Celebrating its 150th anniversary this year, one of the ways Canadian Club Whisky in Walkerville, Ontario, distinguishes itself from other whiskies is through its “marriage” — of whiskies that is. From its beginnings, the Canadian whisky, owned by Beam Global Spirits and Wine Inc., Deerfield, Ill., has used a pre-barrel blending process to marry its whiskies together before aging. The result of the pre-barrel blending is a body for Canadian Club the company describes as “smooth, light and mellow.”
“We blend four distillates together according to the recipe and then seal them in a barrel,” says Dan Tullio, director of Canadian Club Brand Heritage for Beam Global Spirits and Wine Inc. “During those six-, eight-, 10-, 12- or 30-year periods, those various distillates have an opportunity to marry. There are a lot of interactions that happen between alcohol, wood and the atmosphere.”
Contributing to its mellow body character, Canadian Club ages at least twice as long as the Canadian government requires for Canadian whiskies. It also uses old American oak barrels that were previously used to age bourbon. The barrels are charred to burn off the bourbon.
“That’s the reason why it’s mellow, because it uses used oak barrels,” Tullio says. “It results in a less woody, aggressive oak taste.”
Canadian Club 6 Year Old, Canadian Club Reserve 10 Year, Classic 12 by Canadian Club and Canadian Club Sherry Cask will be joined by Canadian Club 30 Year Old Whisky this fall for a limited release to celebrate the sesquicentennial anniversary. Aged for 30 years in white oak barrels, the 30 Year Old offers an oak character with hints of dried fruit and spice. Its antique gold color is shown through its glass bottle, and is sealed with a wax-dipped cork.
Canadian made
To be called a Canadian whisky, the whisky must contain a unique blend of spirits made from a variety of cereal grains. In the making of Canadian Club brands, the base whisky is produced from corn, and then flavored from rye, rye malt and barley malt.
The corn, rye, rye malt and barley malt grains are ground separately into a powder that exposes the starch. Water is added to create the mash, which is then cooked and fermented. Yeast is added to convert fermentable sugars into alcohol.
The fermented corn mash is put through the first of two column still distillation processes, which produces the alcohol vapors. The vapor is condensed into a liquid form and put through a second distillation (95 percent alcohol per volume) to extract unwanted distillates known as fusel oils. Canadian Club is “light” in body because its corn mash is double distilled to remove fusel oils, Tullio says. The fermented rye mash, rye malt mash and barley malt mash are distilled separately using pot stills. These mashes are distilled at a lower strength (68 percent alcohol by volume) to retain the grain flavor that characterizes Canadian Club whiskies.
For Canadian whisky standards, a whisky also must be aged at 72 percent alcohol in charred oak barrels for a minimum of three years. Along with differences in aging, each Canadian Club variety has its own unique grain ratio, which gives each whisky its character, Tullio says.
“CC Reserve or a Classic 12 is not Canadian Club aged for an X number of more years,” he explains. “For Canadian Club, it’s a secret recipe that’s been around for 150 years. For Reserve, it’s a higher percentage of rye and rye malt, plus it’s in a barrel for 10 years vs. six. Classic 12 has a higher percentage of barley malt. Classic 12 is aged 12 years, and it has substantially higher amounts of new wood that just came in from the United States. With those different nuances, ratio of grains, type of barrels, aging, you end up with a different tasting profile of product.”
Draining and filling 1,200 barrels a day, Canadian Club houses its barrels in 16 aging warehouses that are heated during the winter months. The collection of 1.3 million barrels is the largest concentration of aging barrels in the world at one location.
“What’s unique about Canadian Club’s distilling process is that all the barrels sit on the heads,” Tullio says. “ ... After they are inventoried, they are never moved.”
Canadian Club whiskies are aged in two types of barrels: “new” barrels that have just arrived from the United States and been charred, and “old” barrels that have been used to age whisky a second, third or fourth time. Each variety uses a different percentage of new or old barrels for aging. Twenty percent of Canadian Club is aged in new barrels, while 40 percent of CC Reserve is aged in new barrels and 60 percent of Classic 12.
‘Damn Right Your Dad Drank It’
In addition to its unique distillation process, the No. 2 selling Canadian whisky also has a unique story to tell. Completed in 1894, Canadian Club Brand Heritage Center in Walkerville, on the banks of the Detroit River, houses much of Canadian Club’s history. At the age of 20, Canadian Club creator Hiram Walker moved to Detroit and operated a number of businesses. In 1856, he had saved $40,000 in cash and wanted to start up a distillery. With ample land and water, he located his distillery in Canada, and within two year’s time he had the distillery running.
After sampling bourbons and whiskies in his travels to Kentucky, Scotland and Ireland, Walker began producing a whisky that was lighter than Scotch. The product was sold in gentlemen’s clubs, and took on the name Club Whisky. During the 1880s, American distillers lobbied for a law requiring whiskies to state their countries of origin on the label to differentiate them from bourbons. In turn, Canadian Club Whisky was born.
Canadian Club saw several changes in ownership before Beam Global purchased it in 2005 from Pernod Ricard. Since Beam Global’s acquisition, Canadian Club has undergone a marketing reawakening. In 2006 and 2007, it sponsored Andretti Green Racing in the IndyCar Series as the major sponsor of the No. 27 car driven by Dario Franchitti, who won the Indianapolis 500 in 2007.
Beam Global then announced its support for the brand with a double-digit increase in advertising and promotional spending seen in the launch of Canadian Club’s “Damn Right Your Dad Drank It” national advertising campaign. The ads depict imagery from the ‘60s and ‘70s and provocative taglines, such as “Your Mom Wasn’t Your Dad’s First,” “Your Dad Was Not a Metrosexual” and “Your Dad Had Groupies.” For its creative efforts, the ads and their creator Energy BBDO, Chicago, received a Bronze Award at the 2008 Cannes Lions 55th International Advertising Festival. BI