Canadian Whiskey vs Bourbon (With Top Brand Recommendations!)

When it comes to the world of alcohol in particular whiskey and bourbon, there are some key differences that you must understand. While whiskey and bourbon have been closely associated, they are essentially different forms of the same liquor. Canada produces its own form of whiskey known as Canadian whiskey and bourbon is largely manufactured in the US given the fact that in order for a liquor type to be considered a bourbon it must be cultivated inside of the United States.

When it comes to Canadian whiskey, there are significantly fewer requirements for Canadian whiskey which makes the options you can choose from a lot more robust than it’s US counterpart. One of the main requirements for producing bourbon in the United States is that it cannot exceed a proof rating of 80 and it also must meet certain aging requirements. Canada has a pretty interesting history in terms of its relationship with American whiskey, especially during the prohibition era.

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Depending on your preferred taste preferences, Canadian whiskey and Bourbon have differing tastes however they are quite similar especially due to the fact that they are fermented and aged in much of the same ways however there are a few key differences. One of the main things that make Canadian whiskey different from standard whiskey is that it is spelled and labeled without the “e” in the name of whiskey.

This means that a Canadian whiskey labeled as “straight bourbon” may not actually be a “straight bourbon” mix which is significantly different from the strict labeling and fermenting guidelines that US whiskey must undergo.

Canadian whiskey varieties also tend to be distilled at very neutral proof values so the flavor of is typically a lot more general and not as powerful as other whiskey options out on the market. With American whiskey, there are very strict regulations and guidelines on the amount of alcoholic content that you can add to the overall mixture whereas Canadian whiskey gives you the ability to add virtually any type of alcoholic content that you want in order to create the final mix of bourbon that you choose.

If you’re someone who is interested in learning more about the key differences between Canadian whiskey and bourbon, you’ve come to the right place. In this guide, we’re going to go over all of the key details regarding the differences between Canadian whiskey and bourbon so that you can understand which option will fit your particular taste preferences and desired drinking style.

To begin, let’s look at the history behind Canadian whiskey and how it differs mainly from the type of whiskey that you’ll find in the United States.

Top Canada Whiskey Selection

66 Gilead Crimson Rye Whisky

crimson

66 Gilead Crimson Rye Whisky is made up of real rye and other powerful ingredients like oak and chocolate which provide a smooth and rich flavor to the whiskey overall. This whisky has hints of earthy tones that are infused in the bottle thanks to the fact that it’s aged in red wine barrels. 66 Gilead Crimson Rye Whisky is the perfect blend of ingredients for those people who typically don’t like rye whiskey options but want to try something new.

History Behind Canadian Whiskey & Bourbon

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Bourbon and Canadian whiskey have very intertwined however very different histories in terms of how they came about and how they are sold on the market. In the following section, we’re going to go over all of the main differences between the history of Canadian whiskey and Bourbon so that you can decide on which liquor option is best for you.

Canadian Whiskey History

Canadian whiskey has its origins in the farming industry where wheat is very plentiful in certain areas of Canada. Canadian whiskey starts it’s fermenting process by being left to sit and distill in the mill once it is ground into fine particles and turned into flour. The entire creation of Canadian whiskey came about largely due to creativity and the need to produce a proprietary whiskey option that Canadians didn’t need to depend on being imported from the United States. German and Dutch farmers would then migrate into Canada where they then took the existing wheat grains and byproducts of whiskey and made them into a mixture of premium rye.

To this day Canada does not add rye to its whiskey mixtures off the top however some distillers will add rye into their mixtures for the flavor aspect only. Prohibition was one of the large catalysts for the production of Canadian whiskey however Canadian whiskey has a very rich history that extends way before the prohibition era. When the American civil war started, the United States was forced to get its whiskey supply from their neighboring partners in Canada which is what caused the boom for the rise in production of Canadian whiskey.

One interesting fact to note about Canadian whiskey is that it is one of the most popular selling whiskey blends in the United States as of right now. Whiskey made in Canada also differs greatly from American whiskey in the sense that the regulations surrounding its production are much more relaxed when compared to bourbon produced and manufactured in the United States. In order for Canada whiskey selections to be classified as whiskey in the Canadian legal system, it must contain barley, corn, wheat, and rye that are fermented in separated barrels before it’s added to the distillation pot when the flavor of the mixture is at its peak.

