Four limousines arrived bright and early last Thursday at Sherway Gardens carrying 12 Toronto media reps and bloggers, who then filed into a limo bus bound for a two-day whiskey excursion to Windsor. The Canadian Club Prohibition Tour, as it was officially called, gave us an inside look at the Canadian Club brand centre, the CC distillery, town of Walkerville and the Pike Creek barrel aging facility. Praxis PR hosted the trip in conjunction with Canadian Club and it was definitely a memorable one, despite the consistent flow of whiskey and its many sub-beverages.
We were met with fully stocked bags under our seats that included an antipasto assortment, breakfast wraps and a sushi lunch. A welcomed addition was the two baskets of Nini Noper cake lollipops. Activity in the limo bus included heavy laptop and smart phone use (after all, it was a workday), no shortage of music with some creative iPhone dock DJing and banter amongst the mostly familiar faces.
We got our first taste of Canadian Club around noon through a brand new product guaranteed to fly off the shelves when the warmer months approach. The Mixed and Ready cans are a delicious mix of Canadian Club Whiskey and either coke or ginger ale.
Sunshine and 28-degree temperature greeted us upon arrival at the Canadian Club Brand Centre in Walkerville. Welcoming our arrival were what would become two of our new favourite people, CC brand ambassadors Tish and Dan. To keep it simple, we referred to them simply as “Dish.”
What was the first thing we did after introductions? Pour a cocktail, of course. The day was spent learning of the 1920s prohibition era and the role Canadian Club played in shaping this period. The sale of Canadian booze, especially Canadian Club, skyrocketed during the prohibition years, with Canadian Club emerging as the distillery during the 13-year dry spell. The company had to communicate with customers through telegram and through code, with an individual code for each customer.
We heard how the original bottles were difficult to smuggle, with necks that were easily breakable and tricky to conceal. People got creative in how they smuggled alcohol across the border, even hiding it in wreaths to express condolences. The Gate bottle was thus designed for smuggling. It featured strong glass, had a shorter neck to prevent breakage during shipping, and was concavely curved to fit into shipping crates. It was soon discovered that the curved bottle could also be hidden into boots and around the lower leg; the term “bootlegger” was hence born.
We also learned of the history of Canadian Club and founder Hiram Walker (who founded the distillery in 1858) and his sons. Truly an entrepreneurial spirit, Hiram was a millionaire by the time he reached 30. He had fallen in love with a palace in Italy and tried to replicate it in the sprawling property to serve as the CC headquarters, which now stands as the brand centre. When it opened in 1894, Walker was 78 years old and his sons predominantly ran the business. The Walker family rubbed elbows with the likes of Henry Ford and Thomas Edison and was viewed almost like royalty. Rumours suggest the Walkers were also among the first to have electrical light as a result of their friendship with Edison. They were billionaires, making today’s equivalent to $400,00 per month for each member of the immediate family.
A memorable feature of the property included the basement “Speakeasy,” a facilitator for private conversation between the likes of Al Capone and The Purple Gang, compete with bullet holes in the wall – a reminder of what could happen if you spoke out of line. If you were caught stealing booze, the enforcers of the time would encase your boots in cement and toss you in the river. We also got to see the tunnels where the Canadian Club would be transported across by pulleys. Another memorable site was the art gallery, which features works from the Group of Seven and is apparently where the spiritual inhabitants of the building like to reside.
We sampled CC Premium (six-year), CC Reserve (10-year), CC Classic (12-year) and CC Sherry Cask. We were instructed to swirl it like wine and notice the fat tears on the glass, which indicates that it is a full-bodied whiskey and reveals its quality.
