Club Became Canadian
By Art Jahns, from
the Hiram Walker Archives
Queen Victoria drank Canadian
Club... as did fictitious British secret agent James Bond. At its
peak, Canadian Club was among the most recognized products in the
Any material from the Hiram
Walker archives has to start with the history of Canadian Club whisky,
the brand that established the Hiram Walker distillery and the town
of Walkerville, and made them famous throughout the world.
Canadian Club whisky was an
ambassador not only for Walkerville but for Canada. Queen Victoria
drank Canadian Club at the end of the nineteenth century, as did
fictitious British secret agent James Bond, seventy-five years later.
At its peak, Canadian Club was among the most recognized products
in the world.
When Hiram Walker founded his
distillery in the wilds of East Sandwich in1858, most whisky was
sold in barrels. Brand names, however, were beginning to make an
impact on the industry. Brands such as "Monongahela" from
Pennsylvania had already become well known in the eastern United
was brand conscious from the outset. His first brand of whisky was
called "Magnolia," most likely named after a town in Massachusetts,
not far from his hometown. Although not very successful, the brand
was available from the distillery from 1858 until around 1900.
Incredibly, by 1882, the distillery
offered twenty-seven different whisky products for sale. Brands
such as "Walkers Old Rye," "Toddy," "Family
Proof," "Superior," and "Excelsior" were
just a few. Although these brands achieved moderate success, Walker
knew he needed one key brand to ensure lasting success in the distilling
One brand that appeared at this
time was called "Three Star". By the end of 1881, the
brand was known as "Three Star Club". Within a year, the
"Three Star" was dropped, and by 1882, the brand was changed
to "Club" whisky.
In April 1882, Walker registered
"Club" as a trademark for the customary fee of $25. Walker
hoped this would be the name that would secure his fame and fortune
for himself, the distillery and his fledgling town of Walkerville.
Walker positioned his Club as
a premium brand- it was promoted not only for its purity, but also
for the time it was aged a full seven years in oak barrels,
unheard lenght of time in that era (US bourbons were aged for less
than a year if at all). Early price lists show Club was considerably
more expensive than any other brand offered by the company. Club
was not an instant success like the barrels it was aged in,
it took time for the market to catch up to Walkers genius.
In 1882, only 43 barrels were sold, compared to 15,000 barrels of
Walkers Old Rye.
Surprisingly, a government intervention
cleared a path for Clubs success. In 1883, the Canadian government
passed the "Bottled in Bond Law." Distillers were able
to bottle whisky with a Canadian government excise or strip stamp,
so in effect the Canadian Government was guaranteeing the age of
the bottled whisky. No other country in the world employed such
a system the US did not follow suit for another 13 years.
This simple process gave consumers confidence in whisky products
and made Canadian whisky famous throughout the world.
With a new method of packaging
and marketing whisky, Canadian distillers delegated their best or
most innovative brands for bottling. Hiram Walkers first bottled
and bonded whiskies were Old Rye and Club.
Distilling whisky was a very
competitive industry and sales of Club were less than stellar. In
1884, only 87 cases were exported to the USA. By 1890, this figure
had climbed to only 4,817 cases. But heavy advertising and hard
work led to steady growth; by 1915, the number of U.S. exported
cases was a respectable 137,353 cases.
In 1889, a significant and pivotal
change occurred to the "Club" package. The word "Canadian"
was added to the top of the label, set in block letters. Canadian
referred to a type of whisky (as opposed to Scotch, Irish or Kentucky).
Canadian whisky, as pioneered by Walker, was a blend of neutral
corn spirits and rye flavouring spirits blended together before
storage in the barrels.
Bills for mash, (the leftover
matter from distilling), from the early 1860s confirm that this
method was employed by Walker from the earliest days of his operation.
Walker was now using his methods as a way to promote his products
in the USA.
A common myth is that the U.S.
government forced Walker to insert the word "Canadian"
at the insistence of American bourbon distillers. Research done
to date finds no evidence to support this notion. In 1882, sales
of Canadian whisky were so small that Washington hardly needed to
take action. No matter, as it makes for a great story and secured
the legend of Hiram Walker as an astute businessman. What is known
is that Walker always printed the words "Canada" or "Canadian"
from the beginning of bottling operations.
In 1890, Club whisky changed
again. The distillery fully incorporated Canada into the products
name and the brand was then called "Canada Club". The
brand was bottled in a pumpkin seed flask. This unique bottle was
on the market for a very short time, and is exceedingly rare and
In 1893, another label change
led to "Canadian" as the prefix to Club, with both words
in what would become the companys famous script face. With
that humble beginning, one of the best known brands in the world
was born. This last change may seem obvious with the passing of
time, but in fact, it was a mental exercise that took several years.
The Canadian Club label, based on this simple format, was used by
Hiram Walker & Sons for over 105 years.
With the dawning of the 20th
century, Canadian Club gained a solid foothold in the coveted U.S.
market. But the new century would bring new challenges to Hiram
Walkers sons, who inherited the business after Walkers
death in 1899.
The looming Great World War
led to the closing of the U.S. border to Canadian whisky in 1917,
dealing a blow to the Walkers. But this was minor compared to the
passing of the Vollstead Act in 1920, and the gathering clouds of
Prohibition the complete banning of all manner of drink throughout
Walkerville would soon be ground
zero for smugglers and rumrunners but that, as they say,
is another story!
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