Canadian Club is one of the most famous Canadian whisky brands. It was founded in 1858 by Hiram Walker in Walkerville, Ontario. You might raise an eyebrow here: “Wait, Walkerville and Hiram Walker? Coincidence?” And you’d be right to raise that eyebrow. Hiram Walker founded Walkerville in 1890 as a model town, which was probably without a name before. Walker made homes for his workers, a church, and a school, the town growing outwards from the distillery. Nowadays, Walkerville is a heritage precinct of the town of Windsor. The whisky made there was first known as Club Whisky as it was well appreciated in the US and Canada ‘Gentlemen’s Clubs’. In an attempt to hamper on Walker’s whisky fame, American distillers petitioned to have the word ‘Canada’ added to the label, but it backfired and helped Walker’s whisky to become more exclusive. In 1889, Walker added ‘Canadian’ to the label and after a few movements on the label, it became part of the brand name a year later. The ones we’ll try today are unfortunately not from this time nor some of the thousands of cases Al Capone secretly imported during Prohibition. Now, we’re far from the romantic view of Prohibition given out with movies as the brand is owned by the giant Beam Suntory. We’ll do an Old vs New Canadian club, as we’ll try to Canadian Club distilled in 1969 and 1976 and will compare them with the current Canadian Club 1858.
Canadian Club Whisky
Canadian Club whisky is made using rye, malted rye, malted barley and corn. The corn whisky is used as a base that Canadian Club describes as a colourless, odourless and tasteless distillate. Thus, it quickly changes thanks to the barrel used to mature it, extracting much from the casks. Each of Canadian Club expressions have a unique recipe, but all use used American Oak bourbon barrels for the maturation.
Canadian Club 1969 Review
The first whisky we try today is a 1969 Canadian Club whisky, probably about 6 years of age. As the Canadian tax strip reads 1969, it means that the younger component was distilled in 1969. No mention of ABV on the (quite worn) label of this mini I bought some time ago on auction, but we can imagine it’s 40% ABV. Obviously sold out, so you’ll have to luck out at auction to get one. This mini was mine for a ridiculous £9 before hammer fee.
Yellow gold. The crown made from turning your glass almost horizontally for the whisky to stretch on the insides turn into large beads, that change into large but very slow legs.
Intense and sweet. It smells like it contains a lot of maze, between a bourbon and a corn single grain whisky, meaning it’s very sweet. Varnish, ethanol, paint thinner, caramel and vanilla. There’s a light metallic note, might be the old bottle effect as this whisky has spent more than 50 years in glass already!
Very thin, very sweet, there’s still this bourbon resemblance, but less oaky. Vanilla, a bit of oak nonetheless, some light pepperiness. It feels a bit rough and young (even though it was bottled more than 50 years ago, I don’t think it spent a lot of time in wood before). There’s some bitterness as well as a light citrusy sourness. It gets a bit more woody now, some honey, I’m not sure blind I wouldn’t identify that as a young bourbon.
Medium length, wood bitterness, light heat.
The nose was surprisingly intense straight from when I poured half the mini into my Glencairn. Both nose and palate are really close to a young bourbon. Despite this has been bottled more than 50 years ago, I don’t think the thin palate is due to OBE but probably because it was bottled at about 40%. Anyway, I must admit I had a negative bias towards this whiskey, thinking it would be very poor, and it’s honestly quite drinkable. It won’t rock your boat, but that’s honestly okay.
Canadian Club 1976 Review
Second oldie is a 1976 Canadian Club, this time showing the ABV (40%). I bought it on auction as well, for just £4 before hammer fee. Not much else to add, once again you’ll have to luck out at auction to find one.
Amber (two shades darker than the 1969). The crown has many medium-size beads that turn into medium sized legs. They start slowly then after getting down for like 6 to 8 millimetres, they quickly finish going down the side of the glass.
Less intense than the 1969 but there’s quite a resemblance. More spirity, more ethanol and paint thinner, and whilst I didn’t get fruits on the 1969, I have some light orange and figs here. And once again, caramel and vanilla.
Thin and sweet again. A bit more heat than the 1969 but except for that, it’s kind of the same. Oak bitterness, vanilla, caramel, it still feels quite bourbon-y.
Peppery caramel, oak bitterness, cough syrup, actually long, especially the cough syrup caramel note.
They’re very close to each other. I don’t know if the light differences between the two are just batch variation, but I don’t think they changed the recipe and the mash bill between the two even though they’re 7 years apart. Let’s give it two points more because of the slightly higher complexity and finish length.
Canadian Club (Bottled 2021) Review
Whilst in Quebec in July, I dropped by a SAQ liquor shop and bought minis of the current Canadian Club. I don’t know if the recipe is the same, but it is still bottled at 40%. The bottles went from glass to plastic, however, at least up to the 375ml bottle. I don’t remember if it changed to glass for the 750ml and up bottles. I paid CAD 2.65 so about £1.7 / €2 for a mini. A full 750ml bottle costs about £17/€20.
Old Madeira. I wouldn’t be surprised if E150 was used. A swirl generates a ring with small beads that quickly turn to thin fast legs.
Initially, quite alcoholic and grainy. The intensity is similar to the 1976’s I’d day. There’s more ethanol than the two older releases, cereals, a bit of spices, but it’s mostly on polish and solvent notes.
Thin, and less sweet than the older releases. Once again quite grainy, cereals, with some sourness coming from the oak used I’d say. It’s a bit prickly and bitter as well. Mostly, it’s oaky and sour. Not much else.
Some warmth, the oak notes linger on for a moment, for a short length. The warmth stays on slightly longer.
Well… at least it’s cheap to buy. It’s quite a disappointment, with mostly grainy and oaky notes. No sweetness, we’re not at all in the bourbon notes I got with the 1969 and 1976. Neat, it lacks complexity, taste, mouthfeel, everything. So I guess it has to be used as the alcohol component of a cocktail. I bought two minis, and I guess one would have been more than enough. It’s not awful so it won’t deserve a lower rating, though. It’s just bland.
Lead photo: Leland Little. Photos of the two 1969 and 1976 miniatures: Coldorak. Photo of the ‘1858 Original’: SAQ.