A visit to the blending lab for Crown Royal, Canada\u2019s best-known whisky maker, uncovers a spirits lover\u2019s dream office. Pristine filing cabinets slide open to reveal row upon row of meticulously organized flasks.\r\n\r\nInside the drawers, whiskies in every conceivable shade are lined up like the ultimate box of crayons, from crystal-clear, unaged distillate to deep, dark amber developed through years of barrel rest. The various ages, grain combinations and flavors of whisky are all represented.\r\n\r\nIn many ways, these cabinets are a metaphor for Canadian whisky itself. Once considered mellow and monotone, producers have transformed the category into a riotous rainbow of bold, interesting bottlings.\r\n\r\nWhisky or Whiskey?\r\nAmericans spell whiskey with an \u201ce,\u201d but just like their counterparts in Scotland, Canadians typically spell it \u201cwhisky.\u201d\r\n\r\nWhether it\u2019s Crown Royal\u2019s Northern Harvest Rye, a lean, peppery whisky made with 90% rye and named 2016\u2019s World Whisky of the Year in Jim Murray\u2019s annual Whisky Bible or, on the other end of the spectrum, comforting, caramel-forward bottlings like Caribou Crossing, Canadian whisky is ringing up sales for good reason.\r\n\r\nAccording to the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States, sales of Canadian whisky in the U.S. rose 7% between 2011 and 2016, with a 112% spike in the high-end premium category.\r\n\r\n\u201cThe whisky world is waking up to Canadian whisky and declaring it among the best whiskies in the world,\u201d says Davin de Kergommeaux in the second edition of his book, Canadian Whisky. Bars and restaurants in the U.S. are also adding Canadian bottlings to spirits lists.\r\n\r\n\u201cIt is again cool to be seen sipping Canadian.\u201d\r\nIt\u2019s Not Bourbon\r\nWhile Canada\u2019s whisky history parallels that of America, the two would diverge. It\u2019s why there are differences in how whisky is made and how it tastes across the border.\r\n\r\nThe stories began similarly. Settlers from Europe arrived in North America with knowledge of traditional distilling techniques, which they applied to the abundant grains\u2014corn, wheat, barley and rye\u2014they discovered in the new world.\r\n\r\nWhile corn, required to make Bourbon, was long the dominant ingredient in American whiskey, rye became the key player in Canada\u2019s whisky history. Favored by Dutch and German immigrants, the hardy grain thrived in the cooler northern climate. America grew and distilled the grain as well, but in Canada, rye-based whisky was so prevalent that for decades, all Canadian\u00ad whisky was referred to simply as \u201crye.\u201d Its spicy character is considered a signature of Canadian bottlings.\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\nBut agriculture and consumer tastes evolved. Corn is now the most commonly used grain in Canadian whisky, except for a handful of rye-focused bottlings.\r\n\r\nThe Prohibition years provided another point of divergence. While American liquor was forced underground and into private homes and clubs during the 1920s, Canada continued its whisky- making traditions. De Kergommeaux\u00ad estimates that during those years, Canadian whisky made up about 10% of alcoholic beverages consumed in the U.S.\r\n\r\nBy the time Prohibition ended in 1933, many of America\u2019s distillers had long abandoned their craft. In many cases, a new generation of producers started over with different processes, recipes and equipment. Canadian counter\u00adparts, meanwhile, enjoyed more continuity in production.\r\n\r\nAlthough Canadian whisky thrived in the 1950s through \u201970s, consumer tastes for white spirits, particularly vodka, eroded sales over the following two decades. Canadian distilleries consolidated, and many closed.\r\n\r\nEight large conglomerates remained by the 2000s, and Canadian whisky was considered\u00ad something your grandfather drank. Don Draper quaffed Canadian Club on Mad Men. Yet, a whisky revolution was brewing.\r\nNorthern Re-exposure\r\n\u201cCanadian whisky is starting to wake up a little bit,\u201d says Dr. Don Livermore, master blender at Hiram Walker & Sons Limited/Pernod Ricard Canada. He\u2019s responsible for whisky brands that include Lot 40, JP Wiser\u2019s and Pike Creek.