In the hearts and minds of many Canadians, myself included, Canada and Scotland are joined through the matrimonial bonds of history. Many Canadians are first and second generation Scottish-Canadian. I am second generation hailing from a long list of clans including the Malcolm Highlands Clan. Being Scottish-Canadian fills my heart with immense pride. I feel entitled and obliged to act bravely – Scotland the Brave – in pursuit of defending the flag and the Canadian way of life. My defensive nature is a fierce power coursing through my veins passed down from fearless warriors who are my ancestors, the Scots. When I first entered the blogging scene four years ago I will transparently admit that I did not understand much about whisky, be it the drink or the industry. Following several reviews and a combined 3000+ posts on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram (@chantaillemarie) I can honestly say I have a good grasp on what’s in my Glencairn, what it is and how it got there; “grain to bottle” if you will. As a whisky blogger, I have graduated from lifevest to water wings. In 2023, I am stretching my wings to rise above the safe waters of “what does the hazel liquid in your bottle taste like” into a new season of blogging ventures, which is getting to know the industry. Of course, I will continue to publish bottle reviews and develop whisky innovations; high-end whisky really does make better shots and is worth the additional investment. This year, I will also look at what goes on outside of the distillery as it pertains to the amber-gold liquid I have fallen madly and passionately in love with; Usquebaugh.
When I first learned about the Scotch Whisky Association (SWA) I wasn’t sure what to make of it. Mostly, this was because I didn’t understand the association’s mandate, to protect the interests of the Scotch industry. All I knew was the SWA sued people sometimes because they only wanted Scotland selling Scotch. How ignorant I was, but I fear it’s a position far too many hold as is usually the case with matters of the law. Too often, the public leaves these matters with legal minds to carry the burden of knowledge into the courtroom where some think it belongs. I disagree because whisky is part of our heritage and therefore the public must become knowledgable and share their opinion. I didn’t always think this way. For years I carried on about my days researching the production of whisky and writing about what I learned without giving too much attention to anything other than how my whisky got from the field into my Glencairn, what it smelled and tasted like and the character of its finish. It wasn’t until last year when I was scrolling through Twitter and saw a post which caught my attention that my position changed. There was a new distillery in my hometown, Victoria BC, which I thought was extremely exciting especially given that it is run by a Scotsman. I knew that Vic – that’s what us locals call the city – was in for a real treat. I’m sure most of you know where this story turns next. I was taken aback when shortly after hearing about the newly established Macaloney’s Distillery I learned SWA was taking Macaloney to the BC Courts. SWA took issue with certain aspects of bottle labeling because they sounded too Scottish, including the name “Macaloney,” the distillery owner’s legal last name. He’s from Scotland. Of course it sounds Scottish.
Before I go on, the first thing to understand if you don’t already know is that Canada has a fiercely proud Celtic culture running through our communities from Coast to Coast. Therefore, when I first learned about Macaloney I was confident a Scotsman run distillery – how excited I was for a taste of Scotland, our ancestral home – would be immediately embraced by the Canadian community, and especially our passionate whisky community. Expectedly, in true Canadian fashion I began to see social media posts from my friends back home who were rather excited about Macaloney Distillery’s presence in Vic. I was envious they had a local distillery with a Master Distiller straight from Scotland who was eager to serve Canada’s newest drams to my friends and family. Here I was stuck half a country away – 4600 km – salivating at the thought of it, jealously anticipating the moment I could finally try the heart of aged newmake from a nearly Scottish still here in Canada. I could almost taste the first golden drops on my palate.
Shortly after joyously celebrating with my friends online I heard of the SWA call to litigation with Macaloney. My heart was pierced. How could anything in Scotland fall short of completely embracing Scottish-Canadian culture? We’re all on the same team after all aren’t we? “Canadian Grown with Scottish Roots” is a popular saying in Canada. You can find a T-shirt or hoodie with this saying on it at just about every Scottish event hosted over the summer, and in some local boutiques as well. Scottish and Irish culture is simply part of who we are as Canadians. It’s our history. It’s in our blood, literally. Despite my initial reaction I knew one thing was certain: I believed in Scotch, its history, its quality and its importance to my history as a Scottish-Canadian. I knew there was only one reasonable course of action for me to take. Right away I began researching what I had read in the news to make sense of it. I knew it couldn’t be that SWA was attacking Canada. That was too remarkable a claim to hold value or truth. We’re too proud of our historical roots to be in the reticle. Rather, I knew it had to be something reasonable, something that made sense. I began seeking the answer.
As always, seek and ye shall find. My research lead me on a labourious, drawn-out coffee induced deep dive into the legalities of whisky history. I spent several late nights in a row Google searching site after site, which apexed upon my arrival at the Scottish government’s webpage on Scottish property rights laws; intellectual property rights. Fortunately, I had recently completed my Canadian Property Rights Law course at our local college, something I did following my career in the Royal Canadian Navy – that’s a tale for another day. Thankfully, the result of my research was precisely what I had hoped for, something entirely reasonable and nothing to do with taking exception to the love many Canadians blaze passionately from their hearts, a steadfast adherence to Scottish (and Irish) ancestral roots. Rather, SWA call for litigation revolved exclusively around the organization’s mandate, to protect Scottish intellectual property rights of Scottish distilleries and the Scotch they produce.
The request for litigation had only to do with protecting trademarks, brands and intellectual property, nothing to do with a Scotland vs. Canada brawl that some misunderstood the situation to be. Nay! Rather, the situation was purely reasonable from a legal perspective. SWA felt certain items produced at the Macaloney Distillery sounded too “Scottish” and as such may mislead the consumer into believing they were purchasing a bottle of Scotch produced in Scotland instead of a bottle of British Columbian, Vancouver Island Canadian whisky. Upon settling into this realization I released fears and tensions that thankfully were unfounded. However, it wasn’t long before exiting the emotonal shock of this situation when something lurking within me could no longer be ignored. I held another set of emotions to contend with. I am from Victoria BC where Macaloney Distillery is located, so for me this court case was personal. My legal mind knew it was foolish to take the proceedings of litigation personally, but there was something in me that couldn’t quell the sting of quiet territorialism, which if you aren’t already aware is a staple in Canadian culture. Something in me said, “hey, this is our homeland and who do you think you are treading on it from 7000 km away?” I knew that I needed to think this through and come to a final decision within my conscience thus laying the matter to rest indefinetly.
After privately cycling through rage and disappointment keeping my brooding to myself over a few evening drams I finally snapped-to coming to my senses. It was simple. Everyone has a right to protect their intellectual property. After all, I have a Trademark, Women’s Whisky World (TM), so who was I to tell anyone else they had no right to protect their intellectual property when I knew better? Especially with my legal background on the subject it was entirely hypocritical of me to hold an alternative position on the matter. It was settled. Whereas I acknowledged the sting of regionalism, a Canadian habit, I supported the SWA position and their legal right to defend Scottish intellectual property much the same as anyone else in another jurisdiction has the right to do.
This isn’t the first time SWA has taken up litigation against a Canadian distillery. In 2009 SWA asked the courts of Nova Scotia, which is on the opposide side of Canada 4500 km away from Macaloney’s Distillery, to have the Glenora Distillery remove “Glen” from their Glen Breton Rare whisky bottles. The reasoning was much the same as with the Macaloney dispute. SWA felt the “Glen” was too closely associated with Scottish distilleries and as such consumers could mistakenly believe they are purchasing Scotch rather than Canadian single malt. This was astonishing for me as the Glenora Distillery uses the same single malt techniques their ancestors employed nearly 200 years ago when Scottish settlers moved to Canada’s East coast. Glenora Distillery takes its name from the surrounding countryside, names such as the waterfall Glenora Falls and towns like Glenville. The Scottish settlers named these locations. As history beckons, nearly everything in the region is going to sound Scottish!
Although, there are suspicions the Scottish began to arrive in Canada as early as the 11th Century, history confidently records thier arrival commencing in the late 17th Century. One devasting event in Celtic history cements the unbreakable bond forged between Canada and our families in Ireland and Scotland. Canada was a refuge for our ancestors escaping food hardships at home during The Great Hunger, The Potato Famine; an Gorta Mór in Ireland and Gaiseadh a’ bhuntàta in Scotland.
The potato famine resulted in several Irish and Scottish fleeing their homeland in search of refuge abroad, which lead many to Atlantic coastal communities in North America. As history would have it, some of the Scottish settlers arrived at Cape Breton, Nova Scotia bringing with them secrets of the stills from home. If you listen carefully at the sea shore you can still hear the whispers from our ancestors’ teachings of single malts they brought with them across the ocean.
As you might imagine, given our nation’s history I couldn’t believe my eyes when I read the news report SWA was asking Glenora to remove “Glen” because it sounded too Scottish. To Canada, Scottish history is who we are and for SWA to take exception to this and attempt to have our proud history reduced was seen by many as a direct move against Canadian cultural identity. This was soul piercing for many Scottish-Canadians, myself included, who strongly identify with our roots across the Atlantic Ocean. Scottish-Canadians from coast to coast openly celebrate who we are as a people and acknowledge our ancestors and family members who live in Scotland today. Many of us are members of Clan Socieites. I am a member of the North America MacRae Clan society because my maiden name is Ray. A passionate longing for connection with the homelands of Scotland is part of Canadian identity.
SWA will need to learn how to embrace Canada’s Scottish roots and the fierce pride we take in our history, its direct connection with Scotland. Our courts are not going to wipe away our history to suit SWA preferences. Whereas I respect SWA lawful right to seek litigation in the pursuit of defending Scottish intellectual propertiy rights what SWA needs to do better is research Scottish-Canadian culture and accept that a certain amount of what sounds Scottish is bonefied historically entrenched Canadian culture and not a copy-cat of Scotland’s commercial commodities. Canada will have Scottish sounding names on some of our products because of our history. For many Canadians, SWA taking exception to this in the courtroom is viewed as a breach of an unspoken historical contract between Canada and Scotland, that while we are different nevertheless within the contemporary context we are also one in the same; we are all Scots committed to Scottish national identity in the homeland and overseas forever faithfully bound to Clans of our ancestors.
