In Canadian Whisky – A Comprehensive Guide – Part I we discussed how Canadian whisky received its inspiration from Scottish pioneers such as James Molson. He was followed by a number of the other English and Scottish families who helped create a series of branded whiskeys, such as the houses of Gooderham and Worts, Henry Corby, Joseph Seagram, Hiram Walker and J.P. Wiser.
Whisky production and branding in Canada evolved against the backdrop of the abundance of grains such as corn, wheat and rye. As makes sense with grain whisky produced in large volumes, distillers employed a continuous still method, similar to how bourbon and rye are produced in the US. The popular Canadian brands thus became cousins of American whiskies.
However, and as we pointed out previously, there are differences between American and Canadian whiskies due to a variety of factors, such as the distillation, mixing, ageing and blending processes. Along the way, Canadian distillers and blenders experimented and added their own touch and feel, helping Canadian whiskies develop a distinct identity.
Is Canadian Whisky any Good?
Canadian whisky is extremely popular in North America, especially among those who prefer light whiskeys or whisky-based cocktails. The Alberta Premium Cask Strength Rye was named as the best whisky in the world in 2020 by leading expert Jim Murray. The Forty Creek Double Barrel Reserve is another whisky consistently rated among the best, while Crown Royal remains Canada’s most popular export brand.
As we discussed in Part I, the evolution of the industry has been interesting. Canadian whisky gained popularity during the US Civil War, a trend that continued for more than 50 years. There was a further bump in demand post WWI, when the US went into a strict Prohibition era, just as Canada began to relax their Temperance Movement.
Canada sells the highest amount of whisky in North America as a whole. Between 1865 and 2010, Canadian whiskies registered the highest volume of sales in the US. Even today, Canadian whisky companies export 70% of their product to the US.
Canadian Club Whisky Epitomizes the Typical Canadian Brand in Many Respects
Canadian whisky is considered to be the “vanilla cream of the whisky world” due to its smooth taste, reinforced with various spicy and sweet flavors during the final blending process. One classic example is Hiram Walker’s Canadian Club whisky.
Canadian Club was for many years the most popular whisky in the world – with six million cases sold worldwide in the mid 1960’s, two-thirds of which came to the US. Though not as popular now due to a taste conscious public that may deride it as “brown vodka”, the fact remains that Canadian Club is one of the best whiskies for cocktail mixes – including those with a distinctly Canadian feel – such as Sunburned Mounties or Canadian Comfort.
So, Canadian Whisky is often the choice of drinkers that like to savor whisky cocktails. However, there are also whiskeys that can be enjoyed neat or over the rocks, as we discuss later.
Canadian Club is again a case in point. Various expressions of the brand, aged for up to 12 years, can be bought for $25 or less in the US, whereas the 30-plus-year-old Canadian Club varieties often retail at prices exceeding $300.
How Expensive is Canadian Whisky?
Canadian whisky is moderately priced given that it competes against American whiskeys (e.g., bourbon, rye, Tennessee whiskey etc.). However, there are a number of high end Canadian whisky brands, including a few comparable in price to a good Scotch or Japanese whiskey.
The Most Expensive …
Given the scope of their market, Canadian whiskeys typically will not sell for huge amounts at auctions. So, you cannot compare even the highest quality products from Canada with the most expensive bottles of whisky worldwide – which typically tend to be Scottish, Japanese or Irish.
Forget about Macallan’s Fine and Rare 60-Year-Old 1926, which was sold at auction for $1.9 million in October 2019. Top-level Canadian whiskies will never be as pricey as uber premium Japanese brands like Yamazaki 50-Year-Old or Karuizawa 52-Year-Old, which have been auctioned for hundreds of thousands of dollars over the past five years.
The most expensive Canadian whisky in recent memory was Crown Royal’s Extra Rare Heritage Blend, which is usually quoted at the price $10,000 per bottle – though it was a special edition that is not likely to be offered in sale. The commemorative bottles were produced on the occasion of Queen Elizabeth II’s attendance at the Kentucky Derby in 2007.
None of this should diminish the fact that there are many fine Canadian brands of whisky, well worth the popularity they enjoy the world over. The charm of Canadian whisky is its smoothness and taste, made available at a very reasonable price which often makes them favorite well drinks, or as the base for mixed cocktails served at pubs.
We illustrate with a range of Canadian whiskies below.
Prices for High-End Canadian Whisky
The table below lists 16 Canadian whiskies that commonly retail for over $100. The average prices of many of the brands mentioned below comes from Wine Searcher while other prices are reproduced per listings on retail sites.
Given the general use that the Canadian distillers are aiming to satisfy, it is not unusual that the list is not as long as that of Scotch or Japanese whiskies, though it is at par or possibly longer than the number of high-priced Bourbons you would expect to find in the market.
In many cases, the prices of individual expressions may not be consistent across a label. For example, Crown Royal XR can retail for under $100, but the highest end expressions reach prices above $2500. One reason Canadian whiskies can vary in price is due to the fact that they are blended with different whiskies (50 of them in the case of Crown Royal) – therefore the final product can be manufactured with different blends and costs of the ingredients.