Canadian vs. American Whiskey Difference

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While American whiskey must contain at least 51% of rye in order to be classified as a rye mixture, Canadian bourbon options can be labeled as rye without containing any rye at all. In order for a Canadian whiskey to be classified as a whiskey selection, it must be created using cereal grain mash, be stored in small barrels for no less than about 3yrs, it must be made and fermented in Canada throughout the entire process and it cannot contain anything less than 40% alcoholic content.

After the distillation process is complete, the final Canadian whiskey mixture must have an alcoholic content level of 90% or more. Some distillers will even reduce the amount of alcohol contained in their final whiskey mixtures to about 40%, this is accomplished by combining the whiskey mixed with either water or less powerful spirits which can also reduce the overall color and flavor of the whiskey mixture. In order for it to be considered a whiskey selection, the final mixture must be aged in barrels made of wood for at least two years before the entire fermentation process is complete.

Bourbon History

Bourbon produced in the United States has severely more strict regulations and restrictions in terms of how the mixture can be made and bottled when compared to Canadian whiskey selections. In order for a bourbon to be legally considered a bourbon in the United States, it must meet a certain alcoholic content and be made from very specific grains of wheat.

United States bourbon is made using a specialized mixture known as “mash bill” which consists of corn, rye, barley, and wheat. Another really important factor that must be considered when making US bourbon selections is the fact that the final mix contains at least 51% alcoholic content derived solely from corn. United States bourbon whiskey selections must also be made using 80% neutral spirits which consist of any type distillation produces made from corn, beets, or molasses which should then be added to the final mix in addition to up to 2% of flavors which can include lab-produced chemicals however Canadian whiskey cannot contain either element.

Some other really important factors to remember when looking at US whiskey is the fact that is must be distilled to at 80% ABV or 160 proof of alcohol. The barrels used in the distillation process of United States bourbon varieties must be either made of used charred white oak or new charred white oak. Depending on the distiller and the type of whiskey being produced, all of these factors and variables can vary significantly so it’s important to remember this before making your final purchase decision about which whiskey selection is best for you.

The history of bourbon and whiskey around the world is one of richness and versatility so you’ll be able to find the exact match for your specific taste needs and flavor interests without any issues pretty much anywhere you go. The history of whiskey and bourbon is important because it allows you to get a picture of how the drink came about adding to the overall experience of a drinking glass.

Now that we’ve covered all of the important elements to consider when selecting a bourbon option, it’s time to look at some of the distinctive differences that you’ll find between US bourbon options and Canada whiskey options.

The Main Differences Between US Bourbon and Canada Whiskey

whiskey cocktail

Canadian whiskey and bourbon have very different characteristics by which you will be able to identify each liquor option. One of the main differences between Canadian whiskey and US bourbon is the fact of how they’re spelled, Canadian whiskey does not use the “e” in the spelling of the whiskey whereas US whiskey options do use the “e” in the spelling of the whiskey name.

The reason for this difference in the spelling of the name of the alcohol is largely due to the way in which the whiskey is distilled which uses a method of rye grain instead of a mixture that you’ll commonly find in US whiskey selections.

This difference in the distillation process also gives Canadian whiskey a spicier taste as compared to US bourbon. This doesn’t mean that you won’t find Canadian whiskey options that are made using 100% rye mixture however they are rare and not common. Canadian whiskey options that are made using a 100% rye mixture are often times aged in red wine barrels as opposed to the various types of barrels used in the aging process of many US-based bourbon selections. The barrels used to age Canadian whiskey are oftentimes used for pinot noir grapes and this allows a deep red color to be infused into the final whiskey or bourbon mixture.

On the other hand, you’ll find that Canadian whiskey options are distilled using a mixture of molasses, maple syrup, butterscotch, clove, nutmeg, and brown sugar. Most Canadian whiskey options come from one distiller house as opposed to many US bourbon options which come from different distillers around the country. Canada also has some very strict laws referencing what can be considered as bourbon or whiskey in their country, Canada is a very large producer of corn in the world and given the fact that corn mash makes up about 51% of bourbon all around, it’s a really important factor when considering the overall quality of any bourbon or whiskey option that you may choose.

Canada whiskey cannot be labeled as bourbon due to the fact that most of the mixtures contain less than 51% corn. There are several different mixtures of Canadian whiskey that you will find on shelves and it’s important to know the difference between all of them before you go out to select which bourbon or whiskey option is suited for your particular taste buds.

Types of Canadian Whiskey Options

canadian whisky

Much like whiskey produced and sold in the US, Canadian whiskey selections come in a variety of different forms and mixture types. Below, we’re going to go over all of the various types of Canadian whiskey options that are out on the market right now for you to choose from so that you can ensure you’re making the right decision about which Canadian whiskey selection is right for you. Canada produces a wide variety of different whiskey selections all of which range in different tastes, flavors, and mixture combinations.

