On this episode of the “VinePair Podcast,” hosts Adam Teeter, Joanna Sciarrino, and Zach Geballe chat about an underrated spirits category: Canadian whisky. Although the craft distilling movement hasn’t quite touched upon that market just yet, it’s a category that could have a strong impact on the American market in coming years.
For this Friday’s tasting, your hosts try one of Canada’s biggest and most popular whisky brands — and the brand’s most successful recent product — Crown Royal Apple and Peach. Tune in to learn more.
Or Check Out the Conversation Here
Adam Teeter: From VinePair’s New York City headquarters, I’m Adam Teeter.
Joanna Sciarrino: And I’m Joanna Sciarrino.
Zach Geballe: In Seattle, Washington, I’m Zach Geballe.
A: And this is the “VinePair Podcast,” Friday edition. Dun dun dun. Today, we’re going to chat briefly about a whisky that I think a lot of people are familiar with, but it’s probably been a while since many have had it. Though not everyone, because this whisky, or at least one of these brands, is representative for almost 35 to 40 percent of one of a major company’s sales in the U.S. So it’s a big category that we don’t talk about enough. And that is Canadian whisky.
A: So when I say Canadian whisky, what do you both think of immediately?
J: Canadian Club.
J: Crown Royal.
Z: My experiences drinking Canadian whisky have almost exclusively been, here is a thing that is poured in a glass for me and I drink it without thinking about it.
J: What do you mean?
Z: I don’t mean that to denigrate, but to me, Canadian whisky is something I’m almost always drinking while doing something else. And I’m not really thinking about what I’m drinking. One of my cousins loves Crown Royal. It’s his drink. And when I go over and hang out at his house sometimes, he’ll be like, pour it while we watch a baseball game or a football game or when we’re hanging out in the yard. But it’s never been a category that I’ve sat down like, “Man, let me do a Canadian whisky tasting.” This is the thing that I really want to get into. I really posed this topic out of almost embarrassing ignorance given, frankly, how close I am to Canada and just in general with my position in this industry. Joanna mentioned Canadian Club. We’ve all mentioned Crown Royal. There’s a couple of other sizable brands, but is there a craft distilling movement in Canada? Why don’t we see interesting ryes or single malts? Why isn’t there something that we’ve seen around the world? I know it must be happening, but why has it not penetrated the American drinks consciousness? Or am I just completely ignorant to what’s going on?
A: There definitely is.
J: There must be.
A: Yeah, there definitely is.
Z: Joanna, you’re our resident quasi-Canadian.
J: I know, but that’s the thing. Evan’s family drinks Canadian Club and Crown Royal. I’m aware of some craft whisky being made in the Yukon. That’s where his little sister lives, up in Whitehorse. I think it’s called Two Robbers, sorry if that’s incorrect. There’s a brand there that I’m aware of. But outside of that, it’s not a conversation we have often because those brands are so big here, why try anything else?
A: I also think Canada is a really unique country. Please don’t come for me, Evan, but I think that it’s a really interesting country in that Canadians are so proud to be Canadian. And a lot of the brands in Canada that are owned by these larger companies are very strongly woven into the fabric of what it means to be Canadian when it comes to alcohol. I think about even when I would go to Michigan — my dad’s from Michigan — and we would go across the border into Canada, you would see tons and tons and tons of Labatt Molson. People were very proud to drink that. It’s the same with Canadian Club, same with Crown Royal. It was such a huge, huge part of Canada. And Canada had a really robust spirits industry. It still does, right? I remember the Bronfmans were in Canada. Seagram’s was based there.
J: Seagram’s is another one, too.
A: And they really built that industry. Also, Canada is a country that very much profited from Prohibition. A lot of the whiskey that Americans were drinking, a lot of the whiskey that taught Americans to appreciate whiskey, was Canadian because that was coming across the border during Prohibition. It’s this smoother style that we really got used to that still is, arguably, is much more widely embraced among the majority of American drinkers than barrel-proof bourbons and really smoky Scotches. People were looking for a whiskey that had flavor, but that was really easygoing as well. And that, to me, is always what Canadian whisky has been. The other thing about that was a mistake on my part, but something that I used to assume, was that everything that was Canadian was rye.
A: Because Canada also has this very strong connection to rye whisky. All of the whisky that comes across from Canada are not rye, obviously. But Crown does make a really nice rye. There are others coming out of there. The open secret is that the majority of the ryes that were initially purchased for WhistlePig, based in Vermont, were basically finished in Vermont. Because they didn’t make those whiskeys. They are starting to distill now. All the whiskeys they’ve won awards for, they finished in their barrels. But they were aged whisky for forever from a producer in Canada. So they’re Canadian whiskies and Canadian ryes. For the longest time, Canada has made really, really excellent whisky. The master distiller of Crown Royal wins award after award after award at whiskey competitions and through whiskey press because of how talented he is. And he’s helped a lot of other people across the country. So it’s a great liquid, but I think for whatever reason — how it came into the U.S. and whatever — it does get this rap for being on the budget side.