Range of Popular Canadian Whiskies with Pricing
Canadian Whisky Price (750ml) Crown Royal XR (top end expression) $2,750 Crown Royal Cask No. 16 (average price) $1,164 Crown Royal Red Waterloo Edition XR Extra Rare (average price) $1,305 Orphan Barrel Entrapment 25-Year-Old (average price) $431 Canadian Club Chronicles 42-, 41-, 43-Year-Old (average prices, ascending) $312-$323 Crown Royal XO (top end expression) $280 Crown Royal Monarch 75 Anniversary (average price) $280 Crown Royal Monarch 75 Anniversary (average price) $279 Schenley O.F.C. 8-Year-Old (average price) $225 Willet ‘Rare Perfection’ 15-Year-Old Cask Strength (average price) $188 Pendleton Director’s Reserve 20-Year-Old (average price) $157 Willet ‘Rare Perfection’ 14-Year-Old (average price) $153 Pendleton Director’s Reserve (average price) $150 Crown Royal Noble Collection 16-Year-Old Rye (top end expression) $143 Barrell Single Barrel 13-Year-Old Rye (average price) $136 Glenora Distillery Glen Breton Rare 19-Year-Old Single Malt (average prices) $133
Crown Royal XR (top end expression)
Crown Royal Cask No. 16 (average price)
Crown Royal Red Waterloo Edition XR Extra Rare (average price)
Orphan Barrel Entrapment 25-Year-Old (average price)
Canadian Club Chronicles 42-, 41-, 43-Year-Old (average prices, ascending)
Crown Royal XO (top end expression)
Crown Royal Monarch 75 Anniversary (average price)
Crown Royal Monarch 75 Anniversary (average price)
Schenley O.F.C. 8-Year-Old (average price)
Willet ‘Rare Perfection’ 15-Year-Old Cask Strength (average price)
Pendleton Director’s Reserve 20-Year-Old (average price)
Willet ‘Rare Perfection’ 14-Year-Old (average price)
Pendleton Director’s Reserve (average price)
Crown Royal Noble Collection 16-Year-Old Rye (top end expression)
Barrell Single Barrel 13-Year-Old Rye (average price)
Glenora Distillery Glen Breton Rare 19-Year-Old Single Malt (average prices)
As you will notice, all the entries in the table above are from the best-known labels in Canada. There are cheaper expressions from the same companies in all cases.
Canadian Whiskies to Try
For this section, we have chosen a sampling of Canadian whiskies in three price ranges: (a) above $100; (b) between $50-$100; and (c) Less than $50.
Each of the whiskies chosen have been named as being among the best Canadian whiskies in 2019-20, by publications such as:
Most of the brands should be available locally. If not, they can be direct ordered from the distillery itself – Canadian whisky companies are definitely keen to hear from overseas buyers.
Sample Canadian Whisky Brands Priced Above $100 (for 750 ml unless specified)
- Crown Royal XR Extra Rare ($149.99 to $199.99, could go up to $2,750)
This is the most expensive among the various available Crown Royal blended whisky brands. As the table before shows, the upper end expression of the Crown Royal XR can go up to $2750 in retail price. More is mentioned about the Crown Royal brand in the next section.
- Crown Royal XO ($25.99 to $279.99)
Another whisky from Crown Royal, this is known for its vanilla, spice and rich dried fruit taste and finished in cognac casks. More about the Crown Royal brand in the next section.
- Crown Royal Noble Collection 16-Year-Old Rye ($32.99 to 142.99)
This signature offering has 90% rye mash bill and is aged in white oak barrels for no less than 16 years. It is advertised as a mellow whisky, bold and spicy upfront but with creamy vanilla, caramel, honeycomb and hints of fruit, anise, cinnamon and clove in the back of the palate. More about the Crown Royal brand in the next section.
- Pendleton Director’s Reserve Whisky (from $149.99)
Touted as a sipping whisky, this whisky is from the rodeo town of Pendleton, Oregon is a “Western whisky” made from the pure, glacier-fed water from Mt. Hood, with the hints of the Old West in oak, cinnamon and rye flavors.
Sample Canadian Whisky Brands Priced Between $50 and $99 (for 750 ml unless specified)
- Alberta Premium Cask Strength Rye Whisky ($64.99 to 98.99)
This whisky has gained in popularity after being named as the best whisky of 2020 by whisky expert Jim Murray. Blended from two whiskies, at least one of which is aged in used bourbon casks, the final product is aged further even after blending – for a minimum total period of 5 years. This Alberta Distillery product is known for its high (65.1%) ABV.
- Gibson’s Finest Rare 18-Year (from $89.99)
This 18-year-old whisky has a pleasing amber color like many classic aged whiskies and offers a smooth and warm finish on the palate. A vanilla and apricot aroma completes the effect.
