Spotlight on Booze: Canadian Whisky

Make no mistake, this is not only your dad’s but also your grandfather’s whiskey. Depending on your age and where your family was during prohibition, it might even be your great-great-grandfather and/or grandmother’s whiskey. Say what you like about Canadian whisky, it’s stood the test of time.

Sometimes referred to, particularly in Canada, as rye despite the fact that it’s primarily made with corn spirits, Canadian whisky, unlike now resurgent American rye whiskey, never threatened to go away. Still, while some uninformed bartenders still think rye is just the name of a type of Jewish bread, it’s the rare bar that doesn’t stock Seagram’s V.O., Canadian Club, Crown Royal and often Black Velvet. Its the even rarer connoisseur or cocktail aficionado who will admit to being excited about them, with some liquor snobs deriding Canadian as “brown vodka.” Following their lead, younger drinkers who have taken to premium brands of bourbon and Scotch, have largely ignored it. That’s not to say unassuming Canadian Whisky has no fans among the cognoscenti. We kind of love it and no less an authority than cocktail historian David Wondrich suggests Canadian Club — a value-priced favorite of ours — as the perfect vehicle for an Old Fashioned, the most purist-friendly whiskey cocktail we know.

In any case, pop culture seems to be slowly becoming more aware of American rye whiskey’s almost-as-retro northern cousin. The 2008 primary elections saw Hillary Clinton swigging a much-discussed shot of Crown Royal, the very smooth Chivas Regal of Canadian. Though the label is angled so that the logo is just slightly out of our view, it’s clear that Canadian Club — first brewed by distilling legend Hiram Walker — is Donald Draper’s poison of choice on “Mad Men.” (In the first episode, newbie secretary Peggy Olson is informed that rye is the same as Canadian, and told it’s what her new boss drinks.) It also sure looks to be Canadian Club that washing up on the Jersey shore in HBO’s bootlegging themed early gangland drama, “Boardwalk Empire.” By law, Canadian whisky must be aged at least three years, though Canadian Club and Seagram’s V.O. are both aged for six

In fact, the popularity of Canadian whisky — which many insist must be spelled sans “e” — in the U.S. goes back to those dark days for everyone but gangsters between 1920 and 1933 when the sale and manufacture of liquor was illegal in the land of free and home of the brave, but thoroughly legal up north. Jewish-Canadian entrepreneur and liquor distributor Samuel Bronfman became wealthy and powerful beyond anyone’s wildest dreams by staying more or less on the right side of the law while doing business with the likes of Al Capone. He purchased Joseph E. Seagram’s and Sons and launched what became, for a time, a massive commercial and media empire. (It’s worth noting that the line’s flagship brand, Seagram’s 7 Crown, best known as the non-7-Up ingredient in a “7 and 7,” is not technically Canadian whisky. The U.S. version, at least, is bottled in Indiana and marketed as “an American whiskey,” whatever that is.)

Since it’s primarily blended and is generally not a very complex kind of a whiskey, it’s likely that Canadian will never have the cachet of bourbon, rye, or Scotch, but its hipness quotient may be improving slightly. Canadian Club has shrewdly played on its history with a series of attention-grabbing print ads with the slogan “Damn right, your dad drank it.” The ads alluded to the allegedly racy lifestyles of fathers of yore and used actual family photographs from Canadian Club employees.

As for cocktail and liquor aficionados, New York Times writer Robert Simonson blogged some time ago that his contacts in the gourmet and mixology worlds became obviously bored at the mere mention of Canadian whisky. However, Simonson’s April 2011 article details how there are real changes brewing in the world of Canadian booze. He specifically cites the highly acclaimed Forty Creek distillery and also attempts by better known makers of Canadian whiskey to brew blends that will appeal to drinkers used to the more complex flavors of today’s premium whiskeys.

