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Monday, January 30, 2023

The Distiller Who’d Become King

Of all the whisky yarns I’ve spun over the years, the tale of Hiram Walker is perhaps my favourite.  Hiram was an American who created one of the most celebrated names in Canadian whisky, a man who went from grocery clerk to having his own city-state in southern Ontario.

Walker started making Canadian Club in 1858.  Back then, it was called Club whisky.  It went down easy, and quickly established itself as the drink of choice in gentlemen’s clubs throughout the US.  The bourbon industry desperately wanted to dampen its popularity, so they pressured Congress to insist all imported whiskies put their country of origin on the label.  Legislation was soon passed, and Club became Canadian Club.  Much to the annoyance of the American distilling community, their plan backfired.  Walker’s product became even more popular.  It now had “foreign mystique.”

By the late 1800s, Canadian Club was one of the best-selling whiskies in the world.  Walker now turned his attention to the building of a model community he hoped would be the envy of the region.  Some called it Walker’s Town, but its official name was Walkerville.  Walker built and financed the church (he named it St. Mary’s in honour of his late wife), fire station, and police department.  The houses were rented out to his employees.  He paved the streets and created public utilities.  By contrast, almost all the roads in nearby Windsor were unpaved.  In 1890, Walkerville became incorporated.  Its first mayor was Hiram Alexis Walker, Hiram Walker’s nephew.

During Prohibition, close to 75% of all liquor smuggled into the US came from Canada, and a healthy chunk of it was made in Walkerville.  Canadian Club 41 is called “Water of Windsor,” which is slang for Canadian Club.  The bulk of this expression is 100% corn whisky drawn from ex-rye barrels that were filled in 1977.  The rye, sherry, and Cognac used for the 41 adds complexity without suppressing the underlying spirit.  As I’ve referenced in other posts, Canadian whisky makers can add 9.09% of non-whisky as long as the end product tastes like “Canadian whisky.”  Canadian Club 41 has a depth of flavour that’s hard to articulate.  The nose is like a never-ending flavour cave.  Vanilla, baking spices, caramel.  Well behaved oak.  A pleasant, sweet affair.

Happy dramming,


Instead of dying she shall merely fall into a profound slumber that will last a hundred years. -  Charles Perrault,  The Sleeping Beauty in ...