At the fifth annual Canadian Whisky Awards, Collingwood 21-Year-Old Rye took the title of Whisky of the Year
Canadian Whisky Awards

Who Makes the Best Whisky in the World?

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Who Makes the Best Whisky in the World?

The lore behind the Canadian Mist Distillery’s Collingwood 21-Year-Old Rye is the kind of story every whisky-maker dreams will be shared in present and future armchairs near a roaring fire between sips of their award-winning blend. Last week, in what chairman of the judges Davin de Kergommeaux called “the most difficult year ever for judging,” a panel determined that this one-time-only special release had the flavor to match its origin story, calling it “a Canadian whisky connoisseur’s dream come true,” and bestowing upon it the annual Canadian Whisky Awards’ highest honor: Whisky of the Year.

Two decades ago, then Canadian Mist distillery manager Harold Ferguson made 50 barrels of 100-percent rye whisky that were set aside and forgotten (so goes the story). Ferguson retired several years ago, leaving his successor David Dobbin to discover the lucky find and bring it to market. The 21-year-old whisky was mellowed in a marrying vat with maplewood, resulting in flavors the judges described as “reminiscent of rye bread with complex undertones of herbs, spring flowers, newly turned earth, hot white pepper, licorice, and creamy milk chocolate.” (Canadian stocks are said to be almost gone, but small quantities can still be found in American liquor stores at an average price of $59).

To qualify, entrants had to be distilled and matured in Canada. An independent panel of whisky journalists, writers, and bloggers chose the winners through blind tastings. The fifth-annual awards celebration, presented at the Hotel Grand Pacific, was one of the signature events of the 10th Annual Victoria Whisky Festival, a four-day, not-for-profit celebration in Victoria, British Columbia, which included numerous tastings and master classes.
 
It’s an event that judge (and master of ceremonies) Davin de Kergommeaux hopes will continue to raise the profile of Canadian whisky, which has, until recently, been regarded as the workhorse of the whisky world. One whisky-maker could be overheard in a nearby bar after the awards recounting his frustration of explaining the wonders of Canadian whisky to an American: “He asked me, ‘Are bears in your whisky?’ So finally, I just said, ‘Yes, there are bears in our whisky.’”

Mr. de Kergommeaux noted during a private tasting before the awards that Canadian whisky sales in the United States have been in decline until a few years ago. It was at this tasting that he tried to dispel myths about Canadian whisky and explained its history and the philosophy behind it (Canadian whisky is characterized by the addition of rye, and each grain is made separately and enhanced by the wood that best suits it before blending them together).
 
“But Canadian distillers have upped their game, creating higher-quality connoisseur stuff that has been getting attention.” Mr. de Kergommeaux, who also authored a book on the subject (Canadian Whisky: The Portable Expert), spoke passionately about the steps forward he believed Canadian whisky had taken in 2014. He noted the overall trend of whisky making a comeback against perennial sales leader vodka and singling out, among the year’s other signature moments, the first time a major legacy brand (Canadian Club) had released a 100-percent rye grain whisky as a core offering, and the first high-proof single-barrel whisky to be released by a major brand (Crown Royal).  Other key awards went to Canadian Club’s Chairman’s Select 100% Rye (Domestic Whisky of the Year), Masterson’s 10-Year-Old Rye (Export Whisky of the Year), and Stalk & Barrel Rye Whisky (Best New Whisky of 2014). The full list of winners follows.One whisky-maker could be overheard in a nearby bar after the awards recounting his frustration of explaining the wonders of Canadian whisky to an American: “He asked me, ‘Are bears in your whisky?’ So finally, I just said, ‘Yes, there are bears in our whisky.’
 
One of the nicest touches during what was a collegial, intimate presentation warmed by the whiskies made by those in attendance, was the presentation of a lifetime achievement award to John Hall, who, according to the organizers, launched the first new Canadian whisky distiller in more than 40 years with his creation of Forty Creek 20 years ago. 
 
