Pursuit (Fine Canadian whisky): Catcher of the rye

Much-maligned Canadian whisky deserves another look.

If you want to annoy connoisseurs of Scotch, offer them a jigger of Canadian whisky. The sneering look will be priceless. Canadian whisky — commonly referred to as rye, even though there’s precious little rye in it — certainly has a lightweight reputation in the spirit world. Thin, simple, sugary. Those poor adjectives are typically used to describe brands such as Wiser’s De Luxe, Canadian Club, Crown Royal and Gibson’s. But when done right, and sipped properly — either straight or with a little still water or ice — Canadian whisky is downright delectable.

Take Wiser’s Red Letter whisky, a limited edition concoction for the 150th anniversary of John Phillip Wiser’s first whisky. It’s made from the original recipe — or as close as one can get — and it has a richer flavour than you may be used to. “Good Canadian whisky should be full flavoured, lighter and, therefore, very vesatile,” says Mike Booth, Red Letter’s brand ambassador. But those characteristics only show up if it isn’t gulped like a teenager at a bush party.

Frankly, most people couldn’t care less about what booze looks like, but a nice tulip-shaped glass will bring out rye’s fruity aromas, such as apricots or raisins, as well as the rich bronze colour. A deeper sniff will bring out more complex notes like English toffee, caramel, vanilla and even the oak from the barrel. Now, gently swirl in your mouth to taste. A good rye will taste sweet at first, with some acidity as it rolls to the sides of the tongue, and finish with a little bitterness from the wood tannin at the back of the throat. “It’s round, smooth and silky. It’s silky smooth,” says Booth, sipping the 90-proof rye. “It’s got balls.”

Only 6,000 bottles at $150 a pop are available in Canada, making it a sweet present for your favourite tippler.