Royal Distillery’s Heyday and Whiskies

Some details follow on the Royal Distillery in Hamilton, ON. It appears the distillery closed some time after WW I started. It was in business about 25 years.

I don’t know the causes of expiry and as I stated earlier, relatively little has been written on the distillery. Corby today markets a Royal Reserve made at Hiram Walker in Windsor, so perhaps the Royal Distillery or its brands were bought by Corby before WW I, or by another predecessor of Corby or Hiram Walker.

The images below are from Hamilton, Canada: Its History, Commerce, Industries, ResourcesIt was published in 1913 by the City of Hamilton.

Two whiskies are shown, one is eight years old, and the other five. Royal Reserve, as the name suggests, was the marquee brand. Both would have been rye whisky. This was the staple by then of Ontario distilling with some exceptions. For example, in Perth in eastern Ontario there was a history of distilling Scots-style malt (to which we shall return).

The distillery buildings are almost totally gone, however, a small brick block, described in city records as the distillery office, still stands at 16 Jarvis Street. You can view it here.

I am not sure where that building was located on the original site. It looks different from the three-story structure shown in the foreground. Perhaps it was nearer the water toward the rear.

You can see in the Google view where Royal’s aging warehouses once stood, the sites are now apartment buildings.

You can see too in the Google view that the 16 Jarvis Street building is of late-1800s vintage but built on an older stone foundation.

Tanya Lynn MacKinnon, in her study in 2000 of the historical geography of Ontario distilling from 1850-1900, speculates that the distillery was built on the site of a former brewery or distillery. See in particular the discussion from pg. 175.

Her reasoning is that the distillery was apparently built and equipped in 1888 and had fully aged whisky to sell after 1890. She considers that to start operations on the scale needed so quickly, the site probably was adapted from an earlier use.

The stone foundation at 16 Jarvis Street suggests indeed there was something there before.

She explains too how the venture for Royal Distillery ran counter to a then seemingly fixed five-member industry oligopoly. Royal was prepared to and did stand up to the established names. In fact, it quickly passed the two smallest members in sales, see again her discussion.

 

The letter below, sourced from Ebay here, shows that the main brands were the five- and a seven-year-old whisky. Probably, the seven-year-old one, like the eight-year-old one shown above, was marketed under the Royal Reserve name; a difference of one year would depend more on current inventory than anything else.

The distillery’s manager, William Marshall, wrote the letter. His discussion on proof shows that the whisky was typically sold at (rounding) 43% abv, not too dissimilar to today’s 40% abv norm in Canada. One or two Canadian whiskies are sold at 43% abv, as well.

Note re images: the images shown are sourced from the books or other publications linked in the text. All intellectual property in the sources belongs solely to the lawful owner or authorized user, as applicable. Images are used for educational and historical purposes. All feedback welcomed.