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3 whiskies that offer a Canadian sense of place

February 22, 2024

In a crowded beverage-alcohol market, three new whiskies – blended by notable industry masters and defined by a sense of place from east coast to west – have found their niche within the broader Canadian-whisky landscape.

Read Also: Bearface: “A whisky the world wishes it could make but only Canada can”

Two of the brands boast the whisky-sipping bona fides of Canadian celebrities, while a third resets the tradition of Canadian rye: Kiefer Sutherland’s Red Bank, Michael Bublé’s Fraser & Thompson, and Joshua Beach’s Rye Fifty-One. The trio shares qualities that welcome new whisky drinkers, satisfy aficionados, and provide bartenders and mixologists with a unique base for crafting cocktails that showcase the essence of this Canadian spirit.


Red Bank Premium Blended Canadian Whisky

Red Bank’s around-the-fire vibe

Red Bank is passion project of Canadian actor Kiefer Sutherland. His signature inscribes the bottle, but the contents are a collaboration with three east coast co-founders who enlisted master blender Michel Marcil – and his decades of industry experience – to craft a unique Canadian whisky.

“The inspiration came from Kiefer. He drinks whiskies from around the world. He said, ‘Michel, I want something really appealing. Spicy like a rye but smooth too,’” said Marcil.

According to co-founder Shawn Hiscott, “For Kiefer, whisky is about sitting and sipping with friends around the fire, enjoying each other’s company and conversation.”

Kiefer Sutherland, Red Barn Whisky

Kiefer Sutherland and his Red Bank Whisky.

The name pays homage to the rugged coastal terroir of St. Margarets Bay in Nova Scotia, Red Bank’s birthplace: heading out to sea, fishers call the port side of the harbour Green Bank and the starboard side Red Bank.

“Red Bank is good for sipping neat – or with one ice cube only – and for cocktails like a Manhattan,” said Marcil. “Balance is important for me when I create something. And it was for Kiefer too.”

Balance in the Red Bank whisky experience

Pale gold with sparse legs. Medium intensity nose with oak, allspice, orchard fruit, vanilla, licorice and chocolate. On the palate, initial pepperiness yields to toasted almonds and a hint of nutmeg; a few seconds’ pause on the next sip reveals toasted oak for a medium finish with pepper character and baking spice-warmth.


Harris Beach Spirits Rye Fifty-One Whisky 

Harris Beach Spirits: wry on rye

With an MSc in brewing and distilling from Edinburgh’s Harriot-Watt University, founder-whisky maker Joshua Beach says his whisky delivers bold rye flavour. But he quickly asserts that while rye is synonymous with Canadian whisky, there’s a misconception about “percentages” – so he’s wryly dubbed his rye “51.”

“The implication is that for it to be true rye it must be 51% or more. This is my tongue-in-cheek take. A true rye must be bold and spicy in rye flavour, not an arbitrary number.”

Harris Beach Whisky

Harris Beach Whisky

Created using Ontario rye – “I love the idea of grain-to-glass whisky” – Beach has crafted a smooth-sipping whisky that excels in cocktails too: a classic Manhattan, or Boulevardier, but measured .75, .75 – saving the 1.5 for the “51.”

A crackerjack of a tasting note

Amber maple-syrup colour. Finish in virgin American and French oak produces caramel and vanilla on the nose, followed by crème brûlée flavours. “I even think Cracker Jack, a very specific type of caramel,” Beach said, adding that the finish is redolent of the gently charred orange wheel garnishing a cocktail. “It’s a trifecta of flavours that sit on your tongue and tickle and dance,” he said. “You can notice that it’s a rye.”


Fraser and Thompson North American Whiskey

The F&T ethos

Montreal-based master distiller Paul Cirka says navigating pandemic conditions prompted unforeseen collaborations, including one with his British Columbia-born friend and Grammy-winning singer Michael Bublé: a North American blend of Canadian whisky and Kentucky bourbon called Fraser & Thompson – the Thompson River being a tributary of the mighty Fraser and its Canadian Rockies headwaters.

“After chatting, there was no question it would be whisky,” said Cirka noting that he was eager to disabuse brown-spirit drinkers of the notion that Canadian whiskies were “the McDonald’s” of the whisky world: “there was a lot of it, but none very good.”

Whiskies

Fraser & Thompson Whiskey.

After two years developing F&T’s formula, the pair have a terroir-driven spirit that honours the confluence of soil, grains, farmers and malters, said Cirka. “We brought regional diversity to the forefront, and I think Michael really appreciated that.”

A whisky tasting experience that sings

Fig and blood orange on the nose with caramel, vanilla and hints of spice. Eschewing aggressive volatiles for fruity notes, the difference is how it sits on your palate and goes down into your chest. “It’s a warmth rather than a burn,” said Cirka: “We went through a lot of whiskies to do that. It’s a fine line to tread not alienating new whisky drinkers while remaining credible in our craft so aficionados can say, ‘That’s a really good whisky.’”

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