Should SWA continue to pursue legal action against Canadian distilleries? Ultimately, that’s up to SWA. They have a right to take legal action against whomever they please just like the rest of us. If you have the money you can litigate all you want. However, what SWA must understand is that aggressive pursuits against Scottish sounding words in Canada is viewed by many Canadians as a breach of the historical trust-bond cultivated between our two nationstates, a breach that deeply wounds the hearts of Scottish-Canadians because Scotland is the homeland of our families. These court cases are a viewed as a breach of familial bonds ratified through history. I know because I felt this way when I learned about SWA actions against Macaloney and Glenora distilleries. This said, every person and corporation has the right to protect their intellectual property. As such, I don’t think it’s reasonable or fair for the public to come down too hard on SWA each time they hear about the association filing for trademark related litigation. The Scotch industry does need to be protected and I think that’s something every whisky enthusiast can agree on. Quite frankly, I’m surprised more nationstates haven’t followed the Scottish model. Where is the Canadian Whisky Association? Will we ever have one? Time will tell.
Thank you for taking time out of your day to read my blog. Slainte
This blog was written by HRH Chantaille Buczynski (née Ray). She lives in Kingston Ontario Canada. Chantaille is Scottish-Canadian and French-Irish Canadian. She is mother to two beautiful children and is involved with the local community partaking in activities such as playing flute and piccolo in concert bands, playing drums with Rob Roy Pipes and Drums band, Highland and Irish dance.
Follow Women’s Whisky World on Instagram/Twitter (@chantaillemarie) and Facebook.com/womenswhiskyworld
One of the questions I am often asked is to clarify Canadian spirits taxation laws, how they function regionally and nationally. The spirits taxation scheme in Canada is refreshingly noncomplex, however what can become contentious is when the affect of these laws trickle down to the distillery and agricultural level; the direct impact these laws have on spirits producers and distributers, and those who grow the grains used to create our favourite drams.
The first thing to understand is that spirits’ taxes are administered and enforced provincially falling under the Canadian Federal Fair Trade Agreement. This agreement supports the Canadian Agreement on Internal Trade (CAIT), an agreement that is protected under the Canadian Constitution. The section of our Constitution securing the freedom of movement of persons and goods within Canada is Section 6 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms (CCRF) more affectionately known as The Charter. In the year of our Lord 1982 The Charter ascended into Canadian law during HM Queen Elizabeth II twelfth visit to Canada. In my lifetime, I have only known a Canada that is loving and tolerate towards all persons of every race, sexual orientation, age and gender (CCRF Section 7), making Canada one of the safest and most welcoming nation-state’s in the world. I am exceedingly proud to be a Royal Canadian Navy Veteran.
Getting back to whisky, the CAIT is an agreement passed in 2017 by every Canadian Province and Territory, which serves to improve the quality of life for all Canadians protecting our right to freedom of movement of persons and goods anywhere within Canada subject to provincial legislative requirements at law. Basically, this means that us Canuckers have the legal right to go on a road trip to visit our families who might live 2000km several provinces away nearly half way across the country. Moreover, owing to Section 6 of The Charter we possess the legal right to transport commercial goods from any part of Canada to any other part of the country. For example, a sea container coming off a merchant ship in the Port of Halifax Nova Scotia on Canada’s east coast can be placed onto a train and transported 1200 kilometers to a truck depot (Intermodal Center example) in Montreal Quebec. This same sea container is then moved onto the back of a semitruck for highway transport a few hundred kilometers east to Sherbrooke, Quebec in La Belle Province. If you live in Canada or if you have the opportunity to visit our beautiful country and can take a moment to enjoy train spotting or watch the large merchant ships coming into port and travelling down river then you understand that commercial transportation of goods within Canada is the result of our embracing Constitution, which provides safety and security for every Canadian.
Every province’s taxation scheme is slightly different but the concept across the country is the same: get the goods where they’re supposed to be on time, in good repair, and at a reasonable cost to distributers and consumers. Of course, a reasonable cost is subjective and requires a fairly delicate balance between taxation needs of the province and the quality of life for distributors and consumers, a tricky balance to achieve one which inevitably makes no one happy. Such is life for the tax collector. I can only imagine how many bottles of excellent whisky are consumed per year by people in these roles coping with trying to keep the rest of us the least unhappy as possible under prevailing circumstances. Perhaps, there’s some method to the madness after all? I can tell you that as a whisky blogger having a good excuse to partake in a fine bottle of Scotch, rye or bourbon certainly comes with its many perks.
Taxation Rates of Spirits by Province and Territory
British Columbia: 10% on retail price of bottle
Alberta: Greater than 60% alcohol by volume is $18.33/Litre, and greater than 22% & less than or equal to 60% alcohol by volume is $13.76/Litre (if you’re curious about taxes on spirits below 40%abv click here)
Saskatchewan: This province is the same as B.C.
Manitoba: approximately 80% on retail price of bottle
Ontario: 61.5% on retail price of bottle
Quebec: 72 cents per Litre
New Brunswick: 5% on retail price of bottle
Prince Edward Island: 25% on retail price of bottle
Nova Scotia: 15% on retail price of bottle
Newfoundland and Labrador: 15% on retail price of bottle
Yukon: 12% on retail price of bottle
Northwest Territories: $28.00 per Litre
Nunavut: “Nunavut is one of the only jurisdictions in Canada that does not currently levy a tax on alcohol either directly (as Bill 56 proposes) or through a wider sales tax (like an HST or PST). The proposed tax would be levied on consumers as a percentage of a product’s retail price.” ~ Quote from Government of Nunavut website on Liquor Tax
We have three types of taxes in Canada: Provincial Sales Tax that varies by province and averages around 7%; Government sales tax at a rate of 5% in all provinces and territories, which is applied to alcoholic beverages; and, Harmonized Sales Tax, which is usually 15% except in Ontario where it is 13%. HST is in lieu of GST/PST, which are combined in other provinces (reference Table 1 below). The HST is quite interesting as it pertains to the sale of alcohol because there are two ways to apply HST when it comes to beverages. The first method of applying HST is “taxable,” which is as simple as it sounds, adding HST to goods when at the cashier. For example, in Ontario a commodity that retails for $10.00 CAD ends up costing you $11.30 at the register due to a 13% HST tax. However, alcohol is different. Although, you are charged HST on alcoholic beverages the HST tax rate is 0%. You read that right, zero percent HST. In Ontario a bottle of whisky sitting on the shelf listed for $35.00 CAD will cost you $35 at the register. This rate of 0% HST on alcohol is described by the Canada Revenue Agency. The purpose for having a “zero rated” tax is to provide a tax benefit to some consumers, a tax credit:
I live in Ontario currently having moved here from British Columbia in the late 2000s. What’s been really interesting for me since living in Ontario is the zero-rated HST on alcohol. What that means is back home when I would pick-up a $13.00 bottle of wine from the shelf when I got to the cashier I had to pay $14.56 taking into account the 5% Government Sales Tax and 10% Provincial Sales Tax. Whereas, in Ontario a bottle of local rye retailing for $33.50 on the shelf costs me $33.50 at the cashier. I’m not sure how other Ontarians feel about this but having moved here from out of province I rather like knowing exactly what I’ll be forking out at the cash register. For me, it’s a convenience and a small yet meaningful comfort in my life.
What Local Distilleries and Farmers Think About All This Tax
One of the primary frustrations I’ve heard some Canadian spirits producers share with me in confidence are the difficulties they experience due to high spirits taxation rates whereby the only way the distillery can turn a meaningful profit is producing and selling large volumes of spirits to compensate for the amount of tax reaped by the province. For whisky consumers this isn’t terrible because that means we have plenty of spirits available for purchase. With these large numbers flying around the natural question to ask is how come we are being taxed so much on alcohol in Canada when it makes life more difficult for distilleries? The primary reason for higher taxes on alcohol in Canada is to reduce occurrences of public drunkeness, contribute to lowering cancer rates in the community, and to improve the populations’ overall health and well-being. To further enhance these initiatives some of the taxes from the sale of every bottle of alcohol are redistributed at the provincial level into programs and infrastructure that improve the well-being of society. One such example in Alberta involves taxes from liquor markup going into the province’s General Revenue Fund, which funds several projects across the province including child intervention services, environment and parks, the energy sector and health care (reference Alberta Government – General Revenue Fund). Of course, all of these are excellent reasons to utilize higher taxation rates as a means to discourage overconsumption of alcohol within Canada’s public. However, in a world where maintaining a healthy and enjoyable standard of living was becoming increasingly more difficult high tax rates proved frustrating for our multi award winning spirits producers who strive forward to keep Canada’s spirits sector thriving, something they are superior at achieving. I haven’t spoken directly with farmers, but from what I have read the spirits industry is an important client for Canadian agriculture. The Canadian spirits industry is said to support close to 9000 full-time Canadian farming jobs and puts $5.8 billion annually into Canada’s GDP (Reference: Ottawa Life Magazine). Perhaps, due consideration ought to be given at the provincial level to determine reasonable yet meaningful ways for alleviating present taxation hardships on distillery owners in favour of quality of life for these Canadians? I think so.
Fortunately, higher tax rates on spirits hasn’t negatively impacted the quality of new make coming off Canadian stills. Canadian whisky has a historical reputation for producing smooth comforting whiskies that were ideal for farmers and loggers working long hours on the farm or in one of our many dense forests. Canadian whiskies also have a historical reputation for raising spirits, pun not intended, in the office where many a business deal was conducted over drams poured from a lead crystal decanter enjoyed in a velvety earthen leather chair. In modern times, Canada retains its classics such as J.P. Wiser’s, Canadian Club and Crown Royal, the crowd pleasers warming the cockles of our Canadian hearts from my French-Irish Canadian grand-père’s low ball glass on ice to the boardrooms with 50 years aged CC neat. Award winning Canadian whiskies are continuing to appear on the market including bottles such as the Pike Creek 22, which won World’s Best Blended Limited Release in this year’s World Whiskies Awards.
