Craft whisky is as different from mass-market whisky as craft beer is different from mass-market beer. Canadian distillers have the creativity advantage when it comes to distilling Craft.
PART 3 – WHY I lOVE CANADIAN WHISKY! – It’s the science!
In honour of Jim Murray’s 2020 Canadian pick for “Best Whisky in the World”, let’s go deep into Canadian Whisky. Let’s look at some of the things that make Canadian whisky truly unique and worthy of best in the world status.
GETTING THE MOST FROM EVERY INGREDIENT
Canadian whisky is greater than the sum of the parts. Each grain can be cooked, fermented, distilled, and aged separately. Treating each ingredient individually allows the distiller to customize the process for each grain. When each grain is isolated, unique flavours can be coaxed out of the grain.
Barley, corn, sorghum, spelt, teff amaranth, buckwheat – all have unique properties. Each can benefit from specific mashing, fermentation, and aging techniques that are unique to the characteristics of the individual grain. Individual treatment gets the best from every ingredient.
FERMENTATION IS CRITICAL, AND OFTEN OVERLOOKED
For example, the technical requirements of a corn mash is vastly different than malted barley. Fermenting rye with a wild Belgian yeast can draw-out spiciness while oilier oats may benefit from an aggressive yeast and a higher fermentation temperature.
Using two or more yeasts adds diverse flavors, and improves conversion into alcohol.
DIFFERENT BARRELS FOSTER DIFFERENT OUTCOMES
Barrel-aging techniques matched to matched to the character of the distillate produce a better outcome. The nuanced flavours in triticale are retained when aged in lightly-toasted barrels, compared to heavily charred barrels that suit sour-mashed corn distillate. Wheat that has been distilled to a high proof needs to rest in second-use barrels to avoid too much oak flavouring, while malted barley distilled to a low proof may be best in new oak, to balance the robust grain flavors with vanilla and carmel oak character.
THE RIGHT TOOL FOR THE JOB – POT STILL, COLUMN STILL, OR BOTH?
Canadian whisky often uses different specialized equipment to achieve specific outcomes for individual ingredients. Canadian whisky is often a blend of light-character whisky from a continuous column still and highly flavourful whisky from an alembic pot still.
VARIETY IS THE SPICE OF LIFE, AND THE PATH TO GREAT WHISKY
The base whisky, usually made on a column still, is a blank canvas that will be brought to life by an assortment of flavourful whiskies, usually made on a pot still. The flavor whiskies can be exotic ingredients aged in rare-wood barrels. Think of flavour whisky like the spice rack in your kitchen. One spice-mix gives you minestrone, while a different mix gives you red-hot chilli. Having multiple flavor whiskies to choose from is like having a big spice rack.
Canadian whisky is different from other whiskies because it allows more creativity with recipes, it encourages science and modern technology, and allows maximum flexibility at every stage of the process.
In the last, crucial stage, blending, the formulation of the blend – the mixing of base whisky and flavor whisky can be done just before the final aging, a period known as “marrying” the spirits. Blending is the subject of the next installment of “Why I love Canadian Whisky”
QUESTION: What is your favourite flavour in whisky? Is it grain character of malt, corn or rye? Is it wood character of sweet caramel and vanilla? Is it fruity character from fermentation like orange or dried fruits?