Let’s take a look into all of the various types of Canadian whiskey selections that are out on the market right now so that you can decide on which Canadian whiskey mix is perfect for you.

Old Fashioned

Old fashioned Canadian whiskey mix contains a slew of sugar, bitters, water over ice, and whiskey. Old fashioned whiskey can also be created using bourbon which gives it a deep and robust flavor profile that is quite common with many whiskey options that are out on the market right now.

Mint Julep

Mint julep whiskey is made using the same formula as US-based mint julep bourbon whiskey options however the entire mixture is made with Canadian whiskey as opposed to traditional whiskey combinations.

Whiskey Sour

Whiskey sour Canadian whiskey uses a combination of lemon, whiskey, lime juice, and simple syrup in order to create a robust flavor profile that virtually anyone can enjoy. Whiskey sour is as the name implies generally sour and very tangy so it’s one of the more powerful whiskey options out on the market as of right now.

Highball

Highball whiskey is a mixture of ginger ale and bourbon or whiskey and ginger ale however regardless of the mixture that you use, highball whisky is typically a very complex and full-featured bourbon option that comes with a lot of punch.

The Manhattan

The Manhattan Canadian whisky selection is typically made of sweet and bitter tones that come from rye whisky derived from an old-time recipe used back in the day to cultivate and produce most of the popular whisky and bourbon varieties that you find on shelves to this day.

Distilling & Bottling Process

whisky destillery

The distillation and bottling process of Canadian whisky is vastly different which is what distinguishes them from one another. Canadian whisky is typically made using rye whereas US whiskey is made using bourbon and Tennessee whiskey. The process of distillation and bottling is also vastly different from Canadian whisky and US bourbon because US bourbon must be aged for at least 2yrs before it can be sold however Canadian whiskey does not have any specific aging requirements.

Making bourbon whiskey involves combining water and the mash bill you’ve created into what is known as a grain cooker. Once the grain mash is put into the grain cooker, it will be cooked at approximately 30mins depending on the specific type of bourbon whiskey being made.

During the cooking process, all of the grains and wheat combinations added to the initial bourbon whiskey mix will begin to germinate creating sugar which will be a critical factor in the fermentation process later on in this article. The amount of time that a particular grain mash cooks will be determined by the distiller so it varies by the bottle, however, each grain mash is carefully watched in order to ensure that it is cooked to perfection.

All of these natural grains and plants vary in terms of flavor and taste due to the various regions and locations in which they are grown. Bourbon whiskey must contain at least 51% corn before it can be legally sold as whiskey however many distillers use contents of up to 70% corn in some of their mash bill for whiskey.

Once the mixture is of wheat, corn, and rye is gathered, it’s time to add water to the overall mash in order to begin producing the beginning stages of what is known as bourbon whiskey. Water from local rivers and other water sources near the distillery location are used and combined to the overall wheat mixture so that it can be cooked at a later date. Natural spring water is typically added to the overall mash bill mixture of the bourbon whiskey in question and then it is processed in cooking.

old fashioned cocktail

After the bourbon mash is cooked and heated up, it will then be cooled down to about 86 degrees Fahrenheit so that the fermentation process can begin. Before the fermentation process begins, stillage is then added to the bourbon whiskey mash for extra flavor.

Fermentation drums can vary in size from large to giant depending on the size of the whiskey batch being created. While the size of the fermenting batch can have an impact on its overall flavor, it won’t be very noticeable to the novice whiskey drinker. Once the fermentation process is complete, it’s time for the resulting fluid to be distilled.

Bourbon whiskey that is produced today typically goes through a process known as sour mash. This process takes the residual whiskey mash byproduct left from the distillation then adds it to the newly distilled mix. This process typically adds a little extra flavor and taste to the overall whiskey selection that you choose. The pH balance within the natural spring water added to the mix gives is a refined and fresh taste. Once the entire fermentation and production process is finished, it’s time for the whiskey to be aged and placed in barrels.

Distillation stills and columns are used to purify the fermented liquid mentioned in the previous step. The specific temperature of the liquid being fermented will vary by distiller and the specific process by which the bourbon whiskey is being made. The entire distillation process works to separate the alcohol contents from the rest of the fluids contained in the mixture so depending on the proof content and alcohol level that the distiller is aiming for, this process will and can vary in length.