It isn’t exactly the wild west here in Canada when it comes to spirits taxation laws despite what you may have heard. Some people tend to exaggerate the context of high taxation likening it to some government conspiracy aimed at the consumer and distillery owner. Not so. Rather, Canadian taxation laws cut to the heart of our caring and compassionate Canadian culture, one that recognizes both the need to protect public health whilst respecting our inherent right to self determination. If you’re of age go ahead and drink if you want to and do so responsibly out of care and conscientiousness to yourself and others around you in the community. As with everything in government there is always room for improvement. I am overall fairly satisfied with the Canadian spirits taxation laws and the manner in which they uphold our Constitution demanding the fairest and most equitable treatment for all. Researching this topic and writing about it has reminded me yet again why I am utterly grateful to be Canadian. On that note, I’m going to get up from my chair, walk to my liquor cabinet in the living room, take out a bottle of Canadian rye and pour a dram to celebrate what I think is the greatest Constitution on earth along with all of the rights and privileges that come with living in the land of the True North Strong and Free. To Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II for a safe Canada under The Charter. Slàinte
God bless The King and long may He reign.
About the author: HRH Chantaille Buczynski, CD, BSc, Esq, RCN is a proud mother of two perfect young children, a retired Naval Officer, a bandsman on drum and flute, a dancer of Irish and Highland dance, and an exceedingly proud French-Irish and Scottish Canadian with a black background. HRH Chantaille’s love is of Algonquin and English origins. Together, they are an all Canadian family.
Did you know? Have you heard? Firkin Whisky Co produces some of the finest single malt Scotch whisky. Why is that you’re wondering? The response is simple. The world’s current leading Scotch specialist, Mike Collings, is the founder and creator of some of the finest single malt scotch at The Firkin Whisky Company located in Scotland, United Kingdom.
Following one of the most historically illustrious careers in the Scotch industry, Mike Collings decided that it was time for something completely amazing. With over four decades of experience working at the top end of the Scotch industry creating some of our favourite and the most famous whiskies, such as Johnnie Walker Blue and Johnnie Walker Green while acting instrumentally in the ascendancy of Cardhu, Royal Lochnager, The Classic Malts, Rare Malts, Distillers Edition, and the Flora and Fauna Series (Reference: Glass Revolution), Mr. Collings branched out in pursuit of creating the absolute best whiskies available for consumer consumption making these whiskies both inviting and approachable. As such, independent bottler “The Firkin Whisky Company” was established in 2019, which as you can only imagine makes firkin good whisky.
In 1972 a young Mike Collings started working with Courage Brewing Group which gave him an inside look into the technical side of producing alcohol. Some of his fondest memories from those early days is when he worked in historic pubs, including one dating all the way back to 1610. A few years later Mike moved from the domestic market into the international one when he joined United Distillers which later merged the top two spirits companies in the world to form Diageo.
Quote: Glass Revolution Imports Inspired Spirits
The Firkin Whisky Company creates four perfect drams: Firkin 49, Firkin Islay, Firkin Rare, and Firkin Ten. What makes these drams idyllic is the manner in which they are created. The Firkin takes already amazing whisky and perfects it with barrel aging. One pictures says 1000 words. Have a look at the photo descriptions to learn how The Firkin takes great whisky and perfects it.
Firkin 49 was created using a 2012 Tullibabardine matured in a first fill Bourbon barrel and combining this with two sherries, a 50/50 combination of Amontillado and Oloroso.
This is a soft and somewhat creamy whisky. We paired this Tullibardine with two styles of sherry: nutty Amontillado and a rich Oloroso. Edgar Alan Poe made Amontillado sherry famous. It is a fascinating evolution of the Fino sherry style. The Flor process (yeast fermentation & covering in the barrel) produced both sherry styles. But the Amontillado goes a step further. Amontillado’s ageing and oxidation develops into a unique dry & nutty flavour.
Quote: The Firkin Whisky Company
Firkin Islay is the result of a Caol Isla 2008, a peated smoky dram, with Marsala, which resembles sherry in that it is a dark, sweet fortified dessert wine. Marsala is produced in Sicily. Click on this link for a charming and delightful YouTube short film on Marsala wine.
The flavours fuse together in our custom cask. Our unique process mellows and softens the peat. Firkin Islay is a new take on a classic Islay whisky! Firkin Islay Caol Ila won a gold medal in the Whiskies of the World awards in the peated whiskies category. But that doesn’t come as a massive surprise.
We use Caol Isla for the Firkin Islay which is on the north east coast of Islay overlooking the straits of Jura which is a stunning location and it provides us with a magical salt & smoky profile which we “mate” with Marsala from the island of Sicily. There is something very special about Islands and this is encapsulated in every bottle of Firkin Islay
Quote: The Firkin Whisky Company
Firkin Rare pairs an Aultmore 2010 with a tawny port and ages this incredible combination in Firkin custom casks.
So why pair Aultmore with Tawny port? Tawny Ports age in casks, rather than large tanks or bottles like their Ruby counterparts. This gives them a lighter body and colour as well as a silkier style. The Tawny flavours melt into the Aultmore spirit in our custom cask.
Our casks use American first-fill bourbon and new French Limousin oak staves. After we combine the staves, we burn the inside to make custom char. Our double oak cask creates an exceptional flavour profile with Tawny port.
The result is a dram that reflects the best of both worlds; something Firkin Rare to savour.
Quote: The Firkin Whisky Company
Firkin Ten blends Benrinnes with what the distillery describes as “the tangy and spicy richness of Portuguese Madeira wine.” There is such a wonderfully charming history behind Madeira. Please do take a moment to watch the YouTube –> here.<– This glorious blend was matured in one of Firkin’s custom casks. The wood for these casks is derived from the Limousin region of France.
What’s a Firkin French Limousin oak stave? In France, there are five official forests where they cut oak to make barrels. Limousin is one of them. Coopers cut the oak into staves which dry for two years. After the staves are dried, they do a custom char for us. The char is a light toast that has sweet oak and a touch of mocha. Limousin oak is loose-grained, which helps the oak characteristics seep into our whisky.
Why should you care about Madeira? A few wineries produce Madeira on a small island in Portugal. The small island is, by a strange coincidence that’s baffled cartographers for generations, called Madeira. Because of its location off the west coast of Africa, the island was an important stopover for ships on their way to the East Indies or the Americas. They loaded the ships with wine and, to ensure it would keep, they added some grape spirit. The fortified wine was exposed to high heat and evaporation on the journey. The exposure led to accelerated ageing and oxidation. Merchants discovered the effect when a ship returned with a few barrels on board. The fortified wine transformed into a rich, concentrated and spicy wine. Today winemakers replicate this voyage with a unique process called estufa. It’s cheaper than sending the wine to America and back on a sailboat. The process replicates the long ocean voyages. But with fewer pirates. Some pirates. But not as many.
By adding Madeira to our custom cask, it imparts creamy, tangy & spicy notes to our whisky. It is Firkin amazing; rich and lively.
Quote: The Firkin Whisky Company
If you weren’t already impressed enough with Firkin whisky this next part of the blog post is where things get really great. I had the esteemed opportunity to correspond with Mr. Collings via email and it is with deepest respect and gratitude that I am able to present to you his personal responses to a series of interview questions regarding his acclaimed career in the whisky industry as well as his experiences at The Firkin Whisky Company. Please, sit back, relax and enjoy a truly once in a lifetime opportunity to hear from the hand of the master himself, Mr. Mike Collings, an icon of Scotch history.
With over 40 years experience in the whisky industry making some of the best brands known to the world there would have been numerous names to choose from for your personal whisky company. Where did the idea for The Firkin come from and what does this title mean to you personally?
Guess the name came from a combo of a few things. My dad used to have a favourite ditty “ Christmas comes but once a perkin and when it does I’m firkin working”. I celebrated this with the attached Christmas card. I thought that Malt Whisky needed a new approach it should be about having fun and enjoying great malt in good company. Firkin whilst being the name of a small barrel ( about 9 imperial gallons but never used for whisky) was a great name for what I had in mind and importantly had endless opportunities to convey fun, be a tad mischievous and create a new approach to Single malt Whisky.
As you can see from the attached and our website we are hopefully making folk smile whilst enjoying some great Firkin drams.
When you say born in Japan and bred in Scotland what does this statement mean for The Firkin?
I met up a guy called Robin Tucek ( Blackadder Whisky ) who I hadn’t seen for some 35 years ( last time we met was on Speyside ) in Tokyo and over a few drams agreed that malt whisky was getting too serious and time for a new approach.
So, I thought there’s life in this old dog still – why not combine some flavour innovation with a new approach. Something that makes folk smile and is a tad mischievous. I wanted to deliver a sense of humour along with some great depth of flavours.
How to enjoy new malt whisky without being too serious… life’s too short… make it a tad zany and more fun……..hence the Firkin Whisky Co was born in Japan. As it all single cask , single malt from Scotland the tag line became
Born in Tokyo…….Bred in Scotland ……Enjoyed most everywhere…….Firkin Awesome Single malt
It is clear from your lovely website that taking a non-serious and lighthearted approach to a seriously exceptional dram is important to The Firkin. What was it about your experience in the whisky industry that encouraged you to incorporate a relaxed environment as part of The Firkin whisky company?
I have had some 40 years in the whisky industry and the real standout moments have been ones where it was either a humorous occasion or had been with folk who enjoyed the zany, mischievous approach . It’s in my DNA so taking this relaxed approach and wry sense of humour and applying it to enjoying Malt whisky was a natural way to go. Life’s too short to be serious so let’s enjoy ourselves drinking and sharing some great drams.
The Firkin Ten is known for aging in Madeira and double oak. With over 40 years making the highest quality whisky in the world, in your opinion which casks should be the most sought after in the business, does this vary at all by Scotch region depending on the desired results, and for you what is your dream wood or combination of woods for aging and/or finishing and why?
All of the industry uses ex bourbon, sherry or even wine barrels to add or change the flavour profile of their whisky.
I decided to innovate doing things differently. Firstly combining two different kinds of stave into a custom made cask using first fill bourbon and new French oak with a custom char. Secondly matching the distillery single malt to a style of fortified wine that would enhance the flavour development in a special way………we call this soulmate pairing. Kinda romantic but its an art not a science so an apt description.
End result is we get a very special version of the original.
Your website makes note of custom casks at The Firkin. How do you finalize your decision on what the creation of your custom casks will look like including the uniquely defining characteristics they offer to The Firkin whiskies?
