Canadian Club Premium Canadian Whisky

In honour of Canada Day, I thought I’d review an iconic Canadian whisky – the base, entry-level Canadian Club (aka Canadian Club Premium).

Canadian Club is one of the best selling and widely available Canadian whiskies, available in more than 150 countries. Indeed, I have seen this one in more far-flung places around the world than any other Canadian whisky. It is produced at the Hiram Walker plant in Windsor, Ontario, under license for its current owner – Beam-Suntory.

As the legend goes, this whisky was popular in the “gentlemen clubs” of the 19th century, where it received the distinction of becoming known as “Club Whisky.” Eventually, “Canadian” was added to the label, to differentiate it from competitors of lower quality (or so the official story goes). But one way of the other, “Canadian” did eventually come to be associated with quality in whisky during this time period. Apparently it even led to fraudulent “Canadian” claims of other brands (can’t say I’ve come across that too often).

While this fact is easily forgotten, the rise of period TV pieces like Boardwalk Empire and Mad Men have helped illustrate how popular Canadian Club was among American whisky drinkers in previous times. This has likely contributed to something of a resurgence lately of this storied brand. But is the base expression actually something you would want to drink?

Here is how it does in my Meta-Critic Database, compared to other entry-level Canadian whiskies:

Alberta Premium: 8.24 ± 0.56 on 11 reviews ($)
Alberta Springs 10yo: 8.30 ± 0.42 on 9 reviews ($)
Canadian Club Premium: 7.33 ± 0.75 on 17 reviews ($)
Crown Royal: 7.61 ± 0.46 on 17 reviews ($)
Forty Creek Barrel Select: 8.47 ± 0.42 on 16 reviews ($)
Gibson’s Finest Sterling: 8.04 ± 0.36 on 8 reviews ($)
Hiram Walker Special Old Rye: 8.21 ± 0.37 on 9 reviews ($)
J.P. Wiser’s Deluxe: 7.91 ± 0.67 on 10 reviews ($)
J.P. Wiser’s Rye: 7.98 ± 0.47 on 8 reviews ($)
Seagram’s VO: 7.80 ± 0.69 on 9 reviews ($)

As you can see, despite its fame it actually gets the lowest score of all the entry-level Canadian whiskies above.

And here is how some of the truly “premium” Canadian Club whiskies compare:

Canadian Club 100% Rye: 8.34 ± 0.42 on 14 reviews ($)
Canadian Club 9yo: 8.03 ± 0.45 on 5 reviews ($)
Canadian Club 10yo: 8.38 ± 0.61 on 9 reviews ($$)
Canadian Club 12yo Classic (Small Batch): 8.13 ± 0.44 on 13 reviews ($)
Canadian Club 20yo: 8.63 ± 0.31 on 10 reviews ($$$)
Canadian Club 30yo: 9.02 ± 0.19 on 6 reviews ($$$$$)
Canadian Club Sherry Cask: 8.22 ± 0.60 on 8 reviews ($$)

Before I get to my tasting notes, an interesting point of distinction here: unlike most modern Canadian whiskies – where different barrels are blended at the end of production, to fit a desired flavour profile – Canadian Club Premium is “blended at birth.” This means that different batches of unaged spirit (presumably reflecting different mashbills/distilling styles) are blended together before barreling. It is reported to be aged 6 years in white oak barrels. It is bottled at the industry standard 40% ABV.

Let’s see what I find in the glass for the base Canadian Club Premium.

Colour: Light gold, pretty sure caramel has been added.

Nose: Sweet with creamed wheat characteristics. Very grain-forward, with some added corn syrup notes. Red berries. Vanilla. Hay and something distinctly vegetal (composting vegetal, I’m afraid). The nose is not strong, but there are fairly prominent aspects of acetone and other organics (including rubbing alcohol). Not as bad as it sounds, but definitely seems young.