J: I think it’s also just fully overshadowed by the whiskey happening in the United States. And that’s why, too. I found this out for this conversation, but Fireball is made with Canadian whisky and is from Canada.
Z: I didn’t even realize.
J: I just feel there are so many whiskeys in the States to drink and they’re so popular, especially in the United States. I’m sure it’s different in Canada, but why would you drink Canadian whisky instead?
Z: I guess if it’s not just a price. Smoothness is definitely something that generally is associated with Canadian whisky and a selling point for a lot of people. But again, it comes back to this question that Canada has as rich a distilling history as America does. It has this long distilling history like America does. And it certainly has the potential for its own interesting, distinct, raw material inputs. I’d be curious to know exactly where the grain is coming from and what they’re growing. And obviously it’s pretty different from what you’re seeing in a mash bill in the southern United States or even in some of the northern parts. You’ve talked about it before, Joanna, when you’re up there, about the craft beer you have. Maybe that doesn’t make it across the border because importing booze is tricky. As I’m talking through this, probably a big part of it, too, is that importing alcohol from Canada to the U.S. is actually kind of tricky. I’ve seen this more from the standpoint of wine because, as we’ve talked about on the podcast, I have a lot of love for the wines of British Columbia. They are very, very hard to get in the U.S., probably because they’re small-scale production for the most part, but also because despite being literally on the border, it’s been generally challenging to get the wine imported into the U.S. Not logistically, but legally and financially. And I wonder if that might be the other issue here, too, just that there might be some really exciting, interesting things going on in Canada — Canadian listeners, let us know at [email protected] — yet we’re just not able to taste it because it’s actually really hard to get across the border.
J: You can’t get it, yep.
Z: Unless Joanna smuggles it back for us.
J: Actually, the Yukon one is called Two Brewers. But I know that you cannot get it outside of the Yukon.
Z: There you go, a field trip for you, Joanna.
A: We’ve danced on this enough. The one whisky that is just a behemoth in the U.S., and one of the most popular whiskeys in the U.S. as a whole, is Crown Royal.
J: It’s also one of the most popular liquors in the world.
A: Yes. But what I think is really interesting is that one of the things that has made it so popular in recent years is not that it’s traditional whisky, although I have a lot of memories growing up of Crown Royal because my dad used to use the purple bags to store things, like cameras and lenses and random stuff. So anyway, I remember the purple bag very vividly, and it always said to me “class.” “First Class,” as Jack Harlow would say. And I feel like that is something that has just been such a great move for that brand for so long. In recent years they’ve moved into flavors and there are so many that you cannot get. They’re so popular, especially one flavor that is almost impossible to find. Although the two of you found it, which boggles the mind. But in a lot of the country, Peach is almost impossible to find. Or it sells out immediately. We’ve written a piece about it on the site about how there are secondary markets for Peach, where people line up when they hear that Peach is hitting their store. There’s Apple, there’s Vanilla. They do others as well. But I’ve never had any of them. We have them here today. So I got Apple. I went to a liquor store near the office and I actually got the smallest bottle that they would sell me, which was plastic. I haven’t had a plastic bottle of spirit ever, I don’t think. So this is the smallest bottle they have of Apple.
J: Is it 325 milliliters?
A: It’s much less. I’m looking for the number.
Z: But it’s not like an airline bottle, right?
A: No, no, no. It’s not an airline bottle. It’s a little bit bigger.
Z: Also, you telling me you’ve never had a plastic bottle of liquor makes me mad. You must not have been buying the kind of liquor I was buying in college.
A: I’m too bougie, ya’ll. I asked, “Oh, do you do that in Peach as well,” and they said, “No, they don’t release peach in anything but the glass bottle with the box.” They definitely are buying into the hype. They’re creating scarcity, because Apple is everywhere. You can’t tell me that they can’t make Peach just as ubiquitous. I think that they purposely make Peach harder to find. So I have the Apple. Let me open this up. I’m going to drink from the bottle, y’all.
Z: God, we need a video of this right now. I’m so disappointed we’re not going to see it. You’re going to do the whole thing in one go?
A: No, not in one go. I will tell you, the second you open it, I definitely smell a very strong apple aroma. It’s like green apple Jolly Rancher, but then it has that whisky background. Think, you’re eating a piece of apple pie with a little bit of whisky on the side. It has that buttery vanilla going on as well. By the way, it’s 35 percent alcohol, so it’s much lower ABV. This is weird to say, but it just smells smooth. Does that make sense to you guys? You just know this is not going to be something that’s going to be harsh or that’s going to burn. OK, let me take a swig. Oh, man, that’s too easy.
Z: I know what the rest of your Friday is gonna look like.
A: That didn’t need water. It also tastes like candy.
J: Is it sweet?
A: Yes, but not too sweet because of the whisky. It doesn’t taste like Skrewball or things like that.
