The United States Congress declared bourbon America’s “native spirit” back in 1964, but the American whiskey sales in Canada are booming, led by British Columbia and Ontario.
According to the British Columbia Liquor Distribution Branch, American whiskey sales are up over 60 per cent in that province since 2011. Interestingly, about 25 per cent of 2015 sales in B.C. have been to licensees, compared to just 6.3 per cent of Canadian whisky sales, showing bourbon works in bars.
The Liquor Control Board of Ontario has seen double-digit growth in bourbon in each of the last three years, with year-to-date 2015 showing the largest increase of 13.8 per cent. While Jack Daniels, produced in Tennessee, still commands more than 50 per cent of the market, the superstar has been Bulleit Bourbon Frontier Whiskey, produced by Kirin Brewing Company Four Roses Distillery in Lawrenceburg, Ky., up an incredible 435 per cent since 2011 and now the third-biggest bourbon in the province in terms of sales.
Bourbon is whiskey that can only be made in the United States. All bourbon must be aged, but as little as three months qualify. For fuller oak flavours, look for “straight” bourbons, which need at least two years. Premium bourbons are older still. Bourbons must be made from at least 51 per cent corn, but a higher percentage of rye “adds a lot of character and balances out the sweetness,” says Mark Bylok, Toronto-based author of The Whisky Cabinet.
Evan Georgiades of Toronto’s Monarch Tavern loves rare and old bourbons such as Pappy Van Winkle (available by lottery only) and Eagle Rare — a 10-year-old variety occasionally available retail in Canada. Georgiades says his top bar brand is Makers Mark, a small-batch bourbon whiskey distilled in Loretto, Ky. by Beam Suntory. “It’s a go-to bourbon people will call out for. If you have a serious bourbon fan, they’re going to want something new, so make sure you have a hard-to-find bourbon or two.”
Bylok describes bourbons made with 40 per cent alcohol as sweeter and lighter, but “at 45 per cent things start to get interesting,” he says, noting increased alcohol content magnifies bourbon flavours such as vanilla, caramel, spice and floral notes. He likes Bookers, produced by the Jim Beam distillery, featuring a shocking 64 per cent alcohol.
Jeff Houlton, manager at Hooch Bourbon House in Ottawa, likes the new Woodford Reserve double oak (from Kentucky-based Brown-Forman Corporation), which is on the sweeter side, and says “Buffalo Trace is a great, great bourbon with an excellent price/quality ratio.” He also says bourbon-based cocktails such as the Old Fashioned is huge, as are Mad Men-inspired Manhattans, but about 40 per cent of the cocktails he serves are “craft” — made using fresh ingredients — such as Houlton’s O-Town Sour, which takes the standard “sour” recipe, including fresh lemon and lime, and adds an unusual “float” of cabernet sauvignon, cola and cinnamon sticks.
Written By: Alan McGuinty
Volume 48, Number 11