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CANADIAN WHISKY: the portable expert

Book Review: Canadian Whisky: the portable expert
A Review by Chip Dykstra (Aka Arctic Wolf)
Published May 15, 2012

I love Canadian Whisky! It is smooth and tasty, and (in my locale at least) extremely well priced compared to the other whisky offerings on the store shelf. This means that even the premium brands sell at prices which allows me to mix them in cocktails without guilt, and some of the super premium brands are cheaper than the average price of a single malt scotch (Last month I purchased 3 bottles of a 25-year-old pure rye whisky for less than 90 bucks combined!)

So when I found out that my whisky reviewing friend, Davin de Kergommeaux, had written a book devoted to Canadian Whisky; I was very eager to give it a good read. Davin, like myself is a true devotee of our great Canadian Spirit. He has created his own website (Canadian Whisky) where he publishes various articles about our mutual passion and of course his unrivaled reviews. He has also been instrumental in launching the first ever fully independent Canadian Whisky Awards! These awards have highlighted not only the best tasting whiskies made in Canada, but they also awarded special achievements by Canadian Whisky Distillers in areas of innovation, brand extension, and media/advertising.

I received my copy of Canadian Whisky: the portable expert about three weeks ago, and I thought I would share my thoughts on Davin’s scribblings here on my website.

The review:

I thought that a good place to begin was with the cover of the book. As you can see from the picture to the left, Davin has chosen to place a picture of a rather old bottle of Gooderham & Worts Rye Whisky on the cover. This was a curious choice, and I admit I am intrigued by it. (I can only speak for myself here, but when I first looked at the cover, I had no idea who Gooderham and Worts were, or what role they had played in the development Canadian Whisky.) This cover picture implied to me that perhaps there was a lot more to Canadian Whisky than I had originally thought. (And I am quite sure that this was part of the reason for such a curious picture to show up on the cover.)

When I opened the book and looked at how Davin had structured it, I was again surprised. I had expected a few chapters about Canada’s rich whisky making history would be the appropriate place to begin, but Davin instead jumps right into the whisky itself. He spends the first three chapters discussing the major components of our whisky, the grains, the water and the wood. The next four chapters are spent explaining how Canadian Whisky is actually made. He runs through the cooking and mashing of the grain, through to its fermentation and distillation, and finally to how the resulting whisky is blended. Dry stuff you might think, but Davin has a knack for breaking things down to easily understood pieces, making these first seven chapters not only easy to read, but when you finish them with, you have a broad understanding of not just how Canadian Whisky is made, but why it is special.

It is when we reach chapter 10 that Davin begins his lessons on the rich history of Canadian whisky. I understand now, Davin wants his readers to understand Canadian Whisky, before he places the spirit it into its historical context. The way Davin writes it, the history of our whisky is intrinsically linked to the larger than life figures whose names became household words for the spirits they created: Thomas Molson, Gooderham and Worts, and Joseph Seagram just to name a few. Davin spends seven chapters on the history of these men and the companies they formed, and in doing so he tells the story of our whisky, where it came from, how it evolved, and how it came to be where it is now. Of course he saves the discussion for where Canadian Whisky is heading for the final chapters.

These last chapters are devoted to the nine major distillers of Canadian Whisky. Davin has visited each of the distilleries and speaks with intimate knowledge about their whisky making practices and what makes each of their whisky styles important. You are left with the feeling that something special is happening in Canada, and indeed that something special has been happening with our whisky all along.

Interspersed throughout the book, beginning with the very first chapter and following through to the very last Davin has placed his tasting notes. At my count, over 100 Canadian Spirits deconstructed for our benefit. This has to be the most complete set of tasting notes every assembled for Canadian Whisky, and these tasting notes help bring entire book together binding the chapters to each other with the flavours and aromas of Canadian Whisky.

My Opinion

For once, I am not going to give a score. I just do not have a proper reference point. Suffice it to say that “Canadian Whisky: the portable expert ” is in my mind the most complete story of Canadian Whisky ever written. As a reference book it will prove invaluable to me, as within its pages is a treasure trove of information about making whisky, but more importantly, as a story, the book is easy to pick up, easy to read, and just plain interesting! It was a great read, and I think anyone with an interest in whisky, Canadian or otherwise, will enjoy it.

Note: The book should already be in your local bookstore as it was released on May 8. I believe it is available through Amazon, Chapters/Indigo, McNallyRobinson, and several other on-line booksellers.

2 Responses to “CANADIAN WHISKY: the portable expert”

  1. Lance R. said

    Now if we could just get one on rums…

    • There have been a few books on rums, David Broom’s contribution comes to mind. However Rum is such a vast undertaking because of the huge variations in style and geography, that to do the justice to Rum that Davin did to Canadian Whisky would require thousands of pages.

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