Over time I’ve taken a liking to whiskey. Whether it be an Irish Whiskey at Buena Vista in San Francisco, a shot of Jamison at the local bar or grabbing a Jack and Coke or two before a flight, I enjoy the flavor, after taste and there is something relaxing about it.
I had the chance on a recent afternoon to visit a brand of whiskey with which I wasn’t that familiar, C. C. Canadian Club. I secured a free pass and toured one of the more well-known and historical makers of spirits and whiskey. Canadian Club headquarters and distillery are in Windsor (Walkerville), Ontario, Canada.
Each room we toured was full of so much history and the tour guide did a great job describing since the beginning everything that has made Canadian Club what it is today.
They were founded in 1858 by Hiram Walker. They produce whiskey for over 150 countries from all over the world, with different labels, styles of bottles, proof levels and drinks to fit the culture and rules of each. For example in Australia and New Zealand you can buy Canadian Club Dry pre-made, mixed with ginger ale or coca-cola in a four-pack.
They had an enclosed display case with samples of the products they sell in various countries.
The original Canadian Club bottle shown below is displayed in Hiram’s original office. Originally called Club Whiskey, it became wildly popular in the United States and started to hinder state-wide sales. As a result, as legend says, in the late 1800′s the US government forced them and all to put the country of origin on their bottles, thus Canadian Club was born. The government thought this would hurt their popularity in the states, boy were they wrong!
Around the same time the town of Walkerville was founded by Hiram Walker. It was home to the workers of the distillery. The neighborhood has since been rolled into Windsor.
Prohibition hit the United States in 1920 and for thirteen years it was illegal to manufacture, sell or consume beveraged alcohol. This wasn’t the case in Canada. In the basement is a meeting room shown below where business is conducted quietly and privately. The speakeasy they call it. Canadian Club was the largest distiller and most popular brand at that time, thus gangsters conducted business in the speakeasy regularly.
Smuggling took place on the Great Lakes and the Detroit River. Numerous techniques were used to try to get across undetected. Driving across at night in the winter for instance. People dropped bottles in the river and later tried to retrieve them. Failed attempts resulted in bottles hitting the rivers floor. There are thought to be thousands of bottles at the bottom of the Detroit River today.
A famous smuggler, Bill McCoy helped get Canadian Club into the states. There were lot’s of counterfeiters at that time. but Bill McCoy sold the real stuff. When customers were looking for the real stuff, the term “The Real McCoy” came about.
At the end of tour, was the part me and everyone else I’m sure was looking forward to, taste testing! We got four whiskey samples from left to right:
- Canadian Club Premium – a smooth and light taste
- Canadian Club Classic 12 yr – full and smooth
- Canadian Club Sherry Cask – a rich, full and rounded taste
- Canadian Club Dock #57 – a full, rounded and fruity taste. My favorite.
In the backyard of the facility is a beautiful garden and the aforementioned Detroit River. A wedding was going on along the shoreline with the magnificent backdrop. I noticed that Hiram’s office was on the opposite side of the building from the river. I learned this was because he wanted to focus on the task at hand and not be distracted by scenery.
Great times at Canadian Club. Soon after the tour the whiskey and I ran into each other on an Amtrak train in the Midwest.
…and at a local establishment.
If you’re in southwestern Ontario or the Detroit area and you love great history and whiskey, make sure you make the trek to Canadian Club headquarters and take the tour. Watch out other makers of whiskey, I think a love affair might be starting haha.
Any memorable distillery or brewery tours you would recommend from your travels? What’s your favorite kind of whiskey and do you like it straight or in a mixed drink?