- P. Wiser’s Pike Creek (average price $72)
Pike Creek is a whisky that has a lingering spicy expression but with hazelnut, vanilla and zest flavors that make it a suitable sipping whisky to have with dessert, even. It is initially aged in virgin white oak barrels and finished in vintage port barrels.
- Crown Royal Black ($32.99 to $69.99)
This offering from Crown Royal has a higher alcohol content (45% Alcohol By Volume compared to 40%), a creamy texture, spicy fruit tastes and a cherry cask aged finish. More about the Crown Royal brand in the next section.
- Masterson’s 10-Year-Old Straight Rye (from $74.99)
A distinctive, 100% rye whisky, the polished taste features honeyed fruit, caramel, nutty toffee, maple syrup and toasted oak, a dusting of cocoa, cinnamon and nutmeg.
- Caribou Crossing (from $57.99)
Advertised as the world’s first single barrel Canadian whisky on the market, Caribou Crossing is the premier brand of whisky chosen from a huge inventory by the distillery.
Some Canadian Whisky Brands Priced Below $50 (for 750 ml unless specified)
- Crown Royal Fine Deluxe ($29.99-36.99)
The Crown Royal Fine Deluxe is the foundational brand among the multitudes of different expressions produced by this iconic label. More details about the brand itself is mentioned in the next section.
- Forty Creek Barrel Select (form $21.99)
Barrel Select whisky is made from corn, barley and rye and aged in American white oak casks. It has a balanced and smooth finish, with sweet and spicy aroma (vanilla, caramel, roasted walnuts) and bold tastes (white pepper, spices, toffee). It’s a great whisky to have with soda or on the rocks.
- Alberta Premium Rye Dark Batch (from $29.99)
Another offering from premium rye country, this Alberta Distillers creation is one of the epitomes of their 70+ years of blending efforts. Priced reasonably, you cannot beat this for a starter rye whisky experience.
- Canadian Club Chairman’s Select 100% Rye (from $28.99)
This is a classic Canadian Club vintage, with the usual attributes of the mellow and even textured brands from the Hiram Walker distillery. A golden amber concoction with the aromas and flavors of maple syrup, caramelized nuts and vanilla buttercream, this has a cedar, honeyed toast and crème brulee finish.
- Collingwood (from $28.99)
This moderately priced artisanal whisky is made in Canada’s longest continuously owned and operated distillery. Its long, smooth, toasted maplewood makes this an ideal sipping whisky.
Crown Royal – The Highest Selling Canadian Whisky
As the section above shows, one whisky label that shows up among the best options at every price range is the Crown Royal line. First created in 1939 as a blend of 50 whiskies and gift wrapped for the British Crown in its distinctive royal purple bag with gold stitching, Crown Royal has maintained the vintage that was deemed suitable for monarchs.
Crown Royal is the highest selling Canadian Whisky in the US market. In 2019, its volume sales (measured 9-liter cases) exceeded 6.8 million, which was almost four times that of the next most popular brand (Black Velvet at over 1.8 million) and over six times the third (Canadian Club at over 1.1 million).
So, is Crown Royal a Bourbon? No its not, though there is in fact a Crown Royal Bourbon that is produced and sold in the market. Crown Royal is a classic Canadian whisky as described above.
Canadian Whisky Cocktails
We have alluded to the fact that Canadian whisky is great for cocktails. Some of the most famous cocktails made with Canadian whiskies include:
- Whisky Sour: Canadian whisky is often favored as a base for this drink.
- The Toronto: Combining whisky with Fernet Branca, demerera syrup and bitters, with an orange zest as garnish on top after straining over ice.
- Sunburned Mounties: Canadian Club mixed with Cruzan Mango Rum, pineapple and fresh orange juice, strained over ice in a Hurricane glass and garnished with pineapple/cherry.
- Highball: Whisky with tonic, club soda, seltzer or ginger ale.
- The Canadian:Whisky with orange Curaçao, simple syrup and Angostura bitters, the Canadian is usually served in an Old Fashioned glass with a garnish of orange zest.
- Canadian Comfort: The Canadian version of Southern Comfort mixes Canadian Club 12-Year-Old with cloves, allspice berries, maple syrup and steaming hot water. Lemon and orange wedges are added.
- Canadian Pineapple: Chilled Canadian whisky, with lemon juice, pineapple juice and maraschino mixed in, stirred in a cocktail shaker and strained over ice cubes in an Old Fashioned glass.
- Hot Toddies: A common recipe for this classic way to fight off chills includes 1.5 oz. of Canadian whisky, mixed one to one with boiling water, with cloves and a teaspoon of sugar.
- Crown Royal Black Beauty: Crown Royal Black mixed with triple sec, grenadine and soda, served over ice in a highball glass.
All in all, Canadian whisky is a mellow experience, full of spicy and sweet tastes, with many fruity and chocolatey undertones. Due to the practice of blending separately distilled and aged whiskies, there are variations in taste and mouthfeel among different expressions under the same label. You have likely had Canadian whisky at your local pub already, but if not, give it a try – whether mixed in a classic cocktail or as a sipping drink on ice. You won’t be disappointed.