Most whiskey distillation stills are made using copper so the entire process works a lot smoother and is a lot more refined than other selections out on the market. This is the step in which all of those wonderful flavors from the grains used will come out and really make themselves known in your selected bourbon whiskey option. Now that the distillation process is finished, it’s time for the mash to be turned into a sour mash.

What Makes Up Bourbon & Canadian Whiskey?

Basil Hayden’s Bourbon Thyme Julep

There are a few key elements that make up Canadian whiskey and bourbon so it’s important to know all of these different aspects before choosing which whisky or bourbon selection is right for you so that you can be aware

Rye Content

Rye is one of the most important ingredients in any bourbon whiskey selection that you choose. Rye usually makes up about 10% of any bourbon selection and it adds the essential flavors needed for any bourbon whiskey variety to pop. The rye used in any particular bourbon whiskey mix is typically harvested from local area farms and other sources near the distillery facility.

Depending on the type of bourbon whiskey selection that you buy, each rye type will add a different flavor to the drink overall. Some bourbon whiskey producers even up the percentage of rye that is in any particular bourbon whiskey by increasing the base percentage from 10% to about 3050%.

Wheat Content

Wheat is also another very important ingredient in bourbon whiskey and it plays a major role in the fermentation process of the liquid which ultimately produced the alcohol we consume. Without wheat, no bourbon whiskey is complete so it’s important that you understand and know the wheat content of any selection that you choose.

Some bourbon whiskey distillers even go as far as using wheat as the secondary ingredient in their overall bourbon mash so that it gives the resulting bottle of bourbon a more spicy and floral taste. Bourbon whiskey selections that use whiskey as the primary secondary ingredient also tend to have more of a nutty and delicate hint on the tongue.

Corn Content

Corn is one of the other most important factors when it comes to determining the overall quality and taste of a particular bourbon whiskey. Corn is used to making bourbon, quite literally, this is because in order for any bourbon whiskey selection to be legally considered “bourbon” it must contain at least 51% corn within the given mixture. Corn also adds a very pleasant sweet taste to the overall flavor profile of the end bourbon whiskey option that you decide to drink. By paying attention to the corn contents of your selected bourbon whiskey option.

Now that we’ve gone over all of the essential elements and ingredients that go into making Canadian whiskey and bourbon selections, it’s time to look at some of the alternative options you have to choose from when it comes to selecting the right bourbon or whiskey option for your needs.

Types of Whiskey Besides Canadian & Bourbon

irish whisky

There are a lot of other options out there besides Canadian whiskey and bourbon for you to choose from. In the following section, we’re going to go over all of the various types of whiskey and bourbon options out on the market right now that you can choose from which will fit your desired taste preference and flavor profile.

Irish Bourbon

Irish Whiskey differs from most whiskey options that are out on the market due to the method in which it’s created and produced. Irish whiskey is running through three different distillation rounds before it is considered finished so it’s important to remember this when you begin looking for the right Irish whiskey option that will fit your specific needs.

Irish whiskey is fermented using a lot of barley byproducts which don’t add the signature Smokey and burnt-rubber taste that you will find in many if not all bourbon types. Irish whiskey is also fermented using peat which is basically decayed vegetables, in order for an Irish whiskey to be considered an Irish whiskey, it must be aged in Ireland for 3yrs in order to qualify as an Irish whiskey variety. Irish whiskey has a very smooth and less sweet taste as when compared to traditional American bourbon types and varieties.

Canadian Bourbon

When people hear the term Canadian whiskey, they are oftentimes hit by surprise because whiskey is not commonly known nor has it been known to be produced in regions of Canada. Because of this, Canadian whiskey tends to lack the hefty and large taste that you will find with many bourbon and scotch whiskey varieties produced in the United States.

Canadian whiskey is a lot smoother and lighter than most If not all US whiskey types. Canadian whiskey is also generally made using a variety of different grains and other sorts of mixes such as corn, rye, and more. Some of the most popular types of Canadian whiskey is Crown Royal, Canadian Mist, and Canadian Club. If you want a lighter and more robust bourbon whiskey option, the Canadian whiskey is the perfect choice for you.

Japanese Bourbon

Japanese Whiskey takes pages from both Canadian and Scottish whiskey types however it adds a really unique treat to the entire equation. The first master Japanese distillery was known as Masataka Taketsuru and he studied in Scotland which has largely influenced Japanese whiskey varieties from all across the world. Some of the most well-known Japanese Whiskey manufacturers are Nikka and Suntory both of which have risen to fame in recent years. While Japanese Whiskey differs in terms of the flavors and tastes used, it is generally considered a Scottish based type of whiskey recipe.