\r\n\r\nLivermore refers to the industry\u2019s response to the increased demand for whisky across all categories. It started as a groundswell for Bourbon and Scotch, and it has expanded to countries like Japan and Ireland as curious whisky drinkers embrace a wider range of world whiskies.\r\n\r\nUntil recently, Canada\u2019s whisky attracted limited attention. It was often viewed as light and traditional. In other words, it was largely forgettable.\r\n\r\nOver the past decade, however, Canadian distillers have been building memorable drams. These new stylings showcase the range and potential behind the category.\r\n\r\n\u201cCanadian whisky is the most innovative, creative and adaptable style whisky there is,\u201d says Livermore. Compared to Scotch or Bourbon, two styles laden with regulations that can hamper experimentation,\u00ad Canada\u2019s whisky makers have a fairly broad mandate.\r\n\r\nCanadian Whisky Defined\r\nWhat makes Canadian whisky?\u00a0The rules are pretty straightforward. It must be:\r\n\u2022 Made from grain\r\n\u2022 Fermented, aged and distilled in Canada\r\n\u2022 Aged a minimum of three years\r\n\u2022 Aged in \u201csmall wood,\u201d which means a barrel no larger than 700 liters\r\n\r\n\u201cAll we have to do is be made of grain; fermented, aged and distilled in Canada; and aged in a wooden barrel less than 700 liters for a minimum of three years,\u201d says Livermore. \u201cThat\u2019s it.\u201d\r\n\r\nThat means the door is wide open for Canada\u2019s distillers to innovate. They can work with a wide range of barrel types or finishes, any combination of grains or any distillation method. It\u2019s not a problem to add a measure of oloroso Sherry to the mix, which contributes intriguing dark, earthy notes to Alberta Rye Dark Batch Whisky. And while Scotland requires oak barrels to make Scotch, there\u2019s nothing to stop Canada from using maple wood, part of the aging process for brown sugar\u2013tinged Collingwood.\r\n\r\n\u201cCanadian whisky is in a position to adapt to what consumers are looking for,\u201d says Livermore. \u201cWe\u2019re not stuck.\u201d\r\n\r\nHe says that consumers, younger ones in particular, seek bigger, bolder flavors like spicy rye, as well as high-end premium bottlings.\r\n\r\nMuch like the craft beer movement, a growing number of small distilleries bring new energy and bold flavors to the Canadian whisky scene. At tiny Cirka Distilleries in Montreal, one of Canada\u2019s 40-plus micro-distilleries (by comparison, the U.S. has hundreds), for instance, whiskies made with local grain are only halfway through their mandated three-year aging time. Yet, a 100% rye whisky pulled directly from the barrel already snaps with notes of chocolate and cherry.\r\nCome on in, the Whisky\u2019s Fine\r\nCanada is also doubling down on education to familiarize consumers with the country\u2019s native spirit.\r\n\r\nJohn Hall of Forty Creek Distillery, now owned by Gruppo Campari, helped rebuild Canada\u2019s reputation in terms of both openness and quality. When Hall, a winemaking veteran, started the operation in 1992, he noticed that the country offered few small-batch whiskies, especially when compared to the variety of selections from Scotland or the U.S.\r\n\r\nHall is now retired from the whisky business, but small-batch bottlings abound, a tribute to his legacy.\r\n\r\nAnother sign of the times: After years of near-secrecy, distilleries now welcome consumers with visitor centers and tasting rooms. In addition to many micro-distilleries that offer tours and tastes, Hiram Walker now features a \u201cJ.P. Wiser\u2019s Experience\u201d in its Ontario distillery.\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\nSazerac, too, has plans to soon welcome visitors to its Old Montreal Distillery, just a short walk across the bridge from historic Old Montreal. Whisky hadn\u2019t been made on-site in decades, but that changed in January when production resumed thanks to a newly installed 37-foot copper still.