Each of our casks is a custom build using two types of wood/staves. This unique wood profile is the base for all of our single malt. I choose a special type of fortified wine that will match that particular whisky and that’s what we call soulmate pairing. With our Firkin 49 the Tullibardine distillery we have chosen for this particular release uses a unique combination of Oloroso sherry, which provides richness and Amontillado which adds a drier , nuttier flavour. End result is something that’s soft and nutty…….simply lip smacking delicious.
Reading a description of the four scotches offered at The Firkin one notices quickly that the company takes already amazing scotch and using its custom casks creates changes resulting in the company’s unique and signature style scotches. There are so many outstanding scotches. Of all of the greatness available, how did you decide on those scotches which you have chosen to put into The Firkin Four: Firkin 49; Firkin Islay; Firkin Rare; and the Firkin Ten?
It really falls into four broad taste profiles . For Firkin Ten I will select a 10yo single malt that I think will marry up with spicy Madeira .With Firkin 49 choose a soft malt so that it can interweave with the Oloroso & Amontillado sherries. Firkin Islay speaks for itself as I love the smoky peat flavours that go well with Marsala. Firkin Rare will depend on what distilleries I think are somewhat unusual or I can create something pretty unique and difficult to find…..hence Firkin Rare
The Firkin Four takes a really interesting approach to creating fuller flavour in single malt. With so many distilleries producing a plethora of styles of scotch what makes The Firkin really stand out is that it is intimately committed to creating the very best four drams possible. What is it that made you know four is the magic number? I can’t resist wondering, are there any plans to add a fifth Firkin?
Always wanted to emulate the famous four …….Beatles……Abba ……..only kidding. Happy accident , started with two then added a third, and then wanted an Islay so another famous four.
Maybe five. That’s a possibility as I have some interesting left field stuff in development. Lets see what happens.
Creamy is a word that gets used often when describing the texture and experience of Firkin whisky. It isn’t a word you hear often regarding a whisky’s description. It is a word reserved for the best. Without giving away trade secrets, what is your approach to ensuring a velvety palate and finish with The Firkin Scotch?
Creamy, luscious, velvety all convey the flavour and mouthfeel experience that Firkin brings to Single malt. We go to great lengths to create this flavour dimension adding and enhancing the original whisky.
Our combination of custom cask and soulmate pairing creates the flavour profile and then I gauge when the whisky is ready by tasting each cask every six months. Not exactly hard yards but the only way to know when its right to release.
The Firkin founder, Mike Collings, is the mastermind behind the famous Johnnie Walker Blue Label Scotch whisky. When you set out to create the best blended Scotch ever, which factors were taken into consideration before making your final choices?
We wanted to reflect the style of whiskies that were used in J. Walker proud history and we were lucky enough to have some of Sir Alexander Walker notebooks on blending/selecting whiskies.
The brief to our master blenders was to create a depth of flavour unlike any other drawing on the largest mature stocks in Scotland. The result was a masterpiece of the blenders art and proudly fulfilled the statement carried on every Blue label ‘’ Our blend cannot be beat.”
Given your long and illustrious career, one that has helped shaped Scottish history for the past several decades, where do you see The Firkin in 20 years and how will its presence continue to impact the Scotch industry and Scottish history?
Goodness that’s a difficult one to answer. Hopefully Firkin has in some small measure helped a new a wave of folk into enjoying Single malt and having fun sharing drams. I trust the lasting legacy of Firkin is the ability to make folk smile whilst enjoying some brilliant whiskies…….simply Firkin Awesome.
Last but certainly not least, with such a long career to look back on, which whisky was your favourite to create and why is that?
Guess that would be a combination of The Classic Malts and the Classic Malts Distillers Edition.
Both allowed me to explore in depth the huge variation in Malt Whisky, to work with some really talented & hugely interesting people across distilleries, production, designers and markets to develop and introduce the brand(s) to over 100 markets………an amazing journey which is still continuing.
Canada has an internationally renowned reputation for its rye whisky. Rye is to Canada what bourbon is to America, vodka is to Poland and Russia, baijiu is to China, and what Scotch is to Scotland. Rye is our national liquor spirit. It is expected that Canada will produce the best quality rye in the world. I have tried many rye whiskies and while my opinion might be biased with a patriotic spirit I like to think that my palate remains objective and I do believe that Canada is the world’s leader in quality rye whisky production. Today, when a Canadian says they’re drinking rye whisky it is typically understood their dram was distilled from a predominantly rye grain mash bill, whereas in the past things worked differently. Historically, Canadian rye whisky was distilled predominantly from corn in conjunction with a few other grains to produce what we called “Canadian rye.” This might sound odd since to most people a predominantly corn based distilled spirit constitutes a “corn whisky” or “bourbon.” Bourbon is new make spirit distilled from at least a 51% corn mash bill and usually not more than 75%, which is aged in charred barrels. Most bourbon is Kentucky Bourbon, which comes from the state of Kentucky in the USA, however other bourbons are produced outside of the state. Corn whisky on the other hand is a new make distillate originating from a mash bill 80% or higher of corn and is either unaged, or aged exclusively in used or uncharred barrels.
The really interesting thing about Canadian whisky history is that reaching back in time the all inclusive Canadian term for whisky was “rye,” which applied ubiquitously to all forms of whisky produced in this country. Think of it similarly to Americans’ contemporary vernacular referring to bourbons and Tennessee whiskies as “whiskey” without due consideration to the fact that any distilled grain spirit falls under the umbrella term “whisk(e)y” thus conflating these terminologies. In the same way, it used to be like this in Canada. While there was and remains the expectation that distillates retain a Canadian like character, any high abv distilled grain spirit in the past was simply referred to as “rye.” This misnomer in spirit labeling is beginning to correct itself as more distilleries are turning towards what would be considered traditional Scotch making methods. Of course, Scotch is only made in Scotland, however more and more Canadian distilleries are reaching back to their European roots and discovering the joys of single malts, grain whiskies that in Canada are typically distilled from Canadian locally sourced wheat, and of course there remains our fabulous rye grain whiskies. Nowadays, these Canadian rye whiskies are more commonly distilled from at least a 51% rye grain mash bill and in many cases Canadian distilleries are using a 100% rye grain mash bill as the current staple to create a Neo-traditional Canadian Rye Whisky. I’m a stickler for the correct usage of terminologies and as such I am rather pleased to note this trend.
This lovely history leads me to discuss what is arguably Canada’s current leading distillery, which in many ways is paving the future of the Canadian whisky industry, Forty Creek Distillery. The distillery is located in lovely Grimsby Ontario, a lakeside community in South Eastern Ontario along the shores of Lake Ontario, one of five Great Lakes and home to Canada’s St. Lawrence Seaway. This natural waterway spanning 1200 kms/750 miles from the Gulf of the Saint Lawrence leading to the Atlantic Ocean on Canada’s East Coast to the Great Lakes Basin boasts some of the most magical water life on earth including beluga whales, swans, Canadian geese, Canadian beavers and a plethora of diverse aquatic species.
Preceding Forty Creek were other strong and illustrious Canadian distilleries, which laid a robust foundation for Canadian whisky and must be mentioned. This includes Canadian Club, J.P. Wiser’s, Gooderham and Worts, Seagram’s, and Crown Royal. Of these important Canadian distilleries the most historically entrenched and well known around the world is Canadian Club, which helped in many ways to influence the cultural evolution of post-Confederation Canada.
Hiram Walker founded his distillery in 1858 in Detroit. He first learned how to distill cider vinegar in his grocery store in the 1830s before moving on to whisky and producing his first barrels in 1854. However, with the Prohibition movement gathering momentum and Michigan already becoming “dry”, Walker decided to move his distillery across the Detroit River to Windsor, Ontario. From here, he was able to export his whisky and start to develop Walkerville, a model community that Walker financed to provide housing and services for his employees.
Walker’s whisky was particularly popular in the late 19th century gentlemen’s clubs of the United States and Canada; hence it became known as “Club Whisky”. Walker originally positioned the whisky as a premium liquor, pitching it not only on its smoothness and purity but also its five-year oak barrel aging.
Club Whisky became very popular and American distillers petitioned for the inclusion of the word “Canada” on the bottle to distinguish it from their competing whiskies, thinking it would hamper the popularity of Walker’s. This backfired, only making Club Whisky more exclusive. Walker saw this and changed the label again in 1889 adding the word “Canadian” to the top of the label, distinguishing Walker’s recipe for his whisky from the other processes of the time. In 1890, the word “Canadian” was moved down from the top of the label and incorporated into the name of the whisky.
Quote: Excerpt from Wikipedia
Forty Creek Distillery is located in picturesque Grimsby, Ontario Canada along the shores of Lake Ontario, which if you haven’t viewed in my previous blog posts boasts some of the most majestic water-based wild life in North America. On a typical day you can see the sun sparkling off the waves of Lake Ontario as the breeze gently whips in off the lake sweeping into the many bustling towns and cities along the lake shore including one of Canada’s best known cities Toronto, Ontario. What makes South Eastern Ontario so special are all of the wonderful pastoral lakeside towns that line its Canadian shores. All the way from Kingston, Ontario to Niagara Falls you can stop by and by for a stroll downtown just steps away from the beach enjoying local boutiques, used book stores, and artisan coffee shops. A little known fact about Canada is that we Canadians take our coffee pretty seriously and our baristas are some of the finest in the world. Did you know that some Canadian baristas have traveled to Italy and abroad just to refine their barista skills? That spirit of excellence runs deep in Canadian veins and it is the foundation upon which this country is built.
This same spirit of excellence is readily apparent in Forty Creek’s approach to its whisky making. With 21 years experience creating world class award winning whiskies the renowned Canadian approach to producing superior quality goods is self evident in the craftsmanship and artistry of these truly exceptional drams. What I respect the most about Forty Creek’s approach to whisky creation is the distillery embraces the most important aspects of Canada’s history and brings this to life in drams that are remarkably true to the Canadian spirit: quality, pleasurable and pleasing, smooth richness, and a texture so silken that it has become the signature benchmark in Canadian whisky.
