Did you miss our Instagram Live chat with Davin de Kergommeaux and Don Livermore? Get caught up here.
In the summer of 2008 or ’09, I found myself in sweltering New Orleans having a friendly but slightly heated conversation with a well-known American spirits and cocktail expert. I was trying (and failing) to persuade him of the greatness of Canadian whisky.
Those of us who love Canadian whisky know that it’s diverse, subtle yet often bold, and more sippable than most skeptics would ever believe. But this American friend had his doubts, and why not? A lot of the really good stuff didn’t leave Canada (yet).
There was “a hardcore group who really got Canadian whisky,” said Davin de Kergommeaux, who has been one of its greatest champions. But that was about it.
The Canadian whisky bandwagon has filled up a lot since then. In 2009 de Kergommeaux founded the Canadian Whisky Awards. They were a much smaller affair back then. Around the same time, he released his first book on Canadian whisky, the predecessor to Canadian Whisky: The New Portable Expert.
Sales are up and awards are showering down from home and abroad. But it still seems like Canadian whisky isn’t getting every last drop of the respect it deserves. So on Feb. 3, the Drop Collective invited me to host an Instagram Live conversation with de Kergommeaux and Don Livermore, Master Blender at Hiram Walker, to ask: What do people still need to know about Canadian whisky?
The overall message: The future is even brighter than the present. But if Canadian whisky is going to gain the recognition it truly deserves, it still needs champions.
It’s going to take all of us. If we focus on Canadian whisky’s many virtues, we can combat the rampant myths and misunderstandings that hold it back. (Don’t even get Don and Davin started on neutral grain spirits — not a drop is allowed to be used in Canadian whisky.)
If you want to be a Canadian whisky champion, here are three big messages to spread:
1.Canadian whisky is amazingly diverse
One way to engage the world’s whisky geeks is to encourage them to experience the massive range of flavours. On one hand, there are bold and spicy rye-forward whiskies like Lot 40 18 Year Old Cask Strength — which de Kergommeaux compared to biting into a loaf of artisan rye bread and which will be available to Drop Collective members in an exclusive draw.
On the other hand, you can delve into rich, fruity sherry-flavoured confections like Pike Creek 22 Year Old Pedro Ximenez Cask Finish. (Both were gold medal winners at the 2022 Canadian Whisky Awards, incidentally.)
And, of course, there’s a lot in between.
2.Special occasion’-grade Canadian whisky is definitely a thing
Canadian whisky has no better calling card abroad than complete bangers that any whisky snob would have to admit are superbly crafted. Take the Canadian Whisky Award-winning J.P. Wiser’s Red Letter Distillery Edition, a 15-year-old that Livermore said has “woody flavours that come through, and you get the nice vanilla toasted oak.”
Connoisseurs abroad have picked up the scent. “We’ve now started to get requests from overseas to have special, rare releases of Canadian whisky, which I never saw up to four or five years ago,” Livermore said. A new Wiser’s expression is in the works for Sweden, for example. In the meantime, France’s La Maison du Whisky requested a special release, and Wiser’s obliged with J.P. Wiser’s Smaller Hero.
So the good news is that the word is out, and foreigners can now enjoy top-shelf Canadian whisky. Now if you want to collect ’em all, you’ll need a friend in France.
3.Canadian whisky is great for sipping
Go ahead and pour it neat. Sit by the fireside. Enjoy.
If you’re confronted with a skeptical bourbon drinker and you want to make a convert, follow de Kergommeaux’s advice and just invite them to try it: “Why don’t you sit down after this and taste some Lot 40 Dark Oak?” he tells people, figuring that the bigger, bolder brother of the original Lot 40 makes a persuasive argument for bourbon fans.
“Believe me, when people taste that, they’re going to taste things they’ve never tasted before,” he said.
Many of the most influential foreign drinks magazines and whisky critics have come aboard the Canadian whisky bandwagon — thanks, in some cases, to de Kergommeaux’s personal efforts at whisky fests and events.
Remember that American drinks expert I couldn’t persuade with words? He saw the light after the liquid touched his lips. Then he wrote a positive blurb for de Kergommeaux’s book, acknowledging that Canadian whisky is more well-crafted and interesting than it’s usually given credit for.
In other words we are making converts — one by one.
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