Canadian Club is a brand of whisky from Canada. Popularly known as C.C., Canadian Club began production in 1858. It was established by Hiram Walker, and was known as Walker’s Club Whiskey.
Walker founded his distillery in 1858 in Detroit. He first learned how to distill cider vinegar in his grocery store in the 1830s before moving on to whisky and producing his first barrels in 1854. However, with the prohibition movement gathering momentum and Michigan already becoming “dry”, Walker decided to move his distillery across the Detroit River to Windsor, Ontario. From here, he was able to export his whisky, continue to perfect the distillation process and start to develop Walkerville, a community that Walker financed and sourced most of his employees from.
Walker’s whisky was particularly popular in the late 19th century gentlemen’s clubs of the U.S. and Canada; hence it became known as “Club Whisky”. Walker originally positioned his Club Whisky as a premium liquor, pitching it not only on its smoothness and purity but also the length of the aging process (Walker’s whisky was aged in oak barrels for a minimum of five years). This was revolutionary at the time, as all of the U.S. bourbons and whiskies were aged for less than a year.
Club Whisky became very popular and American distillers petitioned for the inclusion of the word “Canada” on the bottle to distinguish it from their competing whiskies, thinking it would halt the popularity of Walker’s. This backfired, only making Club Whisky more exclusive. Walker saw this and changed the label again in 1889 adding the word “Canadian” to the top of the label, distinguishing Walker’s recipe for his whisky from the other processes of the time (Scotch, Irish and U.S.). Hiram blended corn and barley in addition to rye before putting it in the barrels for maturation, a recipe that is now renowned throughout the world as that of Canadian whisky.
In 1890, the word “Canadian” was moved down from the top of the label and incorporated into the name of the whisky. This, however, was only temporary, as three years later the logo was changed again, transforming from a bold font into the scripted typeface that we see worldwide today (See logo above).
It was not until the American government introduced the Bottled in bond law in 1894 that the people of America really started drinking Canadian Club. It was thanks to the passing of this law that all whiskey labelling had to include maturation time. This re-affirmed the fact that aging whisky was not just a fad and that, generally speaking, the older the whisky, the better the quality.
Walker’s distillery went to his sons upon his death in 1899. Over the years, the family has branched out into other businesses. At one point, the Walkers employed almost the entire population of Walkerville, where they built police and fire stations, brought in running water and installed street lights. In 1890, the Canadian government acknowledged Walkerville as a legal town. It was incorporated into Windsor in 1935.
During the years of Prohibition, one of the distillery’s most important clients was Chicago gangster Al Capone. He smuggled in thousands of cases of Canadian Club via a route from Windsor to Detroit.
Canadian Club has received the royal warrants of Queen Victoria, King Edward VII, King George V, King George VI, and Queen Elizabeth II. Hiram Walker & Sons was the only North American distiller to have been granted a royal warrant.. This was later withdrawn.
The Walker distillery remains in production in Windsor. Hiram Walker’s main production is now Wiser’s Whisky (Canada’s best-selling whisky family), Polar Ice Vodka, Lamb’s Rum and Malibu Rum.
Canadian Club is now part of the Jim Beam portfolio. It is its No. 4-selling alcoholic product, behind Jim Beam bourbon whiskey, Sauza tequila and DeKuyper cordials.