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Canadian Whiskies Look To Burnish Their Craft Credentials

November 27, 2018

While the Canadian whisky category’s bigger players are expanding their audiences with flavored line extensions, a crop of craft style labels is steadily attracting new consumers.

Proximo Spirits’ Pendleton brand, for example, has enjoyed double-digit growth for the past four years, and could cross 300,000 cases by year-end. While the label’s flagship expression ($25) comprises most of its current 247,000 cases in volume, offerings like the 90-proof Pendleton Midnight ($35), the all-rye 1910 Rye ($40), and the 20-year-old Director’s Reserve ($125) are contributing to steady growth and rising consumer interest. Together, Midnight and 1910 combined for around 22,000 cases last year, and grew by 4.3% and 13.5%, respectively. Proximo parent company Casa Cuervo acquired Pendleton from Oregon’s Hood River Distillers earlier this year for $205 million.

Pernod Ricard subsidiary Corby Spirit and Wine is also competing in this segment with its Pike Creek and Lot 40 labels. Both brands launched stateside in 2012, and have since developed followings based on their unique propositions; Lot 40 ($30) for its all-rye blend of 90% rye and 10% malted rye, and Pike Creek ($32) for its aging in American oak Bourbon barrels and finishing in vintage Port barrels. Lot 40 was recently placed on allocation as a result of its popularity.

Corby also produces the J.P. Wiser’s label, which has declined from 31,000 cases in the U.S. in 2014 to 9,000 cases last year. In the U.S., only the core Wiser’s Deluxe ($20) and more upscale Triple Barrel Rye ($25) and 18-year-old ($60) expressions are available. In the Canadian market, Wiser’s includes a 35-year-old expression, 150th Anniversary Red Letter, and Dissertation, which have been critically acclaimed. “Wiser’s is a top-two brand in Canada and a top-seven brand globally in Canadian whisky,” says Jason Schladenhauffen, president and CEO of Wiser’s importer 375 Park Avenue Spirits. “In the U.S., it’s currently outside the top 20, but there’s no reason it can’t be a top-10 brand.” He adds that Wiser’s has plenty of liquid at its disposal, providing ample headroom for future expansion.

Campari acquired the Forty Creek whisky brand in 2015 for about $170 million, but it has struggled to gain traction, slipping below 50,000 cases last year. The Forty Creek portfolio includes the core Barrel Select ($24), Copper Pot Reserve ($29), Double Barrel Reserve ($55), and Confederation Oak Reserve ($65).

Meanwhile, Ontario-based producer Andrew Peller Ltd. introduced three new whiskies from its No. 99 range to the U.S. market earlier this year. A collaboration between hockey legend Wayne Gretzky—who owns Canada’s Wayne Gretzky Estates Winery and Distillery—and master distiller Joshua Beach, the No. 99 line features Red Cask ($35), a Canadian whisky finished in red wine barrels from Gretzky’s winery; Ice Cask ($50), which is matured in the winery’s icewine barrels; and Ninety-Nine Proof ($80), which is aged in Cabernet Sauvignon barrels. While the liquid is currently sourced from undisclosed Canadian distilleries, Beach says he’s laying down spirit that will be ready for bottling in three years.—Julia Higgins

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