This is not an article about that exclusive place called The Canadian Club, which can be found on Bay Street in Toronto, among other cities and streets. This article is about whisky!
One of the most recognizable drinks in the world didn’t start out in Canada. And while it’s still created in Windsor, Ontario, the owners are no longer Canadian. In 1858, Hiram Walker founded his distillery in Detroit, producing the first few barrels of Walker’s Club Whisky. It was not an instant success, but became so for perhaps four reasons:
- Walker’s aging the whisky for at least five years; unheard of at the time
- American distillers petitioned Walker to add the word “Canadian” to his label, differentiating it from their brands (and they thought, making it less popular)
- Canada passed the “Bottled in Bond Law” in 1883 (a law requiring whisky labelling to show its maturation date), and the United States followed suit with their “Bottled in bond” law passed in 1894, some 13 years later
- Prohibition and other reasons, caused Walker to move across the border to what’s now known as Windsor, Ontario
Hiram Walker & Sons Ltd. (who later merged with Gooderham and Worts, had been bought out first by Mr. Hatch in America, then by a British company much later), and indeed Canadian Club, are now under Beam Inc., an American spirits manufacturer.
But we’re getting ahead of ourselves here…
When Walker first begin to sell his whisky in the United States, brand names were beginning to catch on (versus simply barrels of whisky), and his first brand was called Magnolia. It’s thought the name came from a town in nearby Massachusetts. Other brands would follow from Walker, such as Walker’s Old Rye, and Superior. None did fabulously well, and Walker knew he had to come up with one key brand. So his Three Star became Three Star Club, and eventually to just Club.
The Bottled in Bond Law we spoke of earlier seemed to be the ticket and final puzzle piece that would pave the way to Walker’s success. At the time it was passed in Canada, no other country in the world had such a law or requirement. Walker’s first bottled and bonded whiskies were Old Rye, and Club. Though a slow starter in terms of export—in 1884, less than 90 cases were exported to the U.S.—things quickly accelerated. By 1890, the figure was almost at 5,000 cases. By 1915, the figure had grown to what Canadian Club calls “a respectable 137,353” cases. We’d call that a staggering increase in sales!
So where did Canadian Club enter the picture? In 1889, Walker added “Canadian” to the top of the label of his Club brand. Canadian referred/refers to a type of whisky: the other types are Scotch, Irish, or Kentucky. In 1893, the words Canadian Club were set on Walker’s products in the famous script font he used, and the name was used in that way for over 110 years. Canadian whisky, then, was being pioneered by Walker before we hit the 1900’s.
As Prohibition loomed on the horizon in 1920, Hiram Walker’s sons (he died in 1899), would soon find themselves, and Walkerville, at the centre of the world for smugglers and rumrunners.
Canadian Club—or CC as it’s pretty much universally known—had fame at an early age. The Manhattan was born in 1872, when Lady Randolph Churchill, at the famous Manhattan Club, asked for a CC with “something sweet” in it: an amazing but true story. By 1940, CC was sold in almost 90 different countries, and today, is sold in over 150 countries worldwide. Do we need to tell you which “dry” a CC’ n’ Dry is? We didn’t think so!
Did you know there’s a “Godfather of Whisky”? You do now. And that person is Dan Tullio, Director of Canadian Club. Dan has been with the brand for over three decades, starting out as a computer programmer. He still works with them at their distillery in Ontario. He got transferred into Marketing and Sales shortly after starting with the company, and now, when he’s not at the plant, he is in the United States, Japan, South Korea, or even Australia. When he is home, he host tours for VIPs from all over the world. Like many of us, he’s noticed the recent return to “cool” that CC has, and perhaps this is nowhere more evident than in television’s Mad Men series. The whisky has also ended up as the only spirit on the HBO drama Boardwalk Empire. Dan refers to Prohibition when he comments that “Canadian Club quenched the thirst of many Americans” in the dry years.
If you enjoy a drink now and again, or indeed, if you’re a whisky connoisseur, you’ll probably have your favourite cocktail. Dan’s is something called the Millionaire’s Manhattan (made with CC, or course, and also with Sherry).
Canadian Club comes in seven varieties—not all can be purchase in Canada or the United States—and every one, except for their 100 Proof, is 80 proof strength.
I don’t think we could leave this article without telling you something of the secret that makes CC such an internationally favoured whisky. For starters, it’s described as a “light, smooth, and mellow spirit”. The grains used include corn, rye, rye malt, and barely malt. The corn creates their base whisky, but it’s the last three ingredients (the “blenders”) that generate the unique Canadian Club flavour. The “distillates”, are they’re called, are blended prior to ageing. As the distillates age together, they “marry”, causing the smooth taste CC is known for. And the barrels also hold some secrets: they are once-used, white oak American bourbon barrels. All this, and 150 years of drinking, make Canadian Club one truly unique, flavourful, drinking experience!