Unfortunately, I have fallen into the pattern of leaving Canadian Whiskey out of the picture. Specifically out of my travel/education plan. When my father said I could go and help him with business in Detroit, we went the Canadian way, through Windsor, Canada. What happened to be in Windsor was a gem of whiskey history. I am so excited to tell this story!
When you are in Windsor and hit any part of Riverside Drive, right where you can see Detroit, you immediately smell oatmeal. This warming smell is so welcoming to me. It means whiskey is being made nearby! You will be confused when you finally arrive at the Canadian Club location. Right next door is a large sign that says “Pernod Ricard, Hiram Walker & Song’s Limited”. I did my homework before I came and Canadian Club is owned by Japanese Beam Suntory. Why one of Suntory’s competitors, Pernod Ricard, would be making product right next door and why is Hiram Walker’s name still on the building? Hiram sold the company in 1927. Fortunately we had a nice Windsor college student named Eric who was curious enough to see my notebook, see my confusion and answer as many questions as he could.
The tour was almost two hours long and went into great detail about prohibition, rum-runners and the Detroit/Windsor reality of those times. I wish I had time to write about that because it is very interesting. I feel it is safe to say that Windsor and Hiram’s Canadian Club Whiskey was a major disruption to prohibition in the USA. Regardless, I will focus more on the business side of how Beam Suntory came to own this brand, my tastings and where the brand is headed.
In Canada, Rye and Whiskey mean the same thing. This is because Rye is grown in the mid-west prairies of Canada and almost all whiskey was made of Rye in the country. Now with current market trends, they use the name Rye when it is 100% rye. Hiram Walker began the distillery in 1858 as an entrepreneur. He was American and came over to Windsor to capitalize on cheap land prices and to eventually find ways around prohibition. He definitely was a smart business man. He recognized the hold that bourbon and scotch had on the market and he wanted to rival these distinct tastes with a nice, smooth, blended whiskey and it would come from Canadian Club. At a certain point he ended up owning thousands of acres growing his grains, a bottling company and the distillery. He even owned a bank in town. When Hiram passed away and his family was running the company, Hatch came in and bought the brand in 1927. Let me list out the dates of ownership below:
1858- Hiram Walker & Family
1927- Harry Hatch purchased the company. He already owned Gooderham & Worts near Toronto. Was already in the liquor industry.
1980- Allied Domecq purchased the company. Pernod Ricard then acquired Allied Domecq and that is why the Pernod Ricard name is on the distillery.
2004- Beam Suntory, a Japanese conglomerate and power house for spirits purchases the Canadian Club Brand.
This 2004 buyout from Suntory is interesting. I will see this in Scotland and around the world as well. Japan is becoming quite the powerhouse for the whisky industry. Apparently it is a strained relationship between Canadian Club and the Pernod Ricard facility next door. Suntory only bought the brand Canadian Club. They now have a contract with Pernod Ricard to continue making the product. Interesting work situation!
As you most of you know there are rules or laws that each country needs to abide by in regards to aging, labeling etc. In Canada, to be called whiskey, it must be aged at least three years and there are no rules in regards to new oak barrels like the USA. Canadian Club has always been aged for 6 years in once used bourbon barrels. The brand definitely declined in the 80’s and 90’s, but did find a revival when it was featured many times as the preferred drink for Don Draper in Mad Men. Beam Suntory is definitely on a mission to revitalize. I tried the two new brands released in 2015—100% Rye and Canadian Club Maple.
Personal Tasting Notes..
Nose- Apple, banana chips, slight spice
Palate- Wood, Toffee, oak finish, long finish with pepper
Canadian Club Maple
Nose- Maple syrup. The exact syrup I had on my waffles that morning. Caramel Corn
Palate- Caramel Corn, maple, some spice and then sweet. Pretty viscous.
*This is made identical to the regular Canadian Club and then Maple Syrup is added. Too sweet for me!
Overall the Rye won for me and I was able to try the regular Canadian Club at a local bar up the street. CC was very easy to drink, like chamomile tea on ice. Highly recommend it for the 25 dollar price tag. Next I have to try Wiser’s. The other local whiskey competitor in the Windsor area!