Friday, October 3, 2008

A Tale of Gangsters and Canadians.

Al Capone, whose name needs no modifiers or explanations, figures in most legends about Prohibition-era production and smuggling of liquor. We know that Capone’s organization had clandestine breweries and distilleries throughout the Chicago area, from tiny basement brandy stills in Little Italy, to industrial-scale distilleries in suburbs such as Chicago Heights.

But to meet demand, especially for high quality aged spirits for wealthy customers, Capone’s organization also engaged in smuggling, usually of Canadian whisky. Some came overland into northern Minnesota and was trucked to Chicago from there, as was famously depicted in the 1987 “Untouchables” film. Much also came across the Detroit River, facilitated by Capone’s Detroit affiliates, from distilleries in Windsor, Ontario, established there for just that purpose.

According to Beam Global Spirits & Wine, which owns Canadian Club Canadian Whisky, the Canadian Club Distillery was established in 1858, one mile across the river from Detroit in anticipation of the temperance movement. During Prohibition, it was the site of many secret deals and police chases as Canadian Club whisky was brought over the border into the U.S.

To celebrate the brand’s 150th anniversary, Canadian Club has released Canadian Club 30-year-old, a limited edition, 80-proof, 30-year-old whisky. It is the oldest Canadian whisky on the market and is available in a 750ml bottle at a suggested retail price of $175-$199. It was being bottled at Beam’s Clermont, Kentucky, plant when I was there two weeks ago, so it should be in stores very soon if it’s not there already.

Canadian whisky is much lighter in taste than a typical American straight bourbon or rye and is made like blended scotch, in that rich, flavorful whiskies made mostly from rye are blended with a nearly neutral base whisky made mostly from corn. Canadian Club is unique in blending its constituent whiskeys before, rather than after aging in oak barrels, which typically are used bourbon barrels.

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