Forty Creek does appear to be the most prevalent of the “new style” Canadian whisky manufacturers and we were able to pick up a bottle on sale at out local big-box beverage emporium. Our reaction was a bit mixed; we still think Canadian Club is more tasty and given its extremely low price, difficult to beat. Even so, we anxiously await the arrival of more and better Canadian whiskys. It’s time to see if our polite and funny friends to our north can create some premium whiskeys that will give some real competition to Kentucky and Tennessee, not to mention Scotland and Ireland.

  

You can follow us on Twitter and Facebook for content updates. Also, sign up for our email list for weekly updates and check us out on Google+ as well.

Boardwalk Empire 2.1 – Welcome Back to Sodom by the Sea

Greetings, all, and welcome back to Prohibition-era Atlantic City. Since the Season 1 DVD set of “Boardwalk Empire” has yet to emerge, I have to admit that my memory on what went on when last we saw Nucky Thompson and the rest of the gang isn’t as fresh as it perhaps ought to be, so I’m hoping that your recollections are similarly imprecise. If not, then lord knows I’ll hear about it, but I’ll keep my fingers crossed and just dive right in, shall I?

The first sight we see this season is a bunch of kids running through the surf, picking up…a bottle? I think it was a bottle. Maybe it’s just because I was watching the episode as an advance screener, but it was so damned dark that I honestly couldn’t tell exactly what they were picking it up. But, hey, it’s a show about running bootleg liquor during Prohibition, so a bottle makes about as much sense as anything else, and I’m going to take a similar stab in the dark and presume that what they’re moving onto trucks in the next shot is crates of the same stuff. Basically, the whole segment is intended to give us a quick look at what all of the usual suspects are doing nowadays, and it looks for the most part that they’re still doing about the same thing they were when we left them. Nucky’s still enjoying the 24-hour party while Margaret remains at home, Jimmy’s busy handling the transport of product to Chalky White, Eli’s recovering from his wounds, Agent Van Alden’s with his wife, and…hey, wow, look how much more energy the Commodore’s got! Amazing how reinvigorated one can be when they stop ingesting poison, huh? Unfortunately, it isn’t long before all of the joviality is replaced by tragedy, with Chalky’s operation being abruptly machine-gunned into oblivion by a bunch of KKK members. Pretty horrifying stuff, and although Chalky manages to make it out alive, he’s rightfully pissed about what’s gone down. (At least he manages to take one of his attackers down before they drive away.)

Nucky and Margaret may be making this relationship work, but it’s clearly having a toll on the kids. After pulling an all-nighter, Nucky arrives to find Teddy ensconced under the dining room table, refusing to go to school because he’s been so traumatized by the nuns, but Nucky talks him out by sharing his own past educational experiences, leaving the adults to enjoy a bit of tense conversation amongst themselves. It might’ve shifted into a little bit of loving, but thanks to the nattering of the children, Nucky bails out, leaving Margaret understandable frustrated. Uh-oh, Teddy, you’re in trouble…

Looking in on Angela and Jimmy, it’s clear that Angela’s still an emotional wreck after losing out on the lesbian love of her life at the tail end of last season. She might be trying to put on the façade of family happiness, but there’s misery dripping from every word out of her mouth, and she obviously has no tolerance for Jimmy’s mother, Gillian. Speaking of which, how incredibly creepy was it when, apropos of nothing, she announced that she used to kiss Jimmy’s wee winkie once upon a time. Talk about your awkward revelations. Meanwhile, in Chicago, Capone’s still got a chip on his shoulder when it comes to people perceiving him as Johnny Torrio’s lackey, as evidenced by his reaction to George Remus, whose ridiculous tendency to refer to himself in the third person completely confuses Capone. Remus submits a plan to help Torrio do an end-run around Nucky Thompson, which Torrio accepts, quickly passing the buck to Capone on the matter of informing Nucky that his services will no longer be required.

