Whiskey review: Canadian Club Classic 12

Canadian Club Classic 12 Year-Old

This variation on the very popular brand of Canadian whisky has been around for years, but I’ve never seen it on a single store shelf. In fact, at first I assumed it was a brand new product. It’s not, but it fits right in with the trend towards attempting more complex variations on the traditionally light and smooth Canadian whisky discussed in our “Spotlight on Booze” piece several weeks back.

As the name Canadian Club Classic 12 indicates, this expression is aged 12 years rather than six years as with standard Canadian Club.  It is actually one of a few spin-off lines from Hiram Walker’s best-known brand. The venerable whisky line also includes the more commonly available 10-year-old Canadian Club Reserve, which I’ve enjoyed, and a 100 proof version I would truly love to try at some point — now that I know it exists.

I’ve been sampling this whisky — the Canadians dispense with the “e” — for a while now and have featured it in a couple of “Drink of the Week” posts, but I haven’t really discussed it on its own. Like a lot of things, it took some getting used to but has grown on me.  I found it pretty outstanding in the slightly counterintuitive Bloody Caesar recipe that I ran. Its more smokey flavor may also work better in a Canadian Cocktail than ordinary CC.

Though I rarely drink booze straight except when I’m doing these reviews, it definitely tastes better neat than it’s more inexpensive but supremely mixable brethren. CC 12 has some Scotch-like astringency, but the flavor also has maybe a tiny bit more of a noticeable sweetness with a rye tang. It’s fine on the rocks and extremely drinkable with soda.

All in all, I’m coming around to the view that I’m pretty favorable to this expression, perhaps because it actually predates recent attempts to appeal to connoisseurs. In the case of the acclaimed Forty Creek, those efforts may have lead to a whiskey I personally found excessively difficult for all its greater complexity. I prefer the lightness and smoothness of regular Canadian whisky in general, and standard (and very inexpensive) Canadian Club in particular, which causes some to sniff that it’s the vodka of whiskey. I still like vodka, too.

  

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Drink of the Week: The Hot Toddy

The Hot ToddyHave you ever found yourself wondering exactly what a hot toddy is? I know I have. I’ve had them in bars maybe once or twice at most and occasionally messed around with heating up some whiskey and water with a little sugar or something else, but I’ve never quite had a handle on what makes a toddy a toddy. The funny part is that after working with them a bit more earnestly the last week or so, I’m still wondering what a hot toddy is.

The problem is that every recipe I’ve found seems to bear relatively little relation to every other recipe, to the point where I’ve determined that there is no baseline recipe for hot toddies there way there might be for other cocktails. Beyond involving hot water, sweetener, and some form of hard liquor that’s usually is whiskey but could also be brandy or rum, there’s nothing very much in common between any two recipes, though a lemon usually comes into play and some people, who may tend to be from the U.K. or British commonwealth countries, use tea instead of hot water. Figuring out the “classic” hot toddy seems to be a fool’s errand.

Therefore, I’m presenting, instead, my own personal hot toddy. Of the various combinations of boiling water, whiskey, and sugar that I’ve experimented with this week, this is the one that’s worked out the best for me.

The Hot Toddy

4 ounces boiling water
1.5 ounces bourbon or Scotch whiskey
2 teaspoons of sugar, preferably brown
1/4 ounce fresh lemon juice or lemon slice or peel
1 cinnamon stick as optional garnish.

Place sugar in a small coffee or tea cup. Pour in boiling water and stir to dissolve sugar. Add lemon juice — or don’t and substitute a very thin lemon slice garnish with your cinnamon stick. Based on personal preference feel free to increase or eschew the juice entirely. Add your booze, stir, and sip. (If you have a heat sensitive like me, don’t worry. The room temperature booze should cool the drink down to a reasonably drinkable temperature.)

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Feel free to experiment with your favorite brandy, rum, or another type of whiskey. The sweetness of bourbon seems to appeal to me the most here, though using a decent single malt scotch was also very nice. You can boost the booze up to 2 ounces if you want or maybe reduce the water though it will get cold faster. I should add I was using Old Fitzgerald’s 100 proof bourbon, but I suspect 1.5 ounces of 80 proof Jim Beam or what have you would be good and potent enough for most people with 4 ounces of water.

Just watch the lemon juice and/or lemon slice as a little can go a long way. If you go the lemon slice route and want to warm up your drink, remove the lemon before nuking it in the microwave. On that road lies nastiness.

Toddies are nice. It’s actually fairly hard to mess up whiskey, a bit of sugar, and some water and wonderful for warming up on a cold night.  You might find you don’t need that sweater or sweatshirt after consuming one of these.

On the other hand, the docs tell us that, contrary to what some of us have been told, it’s really not the absolute best thing if you’re actually sick, especially with a fever. The dehydrating diuretic properties of alcohol makes momma’s chicken soup better for cold of flu sufferers, leaving aside the whole issue of drug interactions. (For starters, booze and anything containing Tylenol/Acetaminophen should not really mix in your body. It’s a liver thing.) On the other hand, if you’re simply sick from worry or stress on a cold winter evening, there is no simpler remedy.