I had the distinct pleasure of speaking directly with Forty Creek’s North America Brand Ambassador, Chris Thompson, about the distillery, the drams, where the distillery is and where the vision for the distillery will take it in future. Please kick your feet up, relax and enjoy hearing from the master himself about what in my opinion is Canada’s best whisky.
Canada has a long and deeply rooted history in the creation of rye whisky. Both Canadian Club and J.P. Wiser’s began distilling rye in the mid to late 1800s. As a modern distillery how does Forty Creek carry on Canadian tradition and in what ways does the distillery stand out, shine in its own light?
Great question….. Our Founder John Hall always used to say “We are inspired by tradition but not bound by it”. Forty Creek was born from John Hall and Bill Ashburn, both first generation whisky makers with little to no experience with whisky. They built on their own unique experiences with wines and eau de vie’s to create Forty Creek. Canadian whisky was built on that innovative spirit, something that got lost over time. Particularly during the late 70’s through the 80’s, Canadian whisky consolidated greatly and creativity and artisanship basically became extinct. Our category was eroding by scotch, bourbon, wine and heaven forbid….. VODKA!!!!!! There was literally nothing new or exciting to talk about in Canadian whisky basically since Crown Royal in 1939!!!!! Forty Creek changed all that. The goal was to bring artisanship back to the category, in essence we became Canada’s first craft whisky. We started a new era of Canadian Whisky by going down the road of premiumization and innovation and thankfully, the rest of the category eventually followed suit. With that, probably our most important contribution besides a long line of category defining whiskies is, we build excitement around our national spirit. Critics and consumers started to get excited about Canadian whisky again! We continue to push boundaries and give the whisky world innovative whiskies worth talking about, be it our award winning limited editions, tasty cream liqueurs or complete outliers like The Forager.
If someone was new to Canadian whisky and they asked you what makes a whisky a Canadian whisky how would you explain this to them from a Forty Creek perspective?
That is a tough question to answer as the palate of Canadian whisky is so broad now! From a Forty Creek perspective, a textbook Canadian whisky should be artfully blended, well balanced and smooth. Canadian whisky and in particular Forty Creek was built on that. Canadian whisky really represents the best in blending where the sum is greater than its individual components. That was always our focus. Using great individual whiskies, from the right barrels, you can create a very well balanced and highly drinkable whisky that exemplifies all the right flavor notes of vanilla, oak and spice, with beautiful, subtle complexities. Canadian whiskies and in particular Forty Creek whiskies were built on elegance and balance, not power.
What is it about the grain, water source and production process within the distillery that makes Forty Creek an excellent whisky embodying our Canadian heritage and tradition?
One thing that we as a category have only begun to talk about recently with Canadian Whisky, is our strength not as distillers but as blenders. Forty Creek in particular utilizes artful blending in every aspect of what we do. Since day one, all of our whiskies were developed with proprietary blends of Canadian corn, rye and malt. Our whiskies have blended both column and traditional copper pot distilled distillates. We have always experimented with different styles of wood and charring levels to let the wood broadly influence the whiskies and build more complexities within the whisky. The Lake Ontario sourced water used to proof down our whiskies to 40% is purified through our own locally produced, proprietary RO water treatment system. Our whiskies are true blends in every sense of the word at every step of the process. Like Canada, our whiskies are greater with unity than as our individual parts.
Many names of Forty Creek whiskies embody Canadian spirit and history: Confederation Oak released in 2017 in celebration of Canada’s 150 years since Confederation in 1867; The Forager, which immediately reminds me of Coureurs de bois and The Hudson’s Bay Company aiding in the expansion of our country moving West to the Pacific Ocean; and, Resolve, which as a Canadian I strongly resonated with because of the resolve required of our people to survive the unforgiving winter landscape and to subdue the tens of thousands of square kilometres of what once was and in many instances still is Canadian wild and untamed land. In what ways does Forty Creek view itself as embodying the landscape and spirit of the Province of Ontario, Central Canada, and our beautiful nation Canada?
We’ve always considered ourselves a quintessentially Canadian whisky brand. I got into a fairly hot debate with a fan(?) that argued that because we are foreign owned (our parent company is Campari, based in Italy) we can’t claim that, which of course I disagree. To name only a few things we do as a company to celebrate where we are from; Our plant is in Grimsby Ontario, our people who work there are local, we put the sign for the Town of Grimsby in our TV commercial!!!! The ingredients of all our portfolio come from Canada, and in the case of The Forager are sustainably harvested from the Canadian wilderness. The maple leaf is proudly emblazoned on our packaging. We named our flagship whisky (Confederation Oak Reserve) after our countries Confederation and named 2019’s limited edition after a local historic battle during the War of 1812 (Victory). We are proud of our Canadian heritage and regional roots and will continue to celebrate that in the future.
Traditionally, our country is known for its exceptional rye. How does Forty Creek fit in with this tradition and it what ways is the distillery looking to carve out its own Canadian story?
This depends if the question is about traditional Canadian whisky (corn forward, blended) and called “rye” or the newer trend of high rye or 100% rye Canadian whiskies out there. We’ve made whiskies under both banners. Most of our whiskies are made within the traditional theme of majority corn with barley and rye blended in for flavour. We have always included rye as part our blends even though many of our competitors don’t and it’s not a requirement. Rye helped define Canadian whisky. The latest trend in Canadian whisky is high rye’s, majority rye or 100% rye whiskies. This a relatively new phenomenon on the broader Canadian whisky landscape and is a completely different animal, flavor-wise than a traditional Canadian, corn forward blend. We have released a 100% rye whisky made in that vein as well. We also pot distilled that 100% rye and aged it for 22 years….. and every bottle of it sold out in 36 seconds. It is one of the most highly sought after Canadian whiskies on the aftermarket. We make a point daily to give a nod to tradition but not be bound by it and also represent newer tastes and flavor profiles with our expressions.
I have personally book marked an incredible page on Forty Creek’s website that includes several whisky cocktail recipes. What is it about Forty Creek whisky that makes it ideal for addition to a cocktail?
Mmmmmmm, Forty Creek cocktails! I, like many whisky nerds, typically abhorred mixing anything with my whisky. Having now spent the better part of 7 years as Brand Ambassador for Forty Creek and spending 70% of my time working with bartenders across North America, I have really come to embrace and enjoy Forty Creek in cocktails. This goes back to one of my earlier statements about Forty Creek being about balance instead of power. Forty Creek whiskies work really well in cocktails because it is a balanced whisky. This may just be a “me thing”, but I prefer to taste my whisky in a cocktail without it completely dominated the flavor profile. I want it to work in harmony within the cocktail. Forty Creek whiskies do that for me. Sure, zippy, young, high rye or pure rye forward cocktails are the trend right now, but I still generally prefer my cocktails slightly spirit forward but balanced.
We’re all looking forward to the end of the global slowdown. Once we can all get back up to speed and fling open our doors again, what makes the trip around the Golden Horseshoe – the Western end of Lake Ontario – into Canada’s Niagara region and stopping at the Forty Creek distillery a “must see” on any tourist’s travel itinerary?
We love it when people come to visit us at the distillery in Grimsby! It puts a face to our brand and our team at our Brand House are really great at telling our story. Our entire portfolio (minus sold out limited editions) is available to sample including some distillery exclusives and some products you have probably seen and didn’t know we made! There is usually a unique Forty Creek cocktail concoction available to try as well. At some point we will be back to doing behind the scenes tours which is always informative and fun. Our team do a great job at walking you through the whisky making process. Even guests who are not whisky fans and get dragged there by their family/friends always comment how they ended up enjoying their Forty Creek experience. It is always an informative, tasty and fun experience.
Forty Creek is a multi-award winning distillery. The long list of awards is rather impressive. There are a few in particular that pique my interest and I’m certain my readers would love to learn more about them. These would be the Barrel Select that won a Gold Medal at the 2020 New York International Spirits Competition, the Resolve that in 2020 received 90 Points from Whisky Advocate Magazine, and The Forager Botanical Whisky that in 2020 received 89 Points from Whisky Advocate Magazine. In your opinion what is it about these whiskies, be it the grain source and/or something unique about the production process or otherwise, which gives them such exceptional quality of character?
The fact that Barrel Select, a 21 year old recipe, is still winning Gold Medals is a real testament to how good that ground breaking whisky is. It almost like there are two eras of Canadian whisky. The era before Barrel Select, and the era after. They are two very different periods within the category and clearly Forty Creek Barrel Select was a pivot point. I think you coined it perfectly…. “exceptional quality of character”. All Forty Creek whiskies have that. I remember chatting with a few of the judges after the Canadian Whisky Awards and them saying they could identify a Forty Creek whisky immediately in a blind tasting. Different Forty Creek expressions resonate with people for different reasons but I think the overarching theme is “exceptional quality of character.” Forty Creek whiskies are built to have a defining character to them. Our house style with blending is at the root of everything we do and although Barrel Select, Resolve and The Forager are all VERY different whiskies, they are all clearly possess that distinctive, exceptional, Forty Creek quality of character.
Specifically on each whisky:
Barrel Select – this whisky was 8 years in the making! Like all great first albums, you have a lifetime of experience to bring to the table with your first release. Barrel Select really exemplifies that. Both Bill Ashburn and John Hall were blenders at heart. Bill Ashburn had worked on super wide variety of products including Ports, Sherry’s, Vermouths, Vodka, wine, eau de vie’s, Grappa, Kirsh to name just a few! Artful blending are at the core of what we do, from grains, to barrels, to charring levels to finishing barrels to the final blend. Barrel Select was a lifetime of experience from two masters of their craft, put in one recipe.
Resolve – the third and grand finale in a trilogy of wood treatment, port finished whiskies. This whisky exemplifies creativity. It takes a base blended whisky, is further aged with the addition of high spice oak staves, tweaked with aged bourbon and topped up with drop of vintage port. That’s quite a journey. It’s quite a whisky!
The Forager – a complete original in the Canadian whisky world and an outlier in the whisky category period. A young, fresh, artfully blended whisky infused with natural botanicals, sustainably hand harvested from the Canadian wilderness.
All are COMPLETELY different from one another, but all are clearly Forty Creek.
I’m sure you’ve tried them all. What are your top three Forty Creek whiskies and why? Do you have a favourite cocktail to enjoy them in?
