"$200 for a bottle of Canadian Club?" asked Ian. I was packing up most of my stuff to leave Brooklyn. I wasn't leaving for Eugene for two more weeks, but I didn't want to wait until the last second. "Who drinks Canadian Club?" "It's a Mad Men thing, I think." The blended whisky had been moving back up the ranks of acceptable drinks ever since Don Draper, the last style icon we'd had in a while, had sipped a few in an early episode. Or at least I thought that's what he did. It'd been a while since I'd watched Don boss his secretary around. Ian turned up his nose, which was silly. Canadian Club, the regular old stuff you can get for twenty bucks or so, really isn't bad stuff. Too much vanilla overtone for my taste, but not bad for a blend of corn, barley, and rye mashes. I think Ian just doesn't like it because he's from Detroit—okay, well, Ann Arbor, but he wears chains like he used to hang out with the goths at City Club—and after Hiram Walker moved his distillery to Windsor, Ontario, the proud people of Rock City can't stand to think that CC is quality stuff. Or something. I'm not from Detroit.
Canadian Club actually used to be quite a premium drink, due in large part to Walker's decision to age each bottle for five years, unlike other whiskies and bourbons around the turn of the century, which might only spend a few months in oak barrels before getting slipped onto the backs of burros and shipped off to the tipple and julip foundries of the East. But the last couple of decades found blended whiskies relegated to the slop trough, hiding behind sour mix, colas, or deep within cocktails, while the single-barrel stuff gets the attention. Which is fine—I'm not going to argue that single-barrel whiskies aren't great—but as a bourbon drinker, I'm happy to offer up the suggestion that there aren't profound differences between a decent blended whisky and something that is milked from a single nipple of an oak-and-brass spider idol. Yes, yes, the subtlety—I get it. And the smoothness. Sure. (Which, as someone who drinks their whisky neat, I find a peculiar quality over which to stumble. We are sipping straight booze, after all. Buck up.)
I'm in Eugene now, and I've started sipping from this bottle of Canadian Club 30-Year Reserve. It's noon and the sun is starting to shine. The dog sleeps on his bed in a parallelogram of sunlight. I need to get to my point before I blow through the rest of this day—and the bottle, which is nearly gone already.
What I'm trying to say here is that Canadian Club is alright. I actually had a bottle of the standard six-year sitting in the bar in Brooklyn to use as a control versus this 30-year bottle, one of 3,000 released by Canadian Club to celebrate their 150th anniversary. They're clearly the same stuff, still light on the tongue, not too oily, very little oak, with a bit more vanilla sweetness than I think makes sense, but still pleasant enough to let stand on its own, perhaps broken up my a single ice cube if you want to make it suitable for lawn work. The 30-year, though, has been transmuted by that peculiar alchemy made popular by Hiram himself; it's very much the same whisky, but it's so smooth that what alcohol burns the throat is almost an afterthought, a slow suck on a cough drop opposed to the full snort of Vap-o-rub.
Too bad I don't really care about smoothness.
It's inarguably a nice drink, though, as my nearly empty bottle testifies. Paying $200 for a blended whisky is still probably a bit silly, but if you're a dedicated Canadian Club drinker already, it might be worth a splurge to sample what your drink of choice would taste like with another two-and-a-half decades of contemplation. For everyone else—and god knows we're choosing booze on price these days—I'd stick with the six-year. It'll get you farther than a fifth of the way to the same experience.
I was originally going to write this booze up for my friends at Cocktalians, but then I never ended up making any cocktails out of it. So do me a favor and go check their site out.
I'm about to reconstitute my homebrewing setup here in Eugene, so expect more posts about that here on BBG, too.
And if you're a booze distributor, homebrew suppleir, distiller, or importer, and you'd like to give me free liquor to drink and maybe even write about on the site, shoot me an email and I'll give you my address. It's a rough job...