Read the rest of this entry »

  

Drink of the Week: The Pimm’s Cup

Pimm's CupLike Campari, Sambuca, and the like, Pimm’s Cup #1 is a bottle you’ll see at a lot of bars but which, at least here in the States, no bartender ever seems to open and which most barfolk will tend to discourage you from trying. They have their reasons because, on its own, it’s definitely not for everyone. It’s a concoction of gin and various herbs that has a nicely sweet but also fairly bitter flavor. It’s somewhere between a liqueur and Angostura.

It may be a little harsh straight, but it can mix very accessibly. A popular cocktail classic in the UK that has been referenced on both “Mad Men” and “Boardwalk Empire,” Pimm’s Cup, the cocktail, combines this relatively low alcohol (50 proof) base spirit with various types of soda and fruit and vegetable garnishes.

In my experiments, I avoided some of the very elaborate recipes which are more like very large and very wet fruit salads and eventually settled on the simple recipe below, adapted freely from the method used by Minneapolis mixologist D.J. Kukielka. It’s a winner — a tasty refreshment for lightweights with discerning palettes.

The Pimm’s Cup

2 ounces Pimm’s Cup #1
4 ounces (approximately) ginger beer or ginger ale
Cut-up cucumber (to taste)
Cucumber slice (garnish)
Lemon slice (garnish)

Place cucumbers in cocktail shaker and muddle. (Having an actual muddler on hand is a real help here, and essential if you want a truly well-stocked bar.) Add Pimm’s Cup #1 and ice. Shake very vigorously and strain into a Tom Collins glass over ice (preferably crushed). Top off with ginger ale and garnishes. Stir with swizzle stick or barspoon.

****
I’m barely exaggerating when I say that there are a million recipes for this beverage on line, and they’re all pretty different from each other, which I suppose befits a drink that is something like the British equivalent of sangria. I get the impression that you could pretty much throw any fruit you can think of in, if you want. Still, I had by far the best luck with the recipe above and, though it’s more expensive, ginger beer does work slightly better than good old Canada Dry.

If you want to be really authentic, however, be aware that the original recipes often call for lemonade. The confusion here is that what the British call lemonade and what we Yanks call it are two different things. UK lemonade is a lemon soda which some compare to 7-Up — and many online recipes specially call for American-style lemon-lime soda — but Brits inform us that true British lemon soda tastes fairly different than our uncolas. If you’re lucky enough to live in a city like Los Angeles with a large British ex-pat population and specialty stores to go with it, or want to go online and don’t mind spending a little extra cash, I bet you can find some and go full Brit.

  

Is “Boardwalk Empire” the next “The Sopranos”?

If the strong critical support, the record-setting ratings, and HBO’s decision to renew the show for a second season the morning after its premiere is any indication, then yes, I’d say it has a pretty good chance. But first, it’s going to have to do a lot more than deliver a captivating pilot episode – one that was directed by Martin Scorsese, the man behind some of the best mob films of the last 20 years – if it ever hopes to reach the same level as “The Sopranos.”

One good episode doesn’t exactly make a great series, but you can definitely tell that the pieces are all there to create something really special. And to help make sense of all the corruption, backstabbing, and every sordid piece of back-alley business in between, Will Harris will be blogging “Boardwalk Empire” throughout the season. Here’s a brief taste from his post about the premiere:

“I don’t know about you guys, but I was sucked into the show almost instantly, in no small part because of Steve Buscemi. I mean, it’s not like I haven’t been a fan of his work for years, but it’s great to see him in the lead role for a change. He’s perfect for it, too: Nucky’s a guy who’s got a lot of power but isn’t necessarily the most intimidating fish in the pond.”

In addition, Bullz-Eye is currently running a “Boardwalk Empire” contest asking our Facebook friends to tell us about their favorite cinematic mobsters. The contest runs through next Wednesday, September 29th, and one lucky winner will walk away with a branded flask, a “Boardwalk Empire” book about the real-life characters, and a keychain flash drive preloaded with exclusive content. Head over to the official contest page to find out how to enter and then be sure to visit our “Boardwalk Empire” blog every Sunday night for a recap of all the latest action.

  

Related Posts