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Canadian whisky is a type of whisky produced in Canada. Most Canadian whiskies are blended multi-grain liquors containing a large percentage of corn spirits, and are typically lighter and smoother than other whisky styles. Several hundred years ago, when Canadian distillers began adding small amounts of highly-flavorful rye grain to their mashes people began demanding this new rye-flavored whisky, referring to it simply as "rye." Today, as for the past two centuries the terms "rye whisky" and "Canadian whisky" are used interchangeably in Canada and refer to exactly the same product.
Characteristics and historical background
According to the laws of Canada, a Canadian whisky must be mashed, distilled and aged in Canada. To improve marketability, it may contain caramel (as may Scotch whisky) and flavouring, in addition to the distilled mash spirits. As with Scotch and Irish whiskey, the alcohol content of the spirits used may exceed 90%. Thus, much of the spirits used in making a Canadian whisky, prior to aging, may have less grain-derived flavour than typical single malts or U.S. "straight" whiskeys. While this aspect is similar to Scotch and Irish whisky regulations, it contrasts with the maximum alcoholic proof limits on distillation (80% abv) and aging (62.5% abv) purity allowed in the production of straight whiskey in the U.S. All spirits used in making a Canadian whisky must be aged for at least three years in wooden barrels of not greater than 700 L capacity (a requirement similar to that for Scotch and Irish whisky and longer than for American straight whisky). The final whisky must contain at least 40 percent alcohol by volume. As with Scotch and most other whiskies, the barrel used for aging may be new or re-used and may be toasted, charred or left raw.
Historically, in Canada, whisky that had some rye grain added to the mash bill to give it more flavour came to be called “rye”. Although some Canadian whiskies are still labelled as “rye”, Canadian “rye” whisky usually contains high-proof corn-, rye-, or wheat-based whisky blended with lower-proof rye-grain whisky and/or Canadian made "bourbon-style" corn whisky as flavouring. Occasionally barley whisky is also used for flavouring. Flavour may also derived in other ways, such as flavour development from the aging process and blending with other lower-proof. stronger-tasting Canadian whiskies.
Canadian whisky is recognized internationally as an indigenous product of Canada. Products labelled as Canadian whisky must satisfy the laws of Canada that regulate the manufacture of Canadian whisky for consumption in Canada. When sold in another country, Canadian whisky is typically also required to conform to the local product requirements that apply to whisky in general when sold in that country, which may in some aspects involve stricter or less stringent standards than the Canadian law.
Rye and Canadian whisky
It is a common misconception that Canadian whiskies are primarily made using just rye grain. The use of rye grain is not dictated by law, and whisky products of all grain types are often generically referred to as (and may legally be labelled as) "rye whisky" in Canada. Under Canadian law, the term "Canadian rye whisky" is synonymous with "Canadian whisky." and the primary grain used to make most Canadian whisky is corn, which is blended with rye-grain whisky after distillation. Unlike American straight whiskies in which the grain is blended in a mash bill before fermentation, Canadian distillers do not use mash bills, but ferment and distill the individual grains separately then blend them after distillation or after they have matured in white oak barrels.
The U.S. definition of "rye whiskey" requires that the whisky be at least 51% rye, which prevents a low rye content whisky from being labelled "rye". However, unlike a U.S. "blended whiskey", which may contain up to 80% un-aged neutral spirits, Canadian law requires that all of the spirits in a Canadian whisky be aged for at least three years.
Canadian products aged less than three years or not in "small wood" barrels (or failing to meet the domestic Canadian whisky standards in some other way) cannot be called "Canadian whisky" within Canada and in some other countries (such as the U.S.). No distinction is made between the quality of the barrels - new or used, charred or uncharred may be filled for aging.
History of illicit export to U.S.
Canadian whisky featured prominently in rum-running into the U.S. during Prohibition. Hiram Walker's distillery in Windsor, Ontario, directly across the Detroit River from Detroit, Michigan, easily served bootleggers using small, fast smuggling boats.
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