That’s soooooo hard! It changes from time to time but the three I find myself coming back to most often are;
-Heart of Gold, our limited edition from 2013. It is still one of my all-time favourites. I wish I had more! Rye forward, super narrow cut off the still, slightly elevated abv, named after Neil Young…. Its pretty much perfect in every way.
-Copper Pot Reserve is my long-time jam. Sweet, spicy, full flavoured. Add a drop of water and it is the perfect sipper. Its my favourite beer and a shot combo.
-My new favourite is The Forager! It’s a beautiful sipper but it has become my new favorite cocktail whisky. I didn’t think it would be suitable for cocktails but I have changed my tune on that entirely. It’s a complete outlier in the whisky world right now…. Its lighter in style, its delicate, its young and fresh, the botanicals are unique, the flavor profile is a unique blend of citrus, resin and pine. I think its way ahead of its time but frankly, it’s just works and it’s delicious.
Cocktail wise, I am a big Copper Pot Boulevardier fan (1xCopper Pot, 1xCinzano, 1xCampari) or a Copper Pot Grand Manhattan fan (1.5 Copper Pot, .75 Grand Marnier, .25 Cinzano, bitters) but my new favourite is a Forager Smoked Old Fashioned (2.5xForager, sugar, bitters, cedar smoked glass)!
Forty Creek distillery has an incredible history. Reaching back to 1992, your Founder, John Hall, and Master Blender, Bill Ashburn, started something really special. In the pioneering spirit that is so true of Canadian heritage these two individuals spent eight years developing an unexpectedly sweeter and smoother whisky as compared traditional Canadian ryes, which ultimately challenged the boundaries of rye whisky, its flavour profile and trajectory. Taking into account its rich history, where does Forty Creek see itself in the next 20 years?
It has been fun watching our Master Blender Bill Ashburn step more into the limelight. He has been the unsung hero at Forty Creek since the beginning, working quietly behind the scenes making amazing liquid while our Founder John Hall was the face of the brand and our tireless promoter. Watching Bill really start to push the boundaries again (The Forager, Resolve) is a real pleasure and his creative spirit will be driving us forward. Innovation is very much back on the forefront at Forty Creek while still giving a nod to our heritage (20th Anniversary re-release of Three Grain). There is lots of exciting stuff in the pipe-line that I’m sure will delight and surprise Forty Creek fans and hopefully bring alot of new fans into the Forty Creek family. In my mind, in 20 years, Forty Creek will be the number 3 player in Canadian spirits but won’t act like it. We will still have that scrappy, challenger mentality. We’ll still be challenging the status quo.
Grimsby Ontario is near the picturesque shores of beautiful Lake Ontario, one of five Great Lakes of North America that are home to hundreds of air and water species, entertain fisheries and merchant shipping, and are the largest group of freshwater lakes on Earth containing 21% of the world’s surface fresh water by volume. How does Forty Creek distillery fit into this iconic Canadian landscape and what makes Grimsby Ontario home?
Prior to Forty Creek being Forty Creek, John Hall and Bill Ashburn needed time to learn their whisky craft and more importantly, needed something to pay the bills while they were perfecting what would become Barrel Select. When we first opened up our doors in Grimsby, we were called Kittling Ridge Wines. John and Bill new they could rely on their wine making backgrounds to make wine, cheap and cheerful and quick to pay the bills. Grimsby is ideally suited for wine production being right between Lake Ontario and the Niagara escarpment (a UNESCO World Biosphere Reserve). Both are globally recognized landmarks and distinctly Niagara. We have always celebrated our Niagara roots. It is a clear identifier when telling people where we hail from. We will continue to promote our Niagara roots and the uniqueness of our home landscape and will do so in even more powerful ways in the near future!
Ready to try Forty Creek? I bet you are after reading about how amazing this Canadian distillery is. Here are some Women’s Whisky World tasting notes on several Forty Creek whiskies to get you started. Slàinte.
Forty Creek Resolve Colour: the sherry and wood influence is so evident in this lovely translucent melon coloured whisky. Nose: sweet smoky scent of transition fluid with a bit of wet gasoline on the shop floor that hasn’t quite dried yet with base notes of ripened cherry, cassis and sherry. Orange blossom provides a light soprano counterpoint to the delightfully strong guttural body of this Canadian whisky. There is really nice Christmas rum infused fruit cake scent here, too. Palate: Oh wow! Just amazing. Remarkably sweet and smooth with some spice and a hint of unexpected salt. Really nice Christmas flavours dance all over the palate popping up as raisin, cinnamon spice, crème de cassis, maraschino cherry, mincemeat tart, butter tart, and of course smoky wood. Finish: At first sweet and spicy, the finish lingers and mellows into a gentle marzipan with vanilla, caramel and orange marmalade. With H2O: the lighter side of this dram shows creating a more delicate texture on the palate. Interestingly, additional tangerine and orange come through as well as an increased woodiness, which is a lovely addition to the preexisting flavours already experienced on the palate before the addition of water. Final Thoughts: A true sailor’s drink made for a heart of oak, and this is coming for a Navy veteran of nearly two decades service. This dram is something I definitely would have enjoyed with my shipmates.
Forty Creek Victory Colour: a fully bloomed Lady Emma Hamilton rose, which was introduced by David Austin in 2005 (reference https://florgeous.com/orange-roses/ ) Nose: NAS speaks to a first fill sherry cask aged 12 years. Very much like an organic crème brûlée baked with from-scratch vanilla imparting a holistic richness to the nosing. Plenty of brown sugar, rum soaked raisins, and caramel. Palate: tastes exactly like rum and cinnamon spiced tapioca Christmas pudding. It is similar to a fruit bread and I would imagine would be an ideal addition to any such recipe. Finish: the finish is short and dry leaving a satisfying vestige of the nosing and palate notes. With H2O: opens up the rye allowing for spice to poke through renewing the dram. Once the spice wears off you are once again able to thoroughly enjoy the holiday aspects of this dram. There’s plenty of cassis, rum soaked raisins and toffee. The sweetness is tempered with a slight herbaceous undertone that reveals a wonderful complexity to the dram. Final Thoughts: A perfect apératif or dessert whisky. Idyllic pairing with blue cheese; seriously, it’s good. Try it. There is something special about blue cheese. It tends to bring the sweetness out of already sweet foods. The whisky brings out a delightful nuttiness in the blue cheese, too with makes for a really pleasant finish.
Forty Creek Unity Colour: strawberry gold that beckons a person to hike in an autumn wood Nose: distinct turpentine of a high rye mashbill. Some sweetness of dark chocolate, ripened cherry, and first fill sherry American oak casks. Mature light scent, pears and green apples, light vanilla and caramel, cinnamon and nutmeg spiced rum pudding. Palate: gentle spice and loads of holiday spirit. Wonderful spiced rum cakes, mincemeat pie, butterscotch tart. Finish: a very pleasant lingering finish with warm aromas and flavours of predominantly brandied cherries and toffee. With H2O: the balance in the whisky shines through with water. There is a perfect blending of a hint of rye heat with a newly mellowed approach to the classic holiday flavours consisting of candied sweet potato, maple glaze, and mulled apple cider. The smoothness of the dram displays itself readily resulting in a velvety texture on the palate. Final Thoughts: This is a very smooth and well balanced dram with water. It is really special and should be enjoyed with close family and friends who truly appreciate the fuller whisky experience.
Forty Creek Barrel Select 40% abv Colour: A truly lovely Monarch butterfly lighter orange, which is fitting with how delicately the whisky dances in the Glencairn. Nose: Similar to that of a high rye mash bill with the distinctive turpentine scent of a 100% rye whisky, which is interesting because three grains – rye, barley and corn – are fermented and distilled separately then blended and barrel aged to create Barrel Select. In conjunction with these distinctive rye scents many floral notes are present such as pink rose and trumpet daffodil with undertones of yellow freesia (see my online tutorial to learn how to identify floral notes in whiskies, which can be applied to any spirit. Also, see my official Women’s Whisky World Online Floral Notes in Whiskies Catalogue). These rye and floral notes are wrapped in the nostalgia of a sherry American Oak barrel; vanilla, toffee, caramel, Christmas rum pudding and the like. Palate: Where Christmas meets rye whisky. The butterscotch-toffee warmth of this whisky mixes with the all spice and clove excitement that rye brings to a dram. This whisky is perfect for a long conversation in the evening. Finish: initially sharp because of the spicy rye impact the finish quickly smooths out leaving a velvety coating behind with pepper dancing on the taste buds. With H2O: Opens up the nose revealing a tremendous amount of lilac on a humid summer afternoon. It brings forth more soil notes on the nose. You also get an intensified Christmas sweets and spices experience. The palate is absolutely smoothed out reducing some of the intense spice from the rye, which makes the other flavours more accessible and lengthens the finish. Final Thoughts: This dram demands a tepid autumn evening in front of the fireplace with a good friend and nostalgic memories.
Forty Creek Copper Pot Reserve 43% abv Colour: a appealing translucent apricot. Nose: A gloriously spicy dram possessing classic high rye like scents, however this one is particularly gripping because it demands patience to tease out the clear undertones of clay soil. If you quickly smell this dram you will miss the foundational base notes that balance out vegetal soprano notes, which immediately greet your senses. The trumpet daffolil and Monsella tulip notes nicely round out the dram. Palate: a wonderfully sweet palate. I would not hesitate to serve this as a dessert whisky. The balance between herbaceous notes and overt sweetness makes for what I might dub a ______. There is plenty of sweet grass and lemon grass marrying with warm milk chocolate, brandy cherries and all spice. It the most balanced blended rye whisky I have tried yet. I can only wonder if it is due to copper pot still distillation, which is known to reduce sulfur content that might lend itself to a smoother and sweeter experience on the palate? This whisky is a quintessential Canadian dram. Finish: moderate length and smooth with a hint of spice. It’s a welcoming finish. With H2O: oh wow! Simply amazing. The water totally smooths out the spice of rye which allows the palate to access the sweeter and clay soil notes resulting in an incredibly well balanced Canadian dram. You really need to try this. Final Thoughts: This whisky is ideal for parties with guests you want to impress especially once you add water. Personally, I’m a bit picky when it comes to which flavour profile I like to serve at a specific time of day. I would be inclined to reserve this whisky to an evening event where guests are invited to nibble on desserts.
