Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Review: Canadian Club 20 years

Andy Rooney (1919-2011) Photo credit: CBS Archives 1982

You probably know the name 'Andy Rooney.'  He was the old crank (actually he was pretty nice in person) who appeared in the final five minute segment, each week, of the CBS television program 60 Minutes.  He  discussed his pet peeves and wry observations of life on the program and in a nationally syndicated column for 32 years.

In his final appearance on 60 Minutes, he reflected on his life and work as a writer and had this to say:

A writers' job is to tell the truth.  I believe that if all the truth were known about everything in the world it would be a better place to live.  I know I've been terribly wrong sometimes, but I think I've been right more than I've been wrong.

What resonated with me was . . . a writer's job is to tell the truth . . . a writer's job is to tell the truth . . . It's like a mantra turning over and over in my head.

Canadian Club 20 years - Canadian Whisky

I'm Canadian.  You know the type, we're not the ones in the airport, going through customs and making a fuss about having to remove our shoes or object to opening our luggage.  We're pretty easy-going, low key and not looking to make waves.

I fall into that category.  I don't seek out conflict.  But, in another sense, I am 'conflicted.'  Most of my reviews are about scotch whisky.  Many Canadians email me and say: Hey! what about Canadian whisky?  Well, what about it?  Just because I am Canadian doesn't mean I have to review all spirits Canadian, or so you would think.  But, these emails bug me.  Eat away at my psyche, cause me to feel guilty/unpatriotic.  I feel often compelled to write glowing reviews of Canadian whisky, which would not be very honest.  So, it was in these circumstances that I found myself at the local liquor store in search of a good Canadian whisky.

I found a bottle of Canadian Club aged 20 years, and as I sipped this whisky, I could hear Andy's voice.

Nose (undiluted)
Perfumed, minty, incense.

Palate (undiluted)
Sweet ginger, lime, black pepper dusted Camembert.  There is an unmistakable grainy aspect to this whisky that is typical of Canadian spirits.  It's not a cheap grainy taste, but grainy nevertheless, that is somewhat disappointing.

Finish (undiluted)
Oak, cinnamon and candy cane.

General Impressions
The corn delivers the initial sweetness followed by some rye that renders the spice.  Canadian Club 20 years is a good representation of Canadian whisky.  Initially, it is smooth and sweet due to the corn, before transitioning to spiced oak/limes and pepper as a result of rye.  While it is good, it is not great, not tremendous.  The flavour profile is pancake flat, other than a little spiced rye coming through mid-palate.

I was expecting a lot more from a 20 year old Canadian whisky.  On ice, it becomes much smoother and the chill makes it go down easier than it already is, which is about as easy as Pamela Anderson (another Canadian) on prom night.

The Truth about Canadian Whisky
Truth be told, Canadian whisky often tastes best when mixed with ginger ale or another mixer.  Yes, you read that sentence correctly.  Canadian whisky seems almost designed to be enjoyed with mix.  Please note that this is not a 'put-down' or proof that this spirit category is inferior to scotch.  It is merely my observation.  Ultimately, the reason you are reading this review is because you are seeking the optimal tasting experience, and so with respect to most Canadian whisky, please add some mix (ie. ginger ale, coke, etc.).

Rare is the Canadian whisky that can be enjoyed neat.  Canadian Club 20 years is not an exception to that rule.  I tried it with ginger ale and ice in a tumbler, and damn, it was good.

The rare few that are great neat are:

  • Gibson's Finest 18 years;
  • Forty Creek John's Private Cask No. 1;
  • Whistle Pig
Whistle Pig, by the way, is 100% rye whisky that is distilled and aged entirely in Canada, and thereafter exported to Vermont, where it is bottled.  Many people assume that Whistle Pig is American whisky, and I can understand the confusion because the website implies that it is so, without stating so.  Kinda deceptive if you ask me.  Check the labels and you will see in little print that Whistle Pig is 100% Canadian whisky.  They just 'hand bottle' it on a farm in Vermont.

Price Point Analysis
As mentioned above, consumed neat, this whisky is lacking a wow factor that I expect at the price point of $55 and given a 20 year old age statement.    However, if you want to make a classic/fantastic Canadian whisky with ginger ale, then this spirit hits the nail on the head perfectly.  If that is your aim, this is well worth the price point.

Great Gift Idea
If you know the recipient of your holiday largesse is a Canadian whisky fan, then Canadian Club 20 years is a good choice.  It will not disappoint.  Moreover, it meets all the essential benchmarks of Canadian whisky: smooth but some spiciness, light texture but concentrated, good integration of grains and cereal flavors, and well balanced.  These elements marry well with ginger ale.