These are just some of the whisky options out on the market however there are more out there that you can choose from so you always want to keep your options open.

Top Canadian Whisky Recommendations

1. Pike Creek Port Barrel Finish Canadian Whisky

Pike Creek Port Barrel Fini

pike creek

sh Canadian Whisky is made using all of the natural elements and it uses pre-modern distilling methods in addition to climate-controlled warehouses to bring out the robust flavor profile. This whisky has a very creamy texture to it in addition to being very thick in its composition so it will leave your mouth with a slightly dry feeling after consuming a drink of the whisky.

Pike Creek Port Barrel Finish Canadian Whisky has hints of white pepper in the flavor profile and it also contains a lot of spice elements which add a nice overall base to the whiskey. Pike Creek Port Barrel Finish Canadian Whisky dry sherry is a wonderfully crafted whiskey option that has a lot to offer in the flavor department.

2. Crown Royal Reserve

crown royal

Crown Royal Reserve is made using a special blend of maple syrup and brown sugar which adds a very nice subtle taste to the overall whiskey. The whisky also has small hints of sweetness sprinkled throughout which mellow out some of the more robust and complex flavors that you’ll find in the whiskey overall. This whisky is also crafted using citrus tones and it has a traditional rye style so it will be very smooth and consistent throughout. Crown Royal Reserve is great by itself or over the rocks and you can even mix it with other popular drinks.

3. Proof Two Grain Whisky

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Proof Two Grain Whisky follows more of a Japanese style when it comes to the overall creation of the whiskey. Proof Two Grain Whisky also has hints of lemon and cinnamon throughout which gives the whiskey a very robust and full flavor profile. Proof Two Grain Whisky uses cloves and honey to simmer out some of the bolder flavors contained in the mix. Proof Two Grain Whisky uses a combination of wheat and rye to add that classic taste of whiskey to the bottle in general. Proof Two Grain Whisky is a smooth and robust whiskey selection that is perfect for the average drinker or someone who wants to throw a party with a very neutral whiskey.

4. Gibson’s Finest Rare Aged 18-Year-Old

gibson finest

Gibson’s Finest Rare Aged 18-Year-Old contains flavors of tobacco and maple which give the whiskey a very rich and robust taste. This whisky is very smooth and original in the sense that it uses rye and caramel in order to provide a neutral and simple taste that is backed by a lot of punch with the spice in the mix. Gibson’s Finest Rare Aged 18-Year-Old also has flavors of oak and pepper in the mixture which makes it a bit spicy and powerful in terms of how it hits the throat when drinking. Gibson’s Finest Rare Aged 18-Year-Old is great for anyone that is interested in drinking a smooth yet robust whiskey selection.

Top Bourbon Recommendations

1. Stillhouse Black Bourbon 

still house black bourbon

Stillhouse Black Bourbon is a premium whiskey option that comes in a classic looking can that resembles a gas can however it contains a well-balanced and deep flavored whiskey option packed with tons of flavor and other notes of robust taste that even the most experienced whiskey drinker will love and enjoy. Stillhouse Black Bourbon contains hints of is finished using coffee beans which adds a very deep and robust flavor profile to the overall whiskey.

2. Heaven Hill Green Label

heaven hill

Heaven Hill Green Label is a very old-fashioned whiskey option that is cultivated using proven brewing methods that deliver a solid tasting whiskey selection that you can enjoy with virtually any type of food selection you choose. Heaven Hill Green Label is brewed using traditional charred oak barrels and hints of Kentucky barley and wheat that adds robust flavors throughout the entire the whiskey which will fill your entire pallet with bursting pallets of intriguing flavors that you’ll love.

Conclusion

By following all of the tips and information listed in this guide, you’ll be able to find the right whiskey selection for your taste buds in no time. We’ve covered all of the most important facts that you need to know about whiskey and how it differs from Canada to the US so that you can make an educated decision about which brand or variety is best for your particular needs. As long as you follow this entire guide, you should have no issues finding the right whiskey selection for your particular needs in no time. Decide on which flavors and tastes interest you the most so that you can choose the perfect whiskey selection for your next event or night in the house.

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Ben Holt

Ben has years of experience with wine, whiskey, and scotch. After becoming a wine sommelier, he decided to focus his attention on the dark southern gold we call whiskey. Now a seasoned vet in the whiskey game, he regularly provides Whiskey Watch with the latest whiskey info and his personal opinion on the best whiskeys in the world.
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