What Makes Canadian Whisky Canadian?

Cole Miller

What makes Canadian whisky Canadian? History. To be called Twelve Barrels Canadian Whisky, we must obey the following rules below which state what can and cannot be called Canadian Whisky.
      •  (i) be a potable alcoholic distillate obtained from a mash of cereal grain  and fermented by the action of yeast
      • (ii) be aged in small wood for not less than three years,
      • (iii) possess the aroma, taste and character generally attributed to Canadian whisky,
      •  (v) be mashed, distilled and aged in Canada, and
      • (vi) contain not less than 40 per cent alcohol by volume

Aged three years, in Canada from grains. That is basically it. This leaves Canadian Whisky a blank slate to work with. Canadian whisky has so little regulation on what is whisky, it should in theory create a vast array of whisky styles. But Canadian Whisky can be generally categorized as a group sharing similar characteristics. How can that be?

Well this would be due to that worst days the world has ever seen. Prohibition. We will get into why that happened in another article. Prohibition in Canada began in the late 1910's and each province enacted it and repealed it at separate times. It didn't last long and didn't have a huge effect. But oh did the american prohibition change Canadian Whisky. American prohibition lasted from 1919 until 1933. These became the years that created so many infamous tales of bootlegging.

Why did this have such a great impact on Canadian Whisky? Before prohibition Canadian Whisky was made with mainly wheat and rye. That's why rye is synonymous with Canadian whisky, another article to come to explain further. This combination provided a smooth flavourful spirit, but these grains didn't produce a lot of alcohol, therefore this was expensive whisky. When prohibition came around, Americans didn't care what they were drinking, they just wanted to drink. This caused Canadian distilleries to adopt the much more widely available and cheap, Corn. Corn also has more sugar within the grain which in turn creates more alcohol. Canadian Whisky adopted corn for these reasons in order to keep up with demand and raise profits. Once prohibition ended, Americans had developed a taste for this new whisky and producers wallets were never fatter. 

Canadian whisky is now corn based but also includes wheat, rye and barley. Each of these grains is mashed, distilled and aged desperately. Most whiskies have a mash bill, this means that the different grains are combined at the very beginning of the whisky making process. Finally something unique! This is thought to maximize the characteristics and qualities of each grain, these whiskies are then blended after aging before bottling.

Canadian whisky is also made from base whisky and flavouring whisky. Base whisky is distilled to very high alcohol proof, this removes any flavour from the grains and creates a distinctively smooth and easy to approach style. Flavouring whisky is well, used to flavour this base whisky. These whisky's are distilled to a much lower alcohol concentration, which retains lots of grain and yeast flavours. Individually these aren't the best but when blended with base whisky a smooth and flavourful whisky is created. This is Canadian whisky.

What makes Canadian Whisky so unique. Blending. its fitting that blending unique elements together is what Canada is all about, creating something that is greater than the sum of all its parts.

Learn more about whisky at 

Thanks to for the picture. Buy " Canadian Whisky: The Portable Expert" at Amazon or Chapters.

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