Z: You’re not drinking an Appletini.
A: Right. It still has that whisky backbone. And that’s probably why it’s so popular. I think for a lot of people, it gives that feeling of drinking whisky but with this flavoring. It’s pretty good. This wouldn’t be my choice all the time, but I can’t deny that there’s flavor here that’s done well. So this is now a Diageo product. I think they’ve owned Crown for a while. Diageo is one of the companies that does flavor really well, and the flavor is pretty good. Wow. You guys have the Peach. I’ve never had it.
J: I’ve got mine poured into a glass.
Z: Yeah, me too.
J: It smells very peachy, like peach rings.
Z: But what’s interesting is that there’s a confected peach note, but it didn’t smell to me overtly artificial. It smells like concentrated peach, but not artificial peach, if that makes sense.
J: Yeah, it smells good. You still pick up the whisky, though.
A: Yeah, isn’t that interesting? That’s the thing I thought, too. You could get an idea that it definitely smells, I don’t want to say sweet, but candy-like, as we’re all saying. But it doesn’t smell confectionary and it smells good. I don’t know how you can explain that besides just saying, “Yes, it smells good.” It smells like the way I would want Apple to smell, and I’m assuming the same for you with Peach.
Z: Yeah. I got to say, you said smooth, this is just tasty.
A: Yeah, it really is.
J: It’s very easy to drink.
Z: I mean, peach and whiskey is just such a dynamite combo. It’s very funny that the most popular peach-infused whiskey is a Canadian whisky. Because obviously, peaches come from Georgia. They’re not Canadian peaches. It is delicious and I get why people love this. I don’t know that I would pay secondary market prices for it. I’d probably just find another way to get peach in my whiskey. But it’s good. It’s a good combo of flavor.
A: Yeah, it really is. The flavors are really good. And I definitely see why people like it.
J: This would be good in iced tea.
A: Oh, that would be so good. Obviously, you could make an interesting fall Old Fashioned with it. Or lots of different fall drinks with the Apple. I’m wondering if one of the reasons Peach was so hard to find for me is because it’s the summer. That just makes sense. Everyone’s like, “Yeah, you can have as much Apple as you want.” I wonder if Apple will be harder to find in October.
Z: Although, this is one of the things I do love about this kind of product. I also can imagine drinking this in the dead of winter and being like, “Here is the thing that gives me that hint of summer, but I’m not gonna find peaches.” I can have my peach whisky that’s delicious and reminiscent of a season that I’m longing for when it’s cold and gross.
J: Yeah, that’s a good point there. They’re using these for their RTDs, right?
A: They are in some and then in some they’re using traditional Crown Royal. That was also all over the liquor store that I went to. They have all their RTDs, and their Crown and Cola was in a huge display inside the liquor store. Again, I think people who like Crown like that product. If you don’t like Crown, then maybe it’s not going to be for you. But there are a lot of people that clearly like Crown.
Z: This actually comes back to the thing we said at the very top when we were talking about feelings about whiskey. This is maybe more what I should have tried to say. I don’t know anyone who’s like, “Oh, Crown Royal’s gross,” unless you just don’t like whiskey. But if you like whiskey, I can see a lot of people who are like, “It’s not my favorite.” But it hits the basic whiskey notes that you would expect. And does it so competently that it is a thoroughly unobjectionable and perfectly acceptable whiskey that I would drink whenever, but it may not be the thing that I opt for, given a large selection. If someone’s like, “Hey, you want some whiskey?” And I’m like, “Sure,” and they pour me Crown Royal, I’m not going to be like, “Oh, really?” I mean, they’re fine. That’s great.
A: Sounds good.
J: Classic Zach.
Z: Now you both have done it on the podcast. Good.
A: If you’ve had these before, let us know what you think at [email protected]. And if you have not, today is always a new day. Go out and try it.
J: Tell us your favorite Canadian whiskies, too.
Z: I want to know if you’ve got craft Canadian whisky recommendations.
A: Hit us up. And if you make a craft Canadian whisky, we’re more than happy to try it. All right, we’re back on Monday. Joanna and Zach, have a great weekend. Everyone else out there, too.
J: Talk to you guys next week.
Z: Sounds great.
Thanks so much for listening to the “VinePair Podcast.” If you love this show as much as we love making it, please leave us a rating or review on iTunes, Spotify, Stitcher or wherever it is you get your podcasts. It really helps everyone else discover the show.
Now for the credits. VinePair is produced and recorded in New York City and Seattle, Washington, by myself and Zach Geballe, who does all the editing and loves to get the credit. Also, I would love to give a special shout-out to my VinePair co-founder, Josh Malin, for helping make all of this possible, and also to Keith Beavers, VinePair’s tastings director, who is additionally a producer on the show. I also want to, of course, thank every other member of the VinePair team, who are instrumental in all of the ideas that go into making the show every week. Thanks so much for listening, and we’ll see you again.
Ed. note: This episode has been edited for length and clarity.