Whisky drinkers frequently and mistakenly overlook Canada's contributions to the global whisky portfolio. I was one of those people until I read Canadian Whisky by Davin de Kergommeaux. After speaking with him at Tales on Tour in Edinburgh (he was a presenter at the seminar that led to Tales of Grain and Suggestion), he provided me with a free copy of his new book. What you're reading now is a first in the Den -- a book review.
As a sign of respect to de Kergommeaux and my northern neighbor's distilleries, I will spell whisky the way he does. To paraphrase the famous line William Shakespeare penned in Hamlet, to e or not to e, that is the question.
Sometimes non-fiction books get so hung up on minutiae they turn off readers who are either casually acquainted with the subject, or not at all. That's not a problem with Canadian Whisky. De Kergommeaux deftly provides enough detail to satisfy whisky neophytes and aficionados, but not so much that it becomes exhausting to all but obsessed whisky geeks. His writing style is neither too simple nor too intellectual.
The first quarter of the book focuses more on science. On a very basic level, Canadian whisky must contain some rye and age for at least three years in oak barrels. Of course, there's a lot more to it than that. The chapters on whisky components and the production process take what could be really boring subjects (particularly for people like me who aren't into science) and make them really interesting. De Kergommeaux's discussion about the science behind flavors, aroma, and taste is equally interesting. Even though he presents it in the context of Canadian whisky, one particular observation from de Kergommeaux resonates with me because it applies to all sorts of things, including cocktails -- the fun is in the nuance.
The rest of the book focuses on the history and evolution of the Canadian whisky industry. Fortunately de Kergommeaux largely eschews what could be a mind numbing recitation of facts, and he paints evocative pictures of some of the people who made the industry what it is today. To his credit, de Kergommeaux makes a point of separating myth from fact, such as with the section about Sam Bronfman (who made Seagrams a powerhouse in the 20th century). In addition, de Kergommeaux is clear eyed about some unsavory aspects of Canadian whisky history. For example, I had no idea lawlessness associated with frontier whisky trading led to the establishment of what is now the Mounties (the Royal Canadian Mounted Police).
I appreciate the breadth and depth of de Kergommeaux's research. Don't let the possibility of information fatigue dissuade you. Canadian Whisky is a fascinating, valuable, and informative resource. Those who love whisky and those who want to learn more about it should thank de Kergommeaux for his work about this underappreciated spirit.
Writing about Canadian whisky has made me thirsty, so I'm going to get a bottle or two ... and conveniently, the book has tasting notes for many Canadian whiskies.