If you are buying this whisky for a scotch fan, I would be careful.  Canadian whisky is very different from scotch whisky.  The former is nearly always blended, light bodied, rarely tasting of sherry and certainly not peated.  Scotch fans may not enjoy the grains in this whisky.  Scotch nuts tend to enjoy their libation neat and so, this is not an ideal gift idea.  Buy scotch for scotch fans and Canadian whisky for Canadian whisky fans.

Well Andy, did I do good?

Jason Debly

Copyright © Jason Debly, 2009-2011. All rights reserved. Any and all use is prohibited without permission. Copyright to photographs of Andy Rooney are the property of CBS and appear here solely for nostalgia and entertainment purposes.


  1. Jason, thanks for the review. You mentioned Whistle Pig. I did not dig that whisky. In the same series there are three more Canadian 100% rye whiskies sold under US labels: Masterson's 11 yo, Jefferson's 10 yo, and Pendleton 1910 12 yo rye. I have tried the last one and really like it! In true Canadian fashion, it is not in-your-face, its charms are subtle, but the more time you spend with it, the more interesting it becomes. has a very good review of it.

  2. Yes Jason, you gotta tell it like it is, and that's why we all love your blog! Just curious, are the once-pretty, but now sad and dying flowers supposed to be symbolic for Canadian Whisky? Or am I looking into that too hard? ;-)

  3. Hi Ryan,

    The dying flowers reflect the time of year (the Fall/Winter), not the state of Canadian whisky.

    Canadian whisky has some great spirits in full 'bloom' if you will, they just do not happen to be Canadian Club 20 years.


  4. Thanks Jason, yes that makes more sense than what I said. I'm sorry, I really need to get my hands on a good bottle of Canadian Whisky so I can stop being so cynical about it!

  5. Hello Jason
    Just came across your site after doing an internet search for Chivas Regal. Very interesting.
    One thing that would be helpful would be a "search" facility on the your site.

  6. Hi George,

    There is a search engine in the top left hand corner of the screen, but it is quite limited.

    There are a number of limitations to this site. Among them the difficulty in searching whiskies that I have reviewed.

    My problem is that I am not a techie, and therefore have no idea how to remedy the problem. The cost of a stand alone custom site is too great for me.


  7. Our Canadian friends have a great passion for the nectar, and it really shows in their contribution to the world of whisky. As a matter of fact the best single malt outside of Scotland, in my opinion is the Glen Breton 10. Though my knowledge on Canadian whisky is limited.

  8. Jason, you actually look like Andy Rooney! If you did changed you hair color you would.

    1. Heh, hehehe! What's that I hear? Oh, it's Andy rolling over in his grave!

  9. The truth about Canadian whisky is that if your palate is accustomed to the heavier flavours of bourbon or Scotch, it will probably seem "pancake flat" by comparison. Just as someone accustomed to Canadian whisky would probably find bourbon or Scotch overwhelming. I disagree that most Canadian whiskies are not meant to be taken neat. Even Canadian Club 12 year old is perfectly fine on its own. I can't see why anyone would shell out fifty bucks on a 20 year old whisky just to drown it in ginger ale. Granted, I haven't tried CC 20, but my experience with other well-aged Canadians shows that subtlety and lack of complexity are not the same thing. But, to each his own.

    1. Maybe I should have qualified my comment a bit about how Canadian whisky is intended to be consumer.

      Historically, it has been used as mix, but in recent years there is a bit of a revolution going on in the Canadian whisky industry. It is going more upscale with more tipples that are intended to enjoyed neat. So, you are correct.

      For me, I think I can appreciate the lighter and more delicate flavors delivered by Canadian whisky. Yes, you are right that it is easy to think it is inferior to Scotch whisky if you expect big flavors. And maybe I am guilty of this a bit. I just figure for a 20 year old spirit, some magic, but it is nevertheless quite delightful.

  10. Have you tried Highwood Ninety "Decades of Richness" aged 20 years in new Oak at 90 proof. Highwood Distilleries also puts out Century Reserve 21 years. Both are under $50 but difficult to get East of Ontario.
    Lot 40, Wiser's Legacy 90 proof (far better than W18). The recently released Gooderham & Worts 4 grain 90 proof out of Hiram Walker is really good. I hear really good things regarding the new Crown Royal Harvest Rye also at 90 proof.
    Quality Canadian Whisky choices have never been better and will continue down this road I believe

    1. There are a lot of good Canadian whiskies coming out since the date of this review. I really like Alberta Premium Dark Horse which is 95%rye. Many choices.

      I think the key to appreciating Canadian whisky is not to compare it to scotch, but to appreciate on its own. It does not generally have the complexity of Scotch, but that is ok.

      I really do need to review more Canadians.