Palate: More rye forward than I expected from the nose – my initial impression is that this may be OK after all. But within seconds in the mouth, it turns into light corn syrup mixed with flat cola. That sickly-sweet cola taste always seems somewhat artificial to me (e.g., reminds me of cola-flavoured gummy candies that I’ve come across in Asia). Orange peel and some spice – nutmeg and a touch of pepper, specifically. While these extra notes are welcome, this is not a whisky to savour – I really don’t like holding it in my mouth.

Finish: Immediately after swallowing, you get hit with raw alcohol fumes. Fairly short finish, really not much here. Bitterness builds with time. Honestly, feels a bit like a rubbing alcohol rinse.

Personally, I have to give this a marginal nod over the base Crown Royal – since it is not as artificially sweet and bitter as CR. This base Canadian Club also has a bit more character (although not all of it good). I would slightly favour Canadian Club for drinking neat – not that I’m inclined to – but Crown Royal makes a better mixer, in my view. But you are much better off skipping both and going right to Canadian Club Chairman’s Select 100% Rye or Hiram Walker Special Old for about the same price (or even less).

Most reviewers of this base Canadian Club whisky have a similar take, with very low scores (i.e., at or below their 5th percentile). See for example the guys at Quebec Whisky, Jan of Best Shot Whisky, Ralfy, Richard of Whiskey Reviewer, and most the Reddit reviews, like HawkI84, headlessparrot and muaddib99. Marginally more positive are Jason of In Search of Elegance, Davin of Whisky Advocate, and Chip the RumHowler – although all give it well below average scores. The only really positive review of this whisky is (what for it …) Jim Murray.


  • Just got a bottle and it has a strong fake maple syrup taste, won’t buy this again.

  • I don’t usually like whiskey, but I do like this and have drunk it for years – usually with coke. I think it’s really smooth. Think I read that it’s 75% vodka – not sure if that’s true though.

    • No, it is not Vodka. But the base Canadian whisky that forms the majority spirit in most bottlings is distilled to near neutral spirit levels (like vodka). But unlike vodka, it is still aged in wood barrels for several years at a minimum. So it is still whisky, but it has little character. The flavoring whiskies (distilled to lower proof and/or aged in better barrels) are added for character. The situation is somewhat analogous to scotch blends.

  • Can you suggest a whiskey for someone who has grown up on Canadian Club? A sort of stepping stone into a larger, refined world. Thanks.

    • You didn’t specify Canadian, but I would recommend Canadian Club 100% Rye next. A good introduction straight rye whiskies, which is what makes Canadian whisky distinctive. I would follow that up with Crown Royal Northern Harvest and Lot 40. The amount of actual rye flavour increases in that relative order (rye content is only one factor – how it is distilled and aged matters for the relative “spiceness”). Beyond that, I recommend you check out some of the Canadian whiskies referred to in my Canadian Whisky Trends 2020 article:

      • It didn’t have to be Canadian, but I’m happy to start with these recommendations and move on as I learn more. Thanks so much.

        • Peter Aldhelm-White

          If you are in Ontario I would suggest Four Roses Single barrel, Wild Turkey 101 and Buffalo Trace, 3 decent Bourbon’s at a decent price.
          Maybe Glendronach 12 or Highland Park 12 are very good starter Single Malt Scotches that will not break the bank.

  • I’ve been an avid scotch and rye whisky lover all my life.
    For rye, I find “Canadian Club “small batch” one of the smoothest rye whiskies I’ve ever tasted.
    It’s my go to in my bar…..
    I strongly recommend trying this if you’re looking for a reasonably priced really smooth whisky.

  • I have never had a whiskey that made me physically ill, not sure what it is but I was green after drinking it. Maybe it’s a preservative in it I don’t know. But can’t drink that beverage.

  • One Canadian whiskey that I tried lately is called 40 Creek. The distillery is in the Niagara region, right on the highway and you can pop in for tours and tastings. Their basic beer is called Barrel Select. It’s the usual 40% alcohol and it’s great. The taste reminds you of Scotch, but not quite.
    They have a premium variety with a 45% alcohol level which I tried. It’s not bad but not worth the extra money.

  • Canadian club premium rye sold in a piggy bank that looks like a tux anyone have an idea what its worth ?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.