Whisky Advocate

An All-Encompassing Chronicle

July 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.

No Responses to “An All-Encompassing Chronicle”

  1. MrTH says:

    I see this is available from Canadian booksellers Chapters/Indigo as well as Amazon. I’ll definitely pick up a copy.

  2. sam k says:

    I’m one of those who’s definitely not a fan of the “legal minimum” spirits from north of the border, but from your review and all the others I’ve read, this is a book that I will definitely take the time to read, and that, hopefully, will guide me to some worthy Canadian whiskies. Also, hopefully, this book will raise awareness of the expertise hidden among the Canadian distillers, and perhaps make them consider finally going balls out at some point. A fella can dream…

    Congratulations, Davin!

  3. tom says:

    been a lover of Canadian of Whiskeys for many years. Recently have tried some of the recommended, reviewed ryes, way to much like burbon for me. Wish we could get some of the better Canadian’s south of the border , in NYS

  4. tmckenzie says:

    I have a whole new appreciation for candaian whiskey now. Very well written and I liked how it went into pretty good detail about the production techniques.

  5. SteveB says:

    I love whiskey and Canadian has been my favorite my whole life. I’m never without a few bottles in my house to share with friends when they come over or to celebrate a special occassion.

  6. Also available where fine whiskies are sold like Kensington Wine Market in Calgary.

    A welcome addition to the genre. Well done Davin!

  7. Stevely says:

    A very informative and thorough book about distilling and how it relates to the industry in Canada. It has made me look at Canadian Whisky in a different angle and rekindled an interest in our rich heritage of whisky. Gavin has done the industry proud by consolidating information in one complete book – so much information! Well done. A worthy read.

  8. M Lange says:

    Excellent book, I second the recommendation. I was fortunate enough to talk with Davin on my podcast, and he really has an incredible amount of expertise on the subject. I also got to try some of the whiskey he recommended (my previous experience with Canadian’s being fairly slim), and found some great stuff.
    If you are interested in hearing the interview it’s here: http://potentpotablespodcast.libsyn.com/webpage/episode-7-canadian-whisky

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