Where were you in 1977? Fifteen years away from birth, maybe? A decade? Lucky you. I was parting my hair in the middle and wearing lapels so wide I had to bolt myself to the nearest tree stump every time the wind threatened to stir up.
It was the apogee of disco and the nadir of cocktail mixology – a sea of Singapore slings and rye and Cokes, as I dimly recall. Canadian Club was there, as it had been everywhere in this country for decades. The venerable whisky brand was a mainstay of my dad's bar, a totem of his immigrant's embrace of the "classy" New World.
But this new bottling is something else entirely, something the characters in Mad Men would not have the slightest clue how to promote or properly sip. Tish Harcus, the whisky's brand ambassador, is clearly proud. "Nobody's ever done this in Canada," she told me at the product's formal launch in Toronto. "No other Canadian distiller has launched an aged spirit 40 years old."
That specifically means the whisky was left to mature for four decades in oak barrels, where actual aging and flavour development occurs in spirits. Once a spirit is bottled, it's embalmed; there's no aging going on after you've taken possession, no matter how long you forget it in the attic.
And yet, CC40 tastes remarkably lean and youthful. Untinted by caramel colouring (a sleight of hand common in the whisky world), it's surprisingly light in appearance as well. Canadian whisky can be that way – elusive and unpredictable, because the rules around blending, oak maturation and grain components are far more flexible than in other classic whisky-producing countries.
This one happens to be crafted entirely from corn distillate. But there's a rye influence from the oak barrels, which had come up from Kentucky as used bourbon casks only to have the bourbon flavour burned away through a charring process. The vessels were subsequently filled with rye-based whisky and later emptied out, only to be reconditioned for another go-round, this time with 100-per-cent corn spirit.
There were just 7,000 bottles made, all released this month across the country as a luxe-whisky tribute to Canada's 150th anniversary. It's remarkably crisp and delicate for its age, though with prominent caramel-toffee notes and whiffs of cedar, vanilla and spice that seem to speak of the oak.
At an average price of $250, it's not cheap, but it's 10 times more affordable than some 40-year-old Scottish whiskies. Just don't mix it with Coke, unless you've got a well-preserved 40-year-old bottle of Coke lurking in the cellar.