It was then time for cocktail mixology lessons with appropriate CC cocktails for the entire day – breakfast, lunch and cocktail hour (which seemingly was every hour). Insider tips learned: if it’s opaque, you shake; and always crown a glass with ice. The first cocktail demonstrated was the CC Caesar, served in a high ball rimmed with celery salt and made with the CC Reserve because it is spicier than the rest. Speaking from experience, Dan advised to always add the ingredients of a Caesar from least expensive to most expensive. That way, if you make a mistake, you’re wasting less of your precious money when you have to pour it down the drain. The second cocktail, appropriate for the noon hour, was the CC Sour made with 1 1/2 parts Canadian Club Reserve, the juice of half a lemon, ¾ oz simple syrup or sugar, then shaken and strained over ice into a chilled rocks glass and topped with a Maraschino cherry. The last, for pre-dinner or just after, was the shaken Millionaires Manhattan with CC Classic 12, Harvey’s Bristol Cream Sherry and two dashes of Angostura Bitters.
After The C.C Rumrunner’s Challenge – a scavenger hunt that saw us running through the corridors of the majestic building, we were rewarded with a taste of Canadian Club’s new Dock 57 Whiskey. The spiced whiskey combines a hint of natural vanilla spice ï¬‚avour with Canadian Club’s premium whisky and promises to provide unmatched balance and smoothness. The name Dock 57 goes back to the prohibition period when the government had to control the sale of CC and each dock along the Detroit River was subsequently given a number.
It was then time for a CC-filled buffet-style dinner in the executive dining room. After a nightcap at the Brand Centre, the limo bus and our trusty driver were waiting to depart for Caesars Hotel and Casino.
The morning began bright and early – perhaps a little to early – with a VIP tour of the manufacturing facility as we learned more about the production process (below).
It was then time for a tour of Walkerville, a town that Hiram built mostly himself that includes a church, police station and houses for him employees. He also renamed the streets and constructed homes for his workers, which included townhouses that resemble New York brownstones for lower level employees, with larger homes the next block over for middle management, followed by sprawling, beautiful mansions. The picturesque community looked like something from a book on the unusually warm March day and it was clear to see why it was voted one of the “Top 10 Historic Towns to Live in Canada.”
After fuelling up at a family-style lunch at Il Gabbiano in Windsor’s Little Italy, we were on our way to Pike Creek, a storage facility where 16 warehouses contain 1.3 million barrels of aging whiskey. An intense aroma filled the air as soon as the garage doors opened, exposing barrels upon barrels (stacked in sixes) of whiskey. Here, 12,000 fully aged barrels are sent back to the distillery per day, while the same number of fresh barrels arrive daily. We tried both a 13-month old blend and a 13-year-old blend straight from the barrel, which served with a turkey bastor like contraption. At a devastating 70-odd percent alcohol volume while still in the barrels, we must admit it wasn’t necessarily the “smooth” we were accustomed to from the finished product.
CC QUICK FACTS
– Canadian Club is described as light, smooth and mellow.
– The three factors that influence Canadian Club: type of grain, type of barrel, and the length of time in the barrel.
– CC is the only Canadian whisky that is Pre-Barrel Blended™ before aging to allow the flavours to marry, resulting in an exceptionally smooth and mellow whisky.
– CC is double distilled to remove fusel oils, which prevents next-day hangovers.
– Aged 4x longer than the industry standard in once-used American white oak bourbon barrels, Canadian Club is aged in oak barrels for 6-20 years.
– Each variety is made from a secret recipe of a different ratio of corn, rye, rye malt and barley malt distillates .
– The Canadian Club distillery contains 39 fermenters
– Canadian Club drains and fills 1,200 barrels per day.
– Production receives 25-35 trucks of grain daily.
– Canadian Club receives the barrels from the United States and burns off the bourbon in a process called charring, resulting in a brand new charred barrel that exposes what the wood has to offer.
– A less woody taste means it was produced in a newer barrel.
– CC was originally known as Hiram Walker’s Club Whiskey. It’s popularity angered American distillers forcing the U.S. Government to pass a law requiring that all foreign whiskeys state their country of origin on the label, hence Canadian Club was born.