Tennessee Sour Mash... you get the point. There's a ton of good whiskey and nasty scotch out there to explore.
Tennessee whiskey = bourbon distilled in Tennessee + marketing.
Activated charcoal filtration? Done elsewhere, too.
Sour mash? Ubiquitous in the making of whiskey.
But your overall point I agree with. Not sure I agree with Canadian whiskey, but I've never really been forced to explore it. Rye whiskey is good stuff, but I don't think rye is entry level. It can be sharp. But good rye is good stuff. And it makes the BEST Manhattan.
Maybe buy a couple different half pints and try them side by side? Maybe a good starting point is several of the mass market "decent" whiskeys in half pints. That way, your investment isn't too much and you've got some for side by side. Can you get half-pints of Makers? You certainly can't get Basil Hayden's in half pints.
As you can see, we all (or several of us) have strong opinions on whiskey.
Major - How about Black Maple Hill? That's some good stuff, too.
I'm starting to sound like a rummy.