\r\n\r\nLong term, Sazerac\u2019s plan is not to just make Canadian\u00ad whisky, but to innovate with a wide range of single-barrel and small-batch experiments. The company has plenty of bona fides when it comes to this endeavor. Harlen Wheatley, the master distiller at Buffalo Trace known for producing groundbreaking Bourbons in his experimental warehouse in Kentucky, is consulting on the project.\r\n\r\nIf in the past, Canadian whisky was derided as boring, or in Hall\u2019s words, \u201csame old, same old,\u201d these whiskies will surely be anything but. \u201cWhat Buffalo Trace did for Bourbon, we want to do for Canadian whisky,\u201d says Gerry Cristiano, plant manager for Sazerac\u2019s Canadian whisky operations.\r\n\r\nHe motions to a lineup of barrels, already filled with distillate, at the far end of a mostly empty warehouse.\r\n\r\n\u201cThirty years from now, we\u2019ll look back at this as the beginning.\u201d\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\nLot No. 40 Canadian Rye Whisky; $40, 97 points. This full-bodied blended whisky hits all the right notes, starting with plenty of rich caramel and oak tones on the nose and palate, plus touches of butterscotch, spicy cinnamon and clove. It finishes long, slightly oily and mouthfilling. Sip it straight or add a splash of sweet vermouth. abv: 43%\r\n\r\nCrown Royal Blenders\u2019 Mash; $28, 95 points. This is one of five whiskies that make up the Crown Royal signature blend. The complex aroma combines vanilla, maple and a hint of espresso. The big, bold, buttery palate echoes those flavors, finishing with a flurry of spice. Limited edition. Best Buy. abv: 40%\u00a0\r\n\r\nCanadian Club 100% Rye; $20, 94 points. You don't see many 100% rye whiskies, and even fewer this easy-sipping. Look for vanilla and oak layered with hints of apricot and golden raisin, plus an elongated, drying finish sprinkled with plenty of baking spice. Sip or mix. Best Buy. abv: 40%\u00a0\r\n\r\nCollingwood; $25, 93 points. Noted for an aging process that unusually includes maple wood, this light, easy-sipping whisky is distinctly sweet and mapley on the palate. Bold vanilla and brown sugar flavors are sprinkled with baking spice accents on the drying, lip-smacking finish.. Best Buy. abv: 40%\u00a0\r\n\r\nCrown Royal Northern Harvest Rye; $30, 91 points.\u00a0Notably soft and plush, look for pleasing hints of vanilla and marzipan alongside fleeting fresh apple and pineapple notes. It mingles together into an oaky, spicy finish, with clove and cinnamon sparks. Sip or mix. Best Buy.\u00a0abv: 45%\r\n\r\nCaribou Crossing Single Barrel; $45, 91 points. Dark honey in the glass, this whisky boasts maple and cedar aromas in the bouquet. Expect lots of spice on the palate, including clove, cinnamon, nutmeg, cayenne and black pepper, all smoothed over by a ribbon of maple and honey. It finishes big, round, buttery and mouthwatering. abv: 40%\r\n\r\nAlberta Rye Dark Batch Whisky; $30, 90 points. This Canadian whisky is blended with high-rye Bourbon and a touch of Sherry, yielding a deep amber hue and unusual notes of herbaceous, almost amaro-like sarsaparilla and allspice. The finish shows dark notes of toffee, spicy Mexican chocolate and cr\u00e8me br\u00fbl\u00e9e, plus a brush of alcohol heat. Best Buy.\u00a0abv: 45%\r\nCollectible Canadians\r\nBuy these bottles, if you can get your hands on them. They\u2019re easy to enjoy now, though they are also excellent collectors\u2019 items. If you\u2019re bound for the Great White North, be sure to leave room in your suitcase. These were only released in Canada.\r\nCanadian Club 40 Year Old \r\nThis special bottling was released in 2017 to commemorate Canada\u2019s 150th birthday, and it\u2019s the oldest Canadian whisky ever bottled. It\u2019s rich, creamy, flavorful and has plenty of peppery rye and oaky vanilla; only 7,000 bottles were released.\r\nPike Creek 21 Year Old \r\nPart of the 2017 Northern Border \u201cRare Release\u201d collection, this 21-year-old Canadian whisky was finished in a Speyside Malt cask. It was an experiment to demonstrate \u201chow whiskies from Scotland and Canada can complement one another to give a smooth and round sipping whisky,\u201d according to the producer.