Canadian whisky does not get its due in the modern whiskey world. The juice from up north is often sent down to the U.S. where it’s relabeled under an American brand, which contributes to the style getting ignored in the wider discourse. The fact is, there’s a good chance you’ve been drinking (and loving!) Canadian juice this whole time without knowing it (looking at you, WhistlePig).
Let’s change that today by speaking seriously about some Canadian whisky — because there are some gems coming out of Ontario, Manitoba, Alberta, and beyond right now.
To that end, I’m conducting a blind taste test, with eight Canadian rye and blended whiskies that are either from a Canadian brand or sourced for an American brand. I’m also throwing some serious contenders in the mix with best-in-show award winners and 20+-year-old expressions next to stuff you can get on any liquor store shelf, even in the U.S.
For the ranking of these, the gist is simple. Taste is paramount. And while expensive whiskies tend to rank higher in blind taste tests, they aren’t the be-all and end-all of any tasting. That’s why I mixed it up for this one, with both high-end and low-end whiskies.
Our lineup today is:
- WhistlePig PiggyBack 100% Rye Aged 6 Years
- Crown Royal Fine De Luxe Blended Canadian Whisky
- Chicken Cock Cotton Club Rye Whiskey Aged 20 Years
- Pendleton Midnight Blended Canadian Whiskey
- Barrell Craft Whiskey Gray Label 24 Years Canadian Whiskey Finished in Sherry and XO Armagnac Casks
- Lock Stock & Barrel 21
- BEARFACE Canadian Whisky Elementally Aged Triple Oak
- Alberta Premium Canadian Blended Rye Whisky
Let’s dive in and find a great Canadian whisky for your bar cart!
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Part 1: The Tasting
Green grass and green chili peppers draw you in on the nose — giving you a sense of “American rye” — as soft touches of leather, light tobacco, and maybe some creamy vanilla honey round out the nose. The palate has a stewed fruit vibe with hints of caramel and vanilla sauce leading to a light woody winter spice mix and some woody vanilla. The end leans into light wood and sharp yet sweet Red Hots.
This tastes like a “rye” from 2005 — spice, wood, caramel. That’s not a bad thing, just a little… shrug.
Fruity leather with a dose of vanilla extract mingles with light chili spice and a hint of maple syrup on the nose. The palate is on the light side but carried layers of vanilla cookies, caramel sauce, and fruit candies (apple and pear). The end warms ever so slightly with a winter spice (nutmeg and clove) while the wateriness of the proofing washes the rest of the sip out.
This was pretty good until the finish washed out.
The nose hits you with a brief note of barnyard funk before shifting toward pine resin, green grass, sour cherry candies, and a twinge of Orange Julius with a dash of cinnamon and clove. The palate carries on toward orange and lemon citrus with a creamy, almost pudding vibe while pear and vanilla candies lead to floral honey spiked with woody Christmas spices and a dusting of white pepper. The end leans into those woody spices with an almost sour apple cider and some wet black potting soil that sweetens toward brown sugar.
This was a funky and fun ride. This is certainly a contender but a little out of left field. We’ll see how it ranks.
Butterscotch dominates the nose until hints of dark fruits and leathery prunes sneak in with a whisper of cinnamon and apple. The palate builds a very mild spice mix toward powdered ginger and some nutmeg with an underlying nuttiness supported by vanilla/caramel smoothness. The end has a faint hint of dry cedar next to mildly spiced tobacco with a walnut vibe that’s a little light and fleeting.
This was nice but didn’t grab my attention as it should have. Everything was a struggle to find in the flavor profile or very lightly rendered.
Dry red leathery fruit slabs mingle with old jars of floral honey, cognac-laced plum jam, sticky pine pitch, and a mix of cardamon, allspice, and nutmeg infused into marzipan and packed into an old cigar humidor. The palate meanders through a green grass lawn, root beer float, and tea shop as pear and apple peels lead to savory melon and a hint more of those mild spices with a woody edge. The end mint and cardamon vibe as a fleeting sense of old peaches and fennel lurks in the background.
This is another wild and funky ride that’s definitely a winner on this panel.
The nose on this is like silk by way of a spiced holiday cake full of stewed dates, plenty of cinnamon and nutmeg, candied cherries and citrus rinds, and a pile of roasted nuts next to a small drizzle of dark molasses syrup. The palate opens with a pine tar vibe that leads to more of those holiday spices with a woody edge, burnt orange peel, vanilla cake with poppy seeds, butter frosting with a hint of butterscotch, and a slight Almond Joy vibe. The end is lush and full of woody spices countered by freshly cut green grass with a leather pouch full of just singed tobacco leaves.
This is a “wow” whiskey. It doesn’t blow away all of the competition today, but a hell of a lot of it.
This opens a little “oaky” but then leans into rich marzipan with a bright and almost pine-y honey next to soft vanilla and a hint of tart dried fruits. The palate moves towards a savory note with melon and saffron-stewed pears mingling with creamy balsamic vinegar (the thick and sweet kind), apricot jam with cinnamon, and a hint of scone. The end has a bit of spice to it — more nutmeg and cardamon — alongside orange peels, brown sugar syrup, and a light vanilla wafer.
This took me on a journey and was pretty damn good by the end of it.
