Malt-Whisky-Yearbook-2015

Malt Whisky Yearbook 2015

October 26, 2014

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The annual release of Ingvar Ronde’s Malt Whisky Yearbook has long since established itself as a major event on the global whisky calendar. This year, its tenth, Ingvar devoted a page to Canada’s burgeoning whisky scene. The text of that article is reproduced below.


Which spirit is the most popular in Canada and where does whisky fit into the picture?

Last year Canadians bought 17.4 million 9-litre cases of spirits, with vodka the most popular at 4.9 million cases and whisky right behind it at 4.7 million. Current trends show that whisky will soon overtake vodka for number 1 position.

What types of whisky are the most popular in Canada? (Bourbon, Irish, Canadian, Scotch blend, Scotch malt etc)

Canadian whisky is the overwhelming favourite of whisky drinkers in Canada. Of 4.7 million cases of whisky sold in Canada last year, 3.4 million were Canadian whisky, 0.9 were Scotch (of which 0.2 were single malt) 0.3 were bourbon and 0.1 were Irish and other.

When would you say people in Canada started to get seriously interested in whisky? What triggered it and how has that interest developed?

Whisky has been Canada’s spirit drink of choice for well over 200 years. This is primarily because grain grows abundantly here, so is available to brew and distil. The first whisky makers were largely English and German settlers. In the early days, Scottish immigrants made rum. Commercial-scale whisky distilleries began to emerge around 1820 and have prospered ever since. More recently, premiumization has generated new interest in bourbon and Canadian whisky.

Which brands of Scotch are the most popular in Canada?

Of Scotch whisky overall, Johnnie Walker Red rules, with Ballantines, Chivas Regal, Grants, Dewar’s, Cutty Sark, J&B, Teacher’s, and Famous Grouse also selling well.

How is whisky sold in Canada, is there a wide variety of brands and is it easy to find the brand you want?

For the most part, whisky is sold by provincial-government-owned monopoly liquor boards whose main focus is wine. Alberta and to some extent British Columbia allow some free enterprise at the retail level but these are relatively small markets. At the time of writing there are 141 different single malts from 52 distilleries available at LCBO, Canada’s largest liquor board with over 600 stores. Of these malts, all but a handful are average everyday drams: Glenfiddich, Glenlivet, Macallan, Balvenie, McClelland’s, Benriach, Dalmore, the Diageo range, the Islays, Aberlour and the like.

How is whisky marketed in Canada? (advertising, whisky shows, whisky clubs, social media, other)

Most liquor boards encourage whisky makers to spend their advertising dollars on in-house liquor board publications. Independent whisky clubs are popular, as is a network of Scotch clubs called the Companions of the Quaich. These clubs hold regular tastings and are popular for business networking which compensates somewhat for the relatively narrow range of whiskies they can pour.

The only world-class whisky show in Canada is the Victoria Whisky Festival. Somehow they have managed to get their liquor board on side and so are able to pour at least three times as many different whiskies as any other show. Victoria is also the only show to consistently draw a large contingent of A-list whisky ambassadors. Close behind them is the Fredericton Spirits Festival in New Brunswick, now in its 19th year. Victoria and Fredericton are both multi-day volunteer events with all profits going to charity.

Toronto is Canada’s major whisky market and hosts several commercial whisky shows and events throughout the year. Last year’s clear favourite was Beam Confidential, hosted by Beam Inc. Canada’s best attended show is Whisky Live in Toronto, while the Spirit of Toronto remains the sentimental favourite of hard-core aficionados. Both are severely constrained in whisky selection by a disinterested liquor board, yet still manage to pour a few very special whiskies.

Is whisky considered a luxury drink compared to other spirits?

Whisky, and particularly Scotch, is the default luxury spirit in Canada, while North American whisky is seen as an affordable luxury.

Is there a clearly defined group of customers buying whisky? (income, age, education, social position etc)

The demographic range of whisky buyers and drinkers in Canada is very broad – gratifyingly so. Interestingly, better-educated whisky drinkers tend to prefer Canadian whisky.

Is whisky something you drink at home or in a bar or restaurant?

Generally, people enjoy their whisky at home, at parties, in casual dining restaurants and in bars. Most of the whisky consumed in Canada is not sipping whisky, but a social lubricant, for good times rather than to savour and analyze.

Are there special occasions when whisky is preferred? (during dinner, special holidays, anniversaries, weekends, after work etc.)

People celebrate and toast with what they have at hand. There is no whisky-specific occasion. The ultimate toast though, is still Champagne.

How is whisky usually enjoyed in Canada? (neat, water, ice, with mixer, cocktail)

Far and away whisky is enjoyed most commonly in a highball – rye (Canadian whisky) and ginger, and Jack (Jack Daniel’s) and Coke are the two favourites. Interest in classic whisky cocktails is up over 50% in the past five years in restaurants and bars.

Would you say that the customer in Canada is educated when it comes to whisky production, whisky maturation and the differences between various whiskies?

Absolutely not, and much of what they think they know is myth.

How many producers of whisky do you have in Canada and how would you describe the future for domestic whisky in your country?

There are seven major distilleries in Canada. Canadian whisky is experiencing a renaissance and distilleries are expanding, so the future looks very bright. But remember, Canadian whisky has been the best selling whisky in all of North America since 1865. As well, we have a growing craft whisky movement making very interesting single malts and whiskies from other grains.

What are your thoughts on the future for Scotch whisky in Canada?

Scotch will hold its own, however Canadian whisky drinkers have always had access to great Canadian whiskies and bourbons so their palates are broader than just Scotch. It does not help Scotch that the liquor boards bring in the most mundane malts then make a big deal about having done so.

The Malt Whisky Yearbook can be purchased by clicking this link to MagDig Publications.


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