  

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.

  

Drink of the Week: The Sazerac

Sazerac It might seem a bit odd, but it was current MSNBC political goddess and past Air America star Rachel Maddow whose radio “cocktail moments” largely propelled your loyal scribe’s fledgling interest in classic cocktails during the Bush II administration. Moreover, with an epic brohaha in Washington going on at the moment over the debt ceiling, it seems as good a time as any to pay tribute to her with this personal favorite.

The sazerac is the official drink of New Orleans — though we didn’t hear of it on three trips to that wondrous city. That’s likely because, though beloved by serious cocktail buffs, the great drink’s pop cultural fame is next to nil, though we understand a sazerac was recently thrown in the face of food critic Alan Richmond on an episode of “Treme.” We are therefore happy to try and correct this great drink’s relative obscurity; properly prepared it’s an ice cold sipping beverage that’s tasty as anything else produced in the great city of New Orleans. It’s preparation is a little complicated to explain but, trust us, it’s not hard once you get the steps straight in your head. It’s really just a slightly more elaborate variation on the old fashioned.

The Sazerac

2 ounces rye whiskey or brandy/cognac
1 teaspoon sugar
1/2 ounce of water
3 dashes of Peychaud’s bitters
1 teaspoon absinthe or Herbsaint
Lemon twist

Start by chilling an old fashioned, aka a “rocks” glass, either by filling it with ice or leaving in the freezer or, ideally, both. Meanwhile, purists insist on muddling a sugar cube, but it’s much more efficient to simply dissolve the superfine sugar by stirring it in a cocktail shaker or room temperature rocks glass with unchilled water, whiskey, and bitters. Once the sugar is dissolved, add plentiful ice.

Then, take the pre-chilled glass — if you’ve got ice in it and want to conserve precious water, consider adding it to the cocktail shaker/rocks glass with all the other ingredients — and add a teaspoonful of now legal but expensive absinthe or much cheaper Herbsaint (a very sweet but strongly anise flavored liqueur). Swirl the entire glass, coating it with the absinthe or Herbsaint. Then, turn the glass upside down over a sink, dumping out any remaining liquid.

Now, return to the shaker or rocks glass. If you’re an absolute purist who fetishizes clear beverages, simply stir and strain it into the chilled and coated rocks glass. If you’re a borderline barbarian like us, you may shake like crazy and then add it to the glass which will be a lovely, frothy shade of pinkish orange or orangish pink.

Then, take your lemon twist and coat the edge of the glass and twist the lemon peel over the beverage to magically deliver lemon oil to the drink. Some insist you must discard it without actually placing it in the drink. We and most others, however, drop it in. Sip immediately and toast the brave people of New Orleans, the great American city that just might have invented the cocktail.

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A couple of words about ingredients. First of all, note that the sazerac — named for the brand of cognac it was originally made from — primarily uses Peychaud’s bitters. This brand may be the oldest type of bitters still on the market and it has a much lighter different flavor than the bitters you may know. Many sazerac makers, Rachel Maddow included, like to throw in a single dash of the better known and stronger tasting Angostura bitters to “open up” the flavor of the drink. On the other hand, especially if you’re making this with one of the stronger types of rye whisky — particularly a 100 proof brand like Rittenhouse Rye — it’s already one potent little beverage. It is, nevertheless, considered mandatory to use rye specifically if you’re making the whiskey version of the sazerac. You could make it with bourbon, we suppose, but it’s generally not done, possibly for a reason.

While rye whiskey remains by far the most popular main ingredient, we have to say a good word for going super-old school and using cognac or even an inexpensive brandy; we’ve had great luck with an very inexpensive brand called Raynal, technically not cognac but entirely sufficient — which is carried by Bev-Mo and Trader Joe’s in California and perhaps elsewhere. It’s a more accessible version of the drink that goes down surprisingly well with cocktail newbies while being more than complicated enough for more experienced drinkers.

  

Everyone loves Johnnie Walker Scotch

The gang at Johnnie Walker was kind enough to send us some samples of each of the scotch bottles above. Needless to say, productivity at Bullz-Eye headquarters immediately plummeted.

It did, however, give us another great idea for a Father’s day gift. Booze may not be the most creative gift, but it’s usually a winner with most fathers, particularly when it involves great Scotch.

You see above that you can choose among five different “labels” for Johnnie Walker, each with a different color. Check out the web site and you can choose the best one for you or the lucky gift recipient. After extensive taste testing, we’re partial to Johnnie Walker Black Label and Johnnie Walker Blue Label.

Two hundred years in the making, Black Label is the signature blend from the House of Walker. Big whisky flavors with hints of rich fruit and smoke make this Scotch whisky the perfect gift for the father who stands strong as the cornerstone of his family. You can’t lose with this one, and at a retail price of around $34 it won’t break the bank.

If you’re looking to spend a tad bit more, try the Blue Label which runs around $220. This is the rarest, most exceptional whisky from Johnnie Walker, and it’s a good choice if you’re looking for a more memorable gift. Just make sure you’re around when he opens the damn thing!

  

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