Canadian whisky is truly unique and we have a number of local distilleries looking to create a uniquely Canadian experience to go along with it. With a storied past and different classifications than other whiskies around the world, it is a drink meant to be enjoyed in many different ways. Mark Bylok is a Canadian whisky expert and author who appreciates whisky’s authenticity. The authenticity comes from the barrel aging process because “it can’t be rushed” despite how much distillers might try otherwise.
Bylok sees the world of whisky experiences changing from a specific set of rules like “a few drops of water, a quiet room, and a conversation” to a more inclusive and entertaining experience. The most important aspect of today’s whisky tastings “is to be inclusive of the crowd you’re with.” However, the one thing that you do need to get right for a great tasting experience is the glassware. Bylok says that tulip-shaped glasses are best, especially over large rocks glasses for example, because “the whisky pools in the rounded bottom and there’s a reduced surface area.” A large surface area, where whisky is concerned, will make the whisky taste “incredibly harsh and boozy.”
To learn more about Canadian whisky and have a great tasting experience, check out some of these great whisky experiences in Canada. Plan ahead for your next trip!
Immerse yourself in true Canadian whisky history at Hiram Walker Distillery
No Canadian whisky discussion would be complete without direct mention of the Windsor, Ontario-based Hiram Walker Distillery. Distilling 180,000 litres of alcohol every 24 hours, Bylok calls it “the most innovative distillery we have in Canada, and perhaps in the world.” Founded in the 1850s, Hiram Walker Distillery produces some of the most well-known and award-wining Canadian whiskies – some of Bylok’s favourites like J.P. Wiser’s, Lot no. 40, Gooderham & Worts, and Pike Creek, among others. In fact, their Pike Creek Oloroso-finished 21-Year-Old just won Canada’s best whisky 2020. Every year, Bylok gets a unique opportunity to visit Dr. Don Livermore, Hiram Walker Distillery’s whisky maker to “taste the crazy delicious stuff they’re making over there” and record a podcast to give listeners a little taste of what’s to come.
While you might not be able to get the same experience, you can get pretty close with one of two experiential offerings that J.P. Wiser’s has. The J.P. Wiser’s Whisky Blending Class gives you the chance to learn techniques from Master Blender, Dr. Don Livermore so you can create your own custom whisky. If you prefer to focus on tasting and eating, they offer the J.P. Wiser’s Whisky Pairing Dinner, which includes a four-course meal, whisky infused food, and tasting with the Masters. If you miss out on these two great experiences, check out the Drinks of Walkerville Tour that includes a tour and guided whisky tasting – including a special tasting directly from the barrel, a cocktail at The Windsor Club (a private members club), and a tour of the Walkerville Brewery.
Discover Canadian Whiskies in the middle of the Niagara Wine region
Nestled in the Niagara Region wine country in Beamsville, Ontario, you will find Dillon’s Small Batch Distillers. Small batch distilling allows them to experiment and innovate with different flavours and it creates a really unique experience for those enjoying it – and they use local ingredients to create uniquely Canadian flavours. This family-owned distillery is committed to a return to traditional Canadian distilling techniques and quality using modern technologies. You can experience their small batch whisky tasting all-year-round in their Sipping Room and take home some of the local whiskies and other spirits they distill there.
Also in the heart of Niagara, is Wayne Gretzky Estates Winery and Distillery. Opened in 2017, they offer a complete experience with tastings, classes, and even outdoor skating in the winter. Offering five different whiskies – including a delicious Canadian Cream Liquor made with fresh Ontario cream and Red Cask Whisky, this distillery was also created with the goal of focusing on local, fresh ingredients both for their wines and their whiskies.
If you can’t get enough of Dillon’s and Wayne Gretzky delicious whiskies, be sure to check out the Moose & Squirrel Small Batch Bar + Coffee in the lobby of the DoubleTree Fallsview Resort & Spa by Hilton – Niagara Falls. Featuring local, small batch sprits, wines, and beers on tap, they offer Dillon’s The White Rye as well as other local offerings like Wayne Gretzy whiskies, and Forty Creek Double Barrel Reserve. If featured drinks are more your style, be sure to check out the Whisky Caramel Coffee with Wayne Gretzky Red Cask Whisky and Caramel Flavour Starbucks Coffee.
