggle across the border and down to Atlantic City on HBO’s Boardwalk Empire. And when the exposure encouraged an upturn in sales, it also resulted in a focus being placed back on C.C.’s place in the cocktail pantheon.
So what is it? Canadian Club is a blend of rye, rye malt, barley malt, and corn. It’s aged in white oak American bourbon barrels and from the start Walker insisted that it be aged for a minimum of five years, which at the time was revolutionary as all American-produced bourbons and whiskies were aged for less than a year. It comes in seven varieties, all of which are at least 80 proof:
- Canadian Club 6 Year Old / Canadian Club Premium
This is the most popular of the Canadian Club range, a basic brand. Often used as a mixer, the whisky typically matures for, as the name suggests, six years. It is sold in more than 150 countries.
- Canadian Club Reserve
The reserve line is matured for a decade, to give it a richer flavour.
- Canadian Club Classic
A 12-year-old whisky.
- Canadian Club 100 Proof
Matured for six years and bottled at 100 proof (50% abv), to give it a stronger, richer flavour.
- Canadian Club Sherry Cask
Double matured, first in white oak barrels for at least eight years, then casks from the Sherry wine region (Spain). It is 82.6-proof (41.3% abv).
- Canadian Club Chairman’s Select 100% Rye
Launched in Canada only, crafted 100% from single grain rye.
And so, let’s get to the recipes…
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