Canada 150 Whisky: Commemorative Canadian BottlingsBy Blair Phillips
Canada is turning 150 years old this year. And when it comes to whisky, it’s at the top of its game celebrating this birthday milestone with a series of commemorative releases. Gibson’s Finest Rare 12 Year got the ball rolling with a Canada 150 label face lift. The bottle proudly displays the whisky’s name stamped over an iconic maple leaf. More followed. Here’s a look at some others, although if you would like to get your hands on them, make sure your passport is in order. These commemorative Canadian whiskies are exclusive to Canada.
On July 1, 1867 the Fathers of Confederation were dotting the i’s and crossing the t’s on forming a new country; Mother Nature meanwhile started growing new Canadian oak trees. These trees were destined to become oak barrels for an emblematic Forty Creek Canadian whisky – Confederation Oak Reserve. This blended Canadian Whisky was John Hall’s 2010 limited edition and has since become an annual release with this year’s batch being the definitive celebratory edition.
The massive Canadian white oak trees hailed just 40 miles from the distillery growing in a sustainably-managed forest. They experience colder winters and a shorter growing season compared to oak trees grown in the southern States. This makes the wood tighter with a finer grain, easing the release of oak wood flavors like a time-released vitamin.
Putting the oak back to work
John Hall is now retired but with the original Confederation Oak, he explained why he gave these trees a second career as barrels. “Every wood, whether it is from a bourbon barrel, port barrel, sherry cask, French, Balkan or American oak, creates a distinctive taste expression,” Hall explains. “As a proud Canadian whisky maker, I have always been curious what a Canadian whisky would taste like aged in a Canadian oak barrel, because most Canadian whiskies are aged in American oak.”
This year’s batch comes in a special Canada 150 box painted by Calgary artist Sheila Schaetzle called “To the Confederation”. The striking painting depicts three British Redcoats standing in a grove of oak trees. “To honor our heritage, I wanted to emphasize the strengths of the Canadian White Oak,” says Schaetzle. “The black and white theme – the cool haze of the tree tops, puts the focus on the soldiers. It demonstrates a strong foundation kept simple, and something that is uniquely Canadian.” And they look thirsty.
Seagram’s Sam Bronfman knows all about quenching the British thirst. In 1933, King George VI and Queen Elizabeth toured Canada to great fanfare. When word of the visit reached Bronfman, he set out to develop a special whisky blend worthy of royalty. The result was Crown Royal and a case of the whisky accompanied the Royal Family on their Canadian tour. Decades later, in 1995, Crown Royal Limited Edition was released as a Canadian exclusive. And to celebrate Canada’s 150th birthday, it has shed its iconic purple robe for a commemorative Canada 150 makeover. The collectible box comes in several different varieties, each displaying a different snapshot of Canadiana. Crown Royal has also created recipes for a batch of Canadian cocktails that tell the story of Canada’s different regions through drink.
These regions are also the home of budding micro-distillers that are celebrating Canada’s birthday with their own special releases. Still Waters is releasing their 150 version later this year but British Columbia’s Central City Brewers just released their Lohin McKinnon 150th Anniversary Edition.
It’s a blend of malted Canadian rye whisky aged in bourbon barrels and lightly-peated barley whisky aged in oloroso sherry barrels. The peated barley whisky is a tip of the hat to Canada’s Scottish heritage. “This limited release hits close to home given my Scottish background and my love for Canada,” says head distiller Stuart McKinnon. “Peated whisky is deeply rooted in Scotland and is a defining characteristic in many iconic single malts. It’s a great way to pay homage to this country’s diverse heritage.”
The distillery had about 15 to 20 blends on the table – candidates for their commemorative edition. “We wanted to release a second whisky and Canada 150 was a perfect opportunity,” explained Central City’s Brewmaster Gary Lohin. “We have the same passion towards our whiskies that we do with our beer. Experimenting is part of our DNA. It’s a natural progression and this became the 150.”
Steeped in natural progression, J.P. Wiser’s was selling whisky a decade before Canada became a country. They’ve witnessed every moment in Canadian history. Wiser’s was there when the maple leaf became the official flag and again in 1993 when Joe Carter hit the Toronto Blue Jay’s World Series winning home run. It was there when Paul Henderson put a dent in the cold war scoring the winning goal against the 1972 Russian hockey team. If there is a milestone to be celebrated, you can count on J.P. Wiser’s. Their One Fifty bottling was comprised of 7,827 bottles upon release, each one individually dated to represent one week of Canada’s history.
“One Fifty is a traditional style of Canadian whisky,” explains master blender Dr. Don Livermore. “It’s a blend that has a lot of double distillation – a light smoother style of whisky that’s blended in with some rye. That’s what we were trying to achieve since we’re celebrating Canada’s 150th birthday. It fits in that niche of what traditional Canadian whisky has looked like over time. In celebration of that, it’s authentically Canadian.”
Canadian whisky is Canada’s national spirit. If you’re having trouble finding these releases, don’t go shaking your fist at a cloud; it’s their 150th anniversary after all. There are plenty of Canadian whiskies that ARE available in your neck of the woods.
Looking to celebrate Canada’s 150th Anniversary by sipping some whiskies you’re likely to be able to get your hands on?
Now go get your hands on some Canada 150 Whisky!