This is light. The nose barely reveals faint hints of vanilla, “fruit,” and “spice.” The palate is sweet and vanilla-forward but so vague it’s damn near vodka. There are notes of vanilla and oak with a light sense of cinnamon but it’s under a lot of proofing water. The end is almost blank.
I think we all know where this is going.
Part 2: The Ranking
8. Alberta Premium Canadian Blended Rye Whisky — Taste 8
Average Price: $22
Alberta Premium is a classic, entry-level blended Canadian rye made for mixing from bar wells. The juice in the bottle is made from two 100% rye whiskeys with different proofs that then spend four years aging before blending. After combined, that whisky is proofed all the way down to 80 proof for bottling.
This is clearly a mixing whisky for shots and a beer back and highballs with Coke. Nothing more.
7. Pendleton Midnight Blended Canadian Whiskey — Taste 4
Average Price: $39
This whisky is part of Hood River, Oregon, and part of Canada’s northern wilderness. The whisky starts off in Canada and ages for six years in American brandy barrels. That juice is then sent to Oregon where it’s blended and cut with glacier runoff from Mount Hood.
This was pretty nice, all things considered. I wouldn’t go out of my way to buy it but I wouldn’t turn it away either. In the end, I think this is a suitable cocktail base or highball whisky and little more.
6. Crown Royal Fine De Luxe Blended Canadian Whisky — Taste 2
Average Price: $32
Crown Royal is a Canadian blend that was made specifically for the arrival of the British monarchs back in the 1930s on their first visit to Canada. The blend marries 50 Canadian whiskies of varying grains and aging lengths from the 1-million-barrel Gimli aging facility in Manitoba.
For an 80-proof whisky, there was plenty going on here. The end faltered but that’s fine as this is meant to be mixed in a cocktail (old fashioned mostly) or a highball with fizzy water. Treat it as such and you’ll be set.
5. WhistlePig PiggyBack 100% Rye Aged 6 Years — Taste 1
Average Price: $50
This is a 100% rye whisky sourced from “undisclosed” Canadian distilleries. Those barrels are sent down to Vermont where they’re specifically blended to create a cocktail whisky.
This is meant to be a cocktail whisky, and I think that’s hitting the bull’s eye. Sipping this wasn’t that arresting but I can see this working in a basic whiskey sour or old fashioned.
4. BEARFACE Canadian Whisky Elementally Aged Triple Oak — Taste 7
Average Price: $44
This single-grain whisky from the northern Ontario wilderness is all about the aging process. The juice spends seven years resting in ex-bourbon barrels before being transferred into both old French oak and toasted Hungarian oak for a final maturation. That whisky is then blended and cut down with natural spring water for bottling.
Okay, this is where we get into the good stuff. This was a little mild for my palate but still delivered a solid flavor profile. I can see sipping this on the rocks or in a cocktail easily.
3. Chicken Cock Cotton Club Rye Whiskey Aged 20 Years — Taste 3
Average Price: $596
The juice in this bottle is made with a 90% rye and 10% malted barley mash bill, which is a standard you see with other big-name Canadian brands (cough, cough, Crown Royal Northern Harvest Rye, cough, cough). In this case, that hot juice was left to mellow in ex-bourbon barrels for 20 long years somewhere in Canada (cough, cough, Manitoba, cough, cough). The barrels are then vatted and proofed down to 100 proof before bottling.
This was a funky, fun ride. That said, it was a little funky up top and that might push some folks away. Of the top three, I’d also say this was the lightest both in mouthfeel and look (it’s really pale). Overall, I can see really digging this on the rocks every now and then, but it’s not and everyday sipper by a long shot (which the price point already tells you).
2. Barrell Craft Whiskey Gray Label 24 Years Canadian Whiskey Finished in Sherry and XO Armagnac Casks — Taste 5
Average Price: $249
This sourced whisky is pulled from 24-year-old barrels of Canadian whisky. Those barrels were sent down to Louisville, Kentucky, where the team at Barrell painstakingly blended them to create this one-of-a-kind expression that’s bottled completely as-is.
This was a little funky too but a lot more accessible on the palate. It was also, well, fun. This was a great whiskey from top to bottom that takes you somewhere new. But it wasn’t quite the next pour.
1. Lock Stock & Barrel 21 — Taste 6
Average Price: $490
This rye is made from that magical Canadian 100% rye mash bill. The juice went into the barrel back in May of 1999 and was left alone in the cold north for over two decades before Lock Stock & Barrel blended and bottled this without any fussing.
This was magic in a bottle. If you can track this down (and don’t mind shelling out a car payment for it), add this to your collection. This is a stellar sipper that transcends rye and becomes a classic and great whisk(e)y in general.
Part 3: Final Thoughts
I really thought the funky whisky was going to win this one until that Lock Stock & Barrel pour hit my lips. It was so obviously the best whisky in this lineup from the jump that it almost felt unfair comparing the other seven drams to it. But there is no “fair” in blind taste tests just like there’s no “crying” in baseball. But I digress.
Overall, this was a pretty illuminating process. Cheaper whiskies ranked pretty high and came in with great flavor profiles worth seeking out. BEARFACE was a big surprise and I’m looking forward to digging into more of their expressions. Still, that Lock Stock & Barrel is where you want to focus your energy if you’re looking for a prestige bottle for the ol’ bar cart.