Spend the weekend with whisky at Forty Creek Distillery
Where else can you sip on the whisky that was awarded Canadian Whisky of the Decade? Forty Creek Distillery in Grimbsy, Ontario is a must-visit stop on your whisky adventures. They have won Whisky of the Year multiple times in the last ten years and consistently produce amazing whiskies. Luckily, they offer daily tours to see how their whiskies are made and to taste what makes them so special. For something a little more exciting, be sure to check out their Annual Whisky Weekend in September. It offers in-depth and behind-the-scenes seminars, entertainment, and, of course, tastings.
Discover the amazing whiskies Alberta has to offer
Mark Bylok thinks that Alberta often gets looked over, but local distilleries really offer some incredible Canadian whiskies – many of which should be in the luxury brand whisky category. Alberta Distillers has been around for a long time, and it offers some of Bylok’s favourite rye whiskies. But don’t expect to have a whisky experience on site; they are closed to the public! While there are a number of distilleries in the province that have been around for a while like Alberta Distillers, there are also some relative newcomers to the craft whisky scene that are looking to make a mark. As a result, you are in for a real treat if you love whisky.
Hansen Distilleries is Edmonton’s first whisky producer. You heard that. The first. And their first small batch whisky, Norther Eyes Whisky, was recently released in early February and sold out within a few days. While they are already widely known in Edmonton for their other craft spirits – especially moonshine – they will be expanding on their whisky offerings as the years come. You can take in a tour and tasting on site to witness history in the making.
Another Alberta whisky newcomer, Bridgeland Distillery in Calgary opened its doors in August 2019 hoping to tap into the amazing local ingredients Alberta has to offer (the best grains and cleanest water from the Rockies). About a three-minute drive from the Hilton Garden Inn Calgary Downtown, you can have a tour and tasting experience in their Tasting Room Wednesday through Sunday. It’s an exciting look at what is happening in the world of craft distillers in the province.
If you want more of a variety of whiskies to sample, check out The Bothy Wine & Whisky Bar in Edmonton. They have over 200 whiskies to choose from and a menu featuring Scottish fare and delicious charcuterie plates. The flavour combinations are endless. If you would prefer something more guided, you can book a private whisky tasting with one of their experts.
Catch an exclusive whisky tasting in Montreal
Café by day, whisky by night? Studio 77 is a chic café/resto lounge that offers exclusive whisky tasting events. With limited seating available, you need to purchase tickets early when these events come up. Ask the front desk at the Home2 Suites by Hilton Montreal Dorval if they know when the next one is coming up.
Have the best whisky experience possible
You might notice that a lot of distilleries are playing with different flavours and even creating smoked whiskies. Whisky, like anything, has multiple factors that affect industry trends. One of those factors is tradition. “Smoked whisky is a trend coming in and out of fashion for centuries,” says Bylok. In Scotland, they continue to use the same traditional smoking methods because of a “sense of tradition” while distilleries in other parts of the world use local, natural smoking agents. Another factor that affects how distilleries create their whisky offerings is popularity and mass-adoption. This is where a lot of flavoured whiskies come into play. While they are not technically whiskies “in a legal [or] traditional way,” their popularity among a broader audience makes them appealing to distilleries.
If you are new to whisky, or you aren’t sure if you really like it, why not try swapping out spirits in your next cocktail. In Bylok’s words, “what cocktails can you make better with whisky? Have a Bloody Caesar or a Moscow Mule and replace vodka with whisky—game changer.”
To find out more about whisky and whisky experiences all over the world and why it is growing in popularity, check out Mark Bylok’s The Whisky Topic Podcast. He has big things coming for the podcast and his website whisky.buzz is the top whisky website in Canada and among the top whisky websites in the world. If you prefer to hold something in your hands, grab a copy of Bylok’s book The Whisky Cabinet.
Most importantly, enjoy your next Canadian whisky experience wherever you end up!