Forty Creek Spike Honey Spiced Whisky 40% abv Colour: Unripened Christmastime mandarin orange. Do you remember as a child when you knew you were no more than three or four days at most away from being able to dig into the cardboard box filled with paper wrapped mandarin oranges? What a sentimental thought. Nose: warm, sweet and inviting causing the palate to water in anticipation of what is soon to greet it. It’s so lovely that one might think it is rum cask aged. The deep, rich notes of sultana raisins and spiced orange rum cake are welcoming indeed. Palate: The honey is immediately evident on the palate offering a dramatically sweeter than usual dram, which is simply wonderful. It is somewhat what you might expect an ice wine except due to the rye content you also get a warming sensation on the palate that of course you would never experience with the ice wine (not the mention there is no rot here). It’s a honey-bomtastic smooth whisky. There is a tonne of Christmas pleasure here. Think brandy and cognac filled chocolates, a strongly spiked rum cake, liqueur soaked fruit cake and so on. If I were hosting a whisky event this would be one of my go-to’s as an aperitif to whet the palate to enhance the networking atmosphere in preparation for an enjoyable supper. Finish: long, gentle, smooth and sweet. This is the perfect business casual whisky. A crowd pleaser for certain. With H2O: the spice opens up in a really lovely way that compliments the enhanced sweet flavours. Final Thoughts: This is an easy drinking Canadian whisky. Immediately, I can picture myself in a luxourious hotel event space amongst my business colleagues eagerly awaiting a special corporate occasion.
Forty Creek Double Barrel Reserve Lot 272 40% abv Colour: Akin to an inviting sunrise one observes while sipping hot tea on the patio of a lakeside Muskoka cottage as the morning star’s rays glint on the waves.
Nose: Quite herbaceous and a rather gentle approach to the rye profile; spice, sweetness and turpentine, which reminds of the days I spent in Northern Alberta with my French Canadian family near the farmlands of Girouxville, Alberta, Canada. There is a nostalgic lighter undertone of father’s shop. I can remember when my father would arrive home from having worked all day in the aircraft hanger. The distinct scent of engine grease accompanied the telltale blackness under his finger nails and stains on his dark blue overalls. His first stop was always the washroom sink to scrub the engine oil off his hands. Palate: Sweet and gently spiced, this dram politely requests to be left on the palate for longer than usual so as to tease out the intricacies of a multitude of flavours present; cantaloupe, melon, pear, Macintosh apple comprise the predominant flavour profile, which is rounded out and balanced with sweet grass, Saskatchewan wheat (that’s not to say wheat is in the mash bill – it isn’t – rather, this flavour does develop within the dram), and base note comforts of dark chocolate and aged rum cake. Finish: gentle, lingering and warming to the senses. It’s lighter than some, which is welcome after a robustly flavourful dram. With H2O: Really opens up the rye brings a lot of spice to the nose, while allowing for the sweeter notes to poke through. Water lightens up all flavours, which means the whisky is easily accessible to the morning breakfast tippler. I would be inclined to serve this with a light brunch to guests who are open to a Breakfast Whisky dram. Final Thoughts: My favourite part about whisk(e)y is the history and the stories. Certainly, it’s delicious but it’s also an incredibly nostalgic and deeply historical rooted drink. Some drams bring up more memories than others for me and this is definitely one of those.
Forty Creek Three Grain 20th Anniversary Edition40% abv Colour: This is one of the most elegant tints of orange in a whisky I have ever seen. It is exactly like you see when you slice open a fragrant, mature, ripe mango fruit. There is such a richness and depth to the this dram offers. Nose: The rye in this three grain whisky jumps right out to greet the ol factory senses in a burst of pungent joy. Palate: A wonderful milieu of rye spices – ginger, cinnamon, all spice – and comforting luxury offered from corn distillates – toffee, rich rum cake, good quality milk chocolate – wrapped in an graceful barley and terra emphasis. With H2O: The spice of the really mellows but all of the other rye-like aromas are emphasized considerably with the addition of water. There’s lots of turpentine and a wonderful blanket of Christmas flavours such as gingerbread, buttercream icing for dressing shortbread that is infused with vanilla bean and cinnamon stick. Finish: dry and sweet. Oh so inviting for another sip to get the fullness of the dram again. Final Thoughts: This is an involved whisky and as such I would recommend sharing a dram with an experienced tippler who is both willing and able to patiently allow the dram to develop on the nose and palate. This isn’t the kind of whisky that you want to work your way through quickly. This is meant to be savoured.
Confederation Oak Reserve Lot 1867-M 40% abv Colour: the most delightful shade of fully bloomed marigold lining the walkway to a home’s front door Nose: There’s something special about this dram. There is such a gentle touch of rye and warmth of Christmas spirits that immediately arrive to greet the senses married with base notes of earth, which peacefully grounds the soul. Palate: Delicious! Organic honey from the farmer’s market and brown sugar are the first impression followed with lavender and rose, which develops into a warm rye spice that includes orange and tangerine essence. With H2O: The spice opens up revealing a vegetal side to the dram that is reminiscent of a walk in wooded evergreen glen. The sweet side of the dram remains present, however the intensity mellows allowing you to access its savoury side. Finish: A light spice that warms for a while as the sweetness rests asking you to contemplate the dram deeper before taking another sip. Final Thoughts: This is dram is ideal for the business setting. It is just sweet enough to be a crowd pleaser and it is just demanding enough to allow for animated conversation regarding its scent and flavour profiles.
The Forager Botanical Whisky 40% abv Colour: Beautifully delicate somewhat like an immature sweet grass. Nose: surprisingly robust given the lighter colour. There is a hint of tell tale new make, but that is really more of an undertone a person might miss if they weren’t familiar with this virgin spirit. Predominantly, sweet and spicy scents come through – rum, cassis, raisins, caramel – but, what is gripping about this dram is the distinct seaside scent that demands your attention. I can only imagine this is the result of the blend of botanicals used to infuse this whisky. Palate: the sweetness is well rounded out with wood and spice brings the dram to life. There is no seaside essence whatsoever, and this is replaced with a full botanical experience. To me, it tastes of a lovely rosemary infusion with a little bit of mint and a bark of some sort as a background base note to round out the dram. With H2O: the water opens up the botanicals quite a bit, which at first seems rather bitter however the sweet undertones of the whisky remain to be enjoyed to the end. Finish: long, lingering and smooth inviting one to try another dram. Final Thoughts: It is such a romantic spirit that should not be drank quickly but rather savoured neat for hours sitting by the fireplace with your feet up. I would be hesitant to recommend this for a crowd or someone new to whiskies. This is a precious dram meant to be fully enjoyed with the experienced palate.
Forty Creek Nanaimo Bar Cream Liqueur 15% abv Nose: quite like a Nanaimo bar. Delightfully sweet with the tang of the yellow custard strip in the center. Palate: quite like Bailey’s Irish Creme in texture and flavour. The creme is thick and coats the palate nicely. It’s easily drinkable on its own or in coffee. Final Thoughts: Let’s just say the sample bottle didn’t last long while I was writing this and that purchasing a full bottle is on my to-do list. This liqueur is fabulous! Buy one.
Forty Creek Cream – Cream Liqueur 17% abv Nose: I honestly didn’t think there could be any improvement from the Nanaimo bar liqueur. I was inaccurate. This is the most unique liqueur I have tried. There is a wonderfully sweet savoriness to the nose where the honey and marzipan shines through and the undertone is something like that of a British Columbian mountain cedar glen. Palate: a pleasant alcohol is obviously present, so if you’re like me and you enjoy a strong liqueur this would be a go to. It possesses all the sweet creaminess of a Bailey’s Irish Creme while offering a nostalgic jaunt into the woods. Final Thoughts: Perfect for any dinner gathering or party where you’re looking to cap off the evening in a fun and eventful way. I am adding this to my “to purchase” drink list.
If you bring up the idea of terroir in the whisk(e)y circle these days you’re bound to get a full spectrum of responses ranging from excitement, thoughtful conversation to flat out rejection of the idea. Who’s right? There is an answer and I will outline that here.
The first thing to understand is the definition of terroir. What is it and where does the idea arise from? In truth, the concept of terroir is not daunting at all because for thousands of years it was specifically defined thanks to the wine industry. Simply put, terroir is the impact that microclimate – soil composition, weather, topography – and farming practices have on the final flavour of consumable commodities and the products made from them such as wine, cider, some vegetable goods and the like.
The important message to weigh in is terroir is not something you casually say because you understand that ultimately any plant based commodity is impacted by its microclimate. The historical context of terroir is far more in depth than this common knowledge.
Terroir is understood only after considerable study is conducted to determine what effect a particular microclimate has on a specific crop. Without adequate study of the microclimate of an individual field combined with an understanding of the farming practices used in said field it is impossible to know the terroir of the plant.
For example, you would never say “Scotland’s terroir is ‘X’” Rather, you would say, “the terroir of field ‘X’ in location ‘Y’ imparts ‘A, B & C’ scents and flavours in this whisk(e)y resulting from the barley field’s location on the distillery’s southern facing slope located ## miles from SuchandSuch coastline where predominant weather patterns lend themselves to regular rainfall that washes SuchandSuch minerals from the surrounding rolling hills into the water supply that feeds the clay fields, which are infused with the following concentrations of compounds: ‘W’ lb/acre nitrogen, ‘X’ lb/acre phosphate, ‘Y’ lb/acre potassium and ‘Z’ lb/acre sulphur.”
Does that sound anything like this statement: “this whisky has great terroir. You can really smell the soil.”
No. No, it does not.