“I remember when I saw the first 40 Creek labels and they were peeling off the bottles, and I said, ‘Better fire that glue company,’” joked Mr. De Kergommeaux, who added that Mr. Hall had done more for Canadian whisky than almost anyone he knew and that last year’s purchase of the distiller (the fastest growing player in the Canadian whisky category in Canada) by Campari should only help to cement his legacy.
 
2014 Award Winners
Whisky of the Year: Collingwood 21-Year-Old Rye
Lifetime Achievement Award: John K. Hall. Forty Creek Distillery
Connoisseur Whisky of the Year Domestic Market: Canadian Club Chairman’s Select 100% Rye
Connoisseur Whisky of the Year Export Market: Masterson’s 10-Year-Old Rye batch 5 barrel A2-062
Connoisseur Whisky of the Year Multi-Markets: Collingwood 21-Year-Old Rye
Best New Whisky: Stalk & Barrel Rye Whisky
 
Sippin’ Whisky of the Year Domestic Market: Crown Royal Limited Edition
Sippin’ Whisky of the Year Export Market: J.P. Wiser’s Rye
Sippin’ Whisky of the Year Multi-Markets: Royal Canadian Small Batch
Value Whisky of the Year Domestic Market: Highwood Canadian Rye Whisky
Value Whisky of the Year Export Market: Canadian Mist
Value Whisky of the Year Multi-Market: J.P. Wiser’s Deluxe
 
Flavoured Whisky of the Year Domestic Market: Forty Creek Cream
Flavoured Whisky of the Year Export Market: Peach Mist
Flavoured Whisky of the Year Multi-Market: Tap 357
Flavoured Whisky of the Year: Forty Creek Cream
 
Award of Excellence Canadian Whisky Profile: Crown Royal Hand Selected Barrel Program
Award of Excellence Innovation: Masterson’s 10-Year-Old Rye Barrel Program
Award of Excellence Line Extension: Canadian Club Chairman’s Select 100% Rye
 
Gold Medals
Alberta Premium Dark Horse
Canadian Club Chairman’s Select 100% Rye
Centennial Dark Chocolate
Collingwood 21-Year-Old Rye
Crown Royal Limited Edition
Crown Royal Monarch
Forty Creek Cream
Forty Creek Double Barrel Reserve
Lot No. 40
Masterson’s 10-Year-Old Rye batch 5 barrel A2-062
Sortilège Maple Cream
Stalk & Barrel Rye Whisky
 
Silver Medals
Canadian Club Classic 12
Caribou Crossing
Crown Royal Maple
Crown Royal XO
Forty Creek 2014 Evolution
Forty Creek Barrel Select
Forty Creek Spike Honey Spiced
J.P. Wiser’s Rye
Masterson’s 10-Year-Old Rye Batch 1 barrel F2-038
Royal Canadian Small Batch
Tap 357
Tap 8 Rye
Wiser’s Red Letter 2014
Wiser’s Spiced Torched Toffee
 
Bronze Medals
Canada Gold
Canadian Mist
Canadian Rockies 21 year old Batch 2
Crown Royal Apple
Crown Royal De Luxe
Crown Royal XR  LaSalle
Forty Creek Confederation Oak Reserve
Forty Creek Copper Pot
Gibson’s 12 year old
Gibson’s 18 year old
Highwood Canadian Rye Whisky
Highwood Ninety 20 year old
J.P. Wiser’s Deluxe
JP Wiser’s Spiced Whisky Vanilla No 5
Legacy Small Batch (Sazerac)
Maple Mist
Peach Mist
Pike Creek 10 Year Old
Pike Creek NAS
R&R Reserve
Sortilège
Sortilège Caramel
Sortilège Prestige
Spicebox Gingerbread Spiced Whisky
Spicebox Spiced Whisky
Wiser’s 18 Year Old
Wiser’s Legacy
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