An All-Encompassing ChronicleJuly 5th, 2012
Lew Bryson joins us today with a review of Davin de Kergommeaux’s recently released book.
Canadian Whisky: the portable expert, by Davin de Kergommeaux
With this book, Davin de Kergommeaux establishes himself as the foremost writer on Canadian whisky. Before you get in a snobbish whisky geek mood and dismiss that as similar to being the world’s tallest midget, you really should read the book. Even if it doesn’t make you a regular Canadian whisky drinker, it will at least dispel the myths and mistaken assumptions you may have about this entire category of whisky, for de Kergommeaux has written a book full of facts about Canadian whisky, and written it well.
While the author’s mission is clear—present a full, true, accurate picture of Canadian whisky in order to gain the industry a greater measure of the respect it is due—only rarely does he pound the pulpit. Instead, the point is made by describing the historical origins of Canadian whisky and the blending philosophy that informs it, and by explaining the distillation process at each of the nine Canadian distilleries.
Explaining the process at each distillery is a good idea, because this is not bourbon or Scotch whisky, a closely defined and regulated spirit with very specific rules. There are rules, but those rules and the idea behind them allow a much wider variety of techniques, components, aging, and blending. It may help if you think of blending Canadian whisky more in terms of blending cognac rather than blending Scotch whisky, or of American blended whisky. There is a greater freedom to blend whiskies of different ages, types, and strengths, in a variety of woods.
It can be dizzyingly complicated, but de Kergommeaux handles it deftly, taking us through each distillery’s own twists on whisky making, including the easily-differentiated Kittling Ridge and Glenora, the two outliers in the list. Not only that, he untangles the knotted strands of brand history, explaining how the iconic Canadian brands like Crown Royal, Wiser’s, Canadian Club, V.O., Windsor, and Alberta Premium were created, developed, and came to be made by the companies that now own them. He even makes it easy to follow; quite an accomplishment, given the twisting nature of whisky ownership over the past 40 years.
Did you want to know something about the actual whiskies as well? You’re covered, with tasting notes for 100 of the top Canadian whiskies are included, sprinkled through the text at appropriate spots (the addition of a separate index for the tasting notes is most welcome). A wide array is included, from the humble standard bottlings to the exalted Alberta Premium 30 Year Old and the long-gone cult favorite Bush Pilot’s Reserve.
Reading this “portable expert” will not make you an expert on Canadian whisky. The only way to do that is to do what the author has done: taste widely, visit the distilleries, and talk to the people who make it. But Canadian Whisky will open your mind to the possibilities of this long-underappreciated and slowly awakening branch of the whisky family. Well worth a read.