Henceforth, if defining terroir is such a remarkably specific and well defined process then why is there so much back and forth about terroir in the whisky industry to the point that some flat out deny its existence? There are a few reasons for this. First, a genuine misunderstanding of what terroir is and how it is defined at the scientific level. Second, an acknowledgement that the industry has yet to formally publicize the terroir for any of the fields, which source the distilleries. We all understand that every field in every part of the world has a terroir resulting from its microclimate and farming practices, but when it comes to formally defining the influence terroir has on our dram there is considerable room for growth. Short of taking on the robust project to define the terroir of every field that sources the global whisk(e)y industry, which ultimately is what needs to happen, at this point when we talk about the terroir of a dram usually we are simply stating a generalization – the grain that was used to create this dram has terroir. Great. We know that – without due consideration for the set of specificities that give a particular dram its distinctly unique characteristics. We might as well say that water is wet or the sky is blue. Of course, every dram is influenced by its terroir but the only way to use the term correctly is to specifically define what exactly the field’s terroir is from which said dram is derived and carefully outline the extent to which that field’s terroir has influenced the individual dram in your hand. Terroir is not a general term, but rather an extremely specific one and it is intended to be so.
What many in the industry are unintentionally overlooking at the moment is that the vernacular of terroir is at present indoctrinated into whisk(e)y culture. Any individual with a piqued interest in terroir can state “one of the reasons I am drawn to whisk(e)y ‘X’ is because of the delightful seaside salty notes, which arise due to the distillery’s location five miles inland from the beaches of ‘location Y.’ The distillery’s water source runs down from the mountains 10 miles to the east drawing from stream ‘Z’ where the known mineral sources in the water are ‘A, B, and C,’ which impart the following set of characteristics on this whisk(e)y…” This my friends is terroir.
At present, if the whisk(e)y industry is determined to proceed with discussing the terroir of any given dram then it must heavily invest in conscientiously defining the terroir of every field from where its grains are sourced. It isn’t enough to simply say every stock of wheat or barley has a terroir. We know that. The microclimate and farming practices of all fields from where each and every stock of grain is grown must be accurately defined before the whisk(e)y industry can credibly begin to discuss terroir and the impact this has on the dram in our fingertips. The concept is simple. What makes this venture complex for the whisk(e)y industry is the sheer volume of work required to accurately define the terroir of each and every field where mashbill grain is grown. Should it be done? The simple response is absolutely yes if we are going to have a knowledgeable and credible conversation regarding the impact terroir levies on our drams.
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Nestled in the heart of Ontario Canada’s Golden Horseshoe region, the eastern edge of Lake Ontario where wine and whisky meet, Dillon’s Distillery stands poised steps away from the picturesque shoreline of Lake Ontario, one of Canada’s five Great Lakes and the headwaters of our proud St. Lawrence River. The river is home to some of the most diverse water wildlife in North America and is the main thoroughfare from the Atlantic Ocean into the Great Lakes Basin, which boasts merchant shipping that imports and exports goods in this part of the world. The St. Lawrence River is home to the 1000 Islands, which is where the famous and delicious 1000 Islands salad dressing was developed.
The origin of 1000 Island Dressing is related to George Boldt, one-time owner of the Waldorf Astoria Hotel in New York and of the Bellevue-Stratford in Philadelphia. Legend has it that while cruising aboard his yacht amongst the 1000 Islands on the St. Lawrence River, as his steward prepared luncheon, he discovered that some of the ingredients normally used in his dressings were not available. He prepared a dressing using a variety of ingredients which George Boldt found so pleasing that he decided to have it served in his hotels.
The Great Lakes region of Canada for thousands of years was home to millions of people and wildlife who depended on the land for survival. The Haudenosaunee, Ojibway/Chippewa, and Anishinaabe Aboriginal peoples traditional territory is in the Niagara region of Canada and the USA. This territory is covered by the Upper Canada Treaties. The oldest known treaty between Europeans and North American Aboriginal peoples is in the Niagara region.
In 1613, the Dutch and the Haudenosaunee created an agreement known as the Two Row Wampum, with two purple rows surrounded by three white rows. One purple row represents the ship of the Dutch. The other purple row is the Haudenosaunee canoe. Each row is travelling down the river of life side by side, neither attempting to steer the other’s vessel. The three white rows represent three principles to solidify the treaty: friendship and peace between the two people in an agreement that will last forever.
The Niagara region is well known for its world class VQA award winning wines boasting wineries such as Peller Estates, Jackson-Triggs, and Inniskillin Winery. It’s time to introduce the world to this region’s Canadian whiskies. One dram in particular stands out for me as the classical embodiment of a truly Canadian Rye whisky experience. This special Canadian rye is produced at one of the most popular distilleries in Ontario, Dillon’s Distillery located in picturesque Beamsville, Ontario. What makes this Dillon’s dram unique is that it is created from 100% Ontario rye and owing to its exceptional quality and character this dram embodies the true Canadian spirit evoking thoughts and memories of wide open spaces, bright blue spacious sky, an ever present yet subtly strong modesty. If you want to know what Canada feels like you understand trying this dram. Please find below Women’s Whisky World’s exclusive tasting notes for Dillon’s Ontario Rye.
Colour: This exquisite saffron gold dram is the manifestation of a bright summer’s afternoon when the sun is high, the breeze is light and the energy is calling you for a sunset stroll along the sparkling lake shore. It is exactly what I would expect on my picnic table while enjoying a summer day sitting beside a gently flowing river.
Nose: Once again embracing the Canadian spirit, Ontario’s blooming lilac on an early spring morning meets the senses bringing with it memories of the English cottage style gardens planted all over Ontario, which are loved by so many Canadians. Vanilla and caramel marry easily with the gentle perfume of pink Canadian wild roses and a delicate milieu of savory herbs. The rye comes through with such passionate expression it is easy to understand why this whisky holds the Canadian spirit and our nation’s whisky history between your fingertips.
Palate: Immediately inviting, a warm sweetness washes over the palate. The whisky quickly heats to a spicy fiesta, which is characteristic of high rye content Canadian whiskies. The vanilla and caramel deepen opening to a melody of multiple floral notes, roses with a bold essence of double daffodil where brown sugar and oaked chardonnay meet fresh cut grass.** These magnificent top notes are met with an unexpected counterpoint of solvents characteristic of a Tennessee whiskey.
Finish: Somewhat short but oh so sweet leaving the palate longing for more to satiate the primal senses.
General Impressions: Of all the Canadian drams I’ve tried this is absolutely in my top three. I compare the dram to something similar as what you might expect in a light Speyside or Highland Scotch whilst boasting the spicy and warming characteristics of a classic Canadian rye.
**Women’s Whisky World online floral notes catalogue can be found published to my Twitter and Instagram accounts @ChantailleMarie Look for the photographs of flowers.
I had the pleasure of speaking with a representative of Dillon’s Distillery. Please enjoy Women’s Whisky World’s exclusive interview notes of our conversation.
What year did Dillon’s Distillery come into fruition?
The distillery opened to the public on December 9, 2012 but the journey to opening started about two years prior to that.
What inspired you to begin the distillery?
A big inspiration for opening the distillery was Geoff’s father; Peter. He has one of the most impressive and expansive spirits collections and it was something that father and son bonded over. There was also this desire to craft spirits made in Canada from fresh and local ingredients. That was really something that wasn’t happening when we started.
Who is on staff?
We have a team of 20; between the hospitality side and distilling side of the business. We don’t have a huge staff, but everyone is like family.
What does the the typical weekly routine look like at the distillery?
Well we distill 7 days a week so those days start at 6am and end around 10pm. that is three shifts of distillers working away, plus our bottling crew that work five days a week to bottle everything and make sure that our shop is stocked, that orders are heading out to the LCBO or other provinces. We have a 9,000 square foot garden that also has to be managed (that’s almost a full time job itself!). Our Sipping Room is also open daily so we welcome guests to the distillery for tours and tastings. Our calendar is also full of events both here at the distillery and offsite, so there’s the planning, prepping and execution of those that happen regularly too. Every day is so different though, never the same day twice!!!
What products does the distillery create? Which products are dealt with on site (for example, do you ferment and distill on site?
We make everything from grain/grape to glass here. Nothing is brought in. Our collection of spirits is constantly growing and evolving. When we opened in 2012 we had three spirits; our grape-based vodka, an unaged rye (The White Rye) and our Unfiltered Gin 22. Now we have spirits like Rose Gin, Strawberry Gin, Rye Whisky, Absinthe, Peach Schnapps and a whole line of bitters too! We love experimenting and trying new things so there are times when we release super tiny batches of something like our Peach Brandy – there were only 240 bottles!
Could you tell me a bit more about the whiskies you create?
This was really the biggest driving force behind wanting to open a distillery. It was about wanting to make a 100% rye grain whisky; something that really wasn’t being done in Canada at the time. We found an amazing partner in Brant Flour Mills who sources and processes Ontario rye grain in Scotland, ON [a small town in South Eastern Ontario, Canada]. So about an hour from the distillery. We also found an Ontario based cooper to source Canadian oak casks from. We began filling barrels to age for our Rye Whisky in 2013 and it’s a combination of different casks; we use new Canadian oak, new American oak and first-fill bourbon casks. We are ageing for a minimum of 3 years but some are longer. Our first Rye Whisky release was in late 2016. We released a single cask Rye Whisky, that we affectionately refer to as our Rye 1. It was a single new Ontario oak cask that we have bottled at cask strength, with nothing else. No additives; no colour. It is the most authentic and truest expression of making Rye whisky in Ontario. In May of 2017 we started releasing our Three Oaks Rye Whisky. Which is that same 100% Ontario rye grain spirit but it has been aged in those three types of casks and then blended together. It is the perfect every day rye – great neat or on the rocks but also amazing in cocktails. The Three Oaks Rye Whisky is available all year where the Rye 1 is released just once a year, in December.
What sets your whiskies apart from other whiskies on the market?
I think I may have answered this one above but really it comes down to the fact that we are producing our Rye Whisky from grain to glass here and using only Ontario rye grain.
Could you describe in as much detail as possible the scent and flavour profiles of your whiskies, as well as their finish?
The great thing about our Rye Whisky is that it still retains so much of that rye grain character, so there is a nice clean spice character that works perfectly with the stone fruit (think peaches and apricots) and steeped tea flavours present in the finished spirit.
Of all the libations you create which one is your favourite and why?
This probably changes with the seasons or when we release something new but right now, for me (Whitney) the Strawberry Gin is my go-to spirit. Our strawberry gin has this wonderful stewed jam like quality and mixed with that hint of gin from the Dry Gin 7 base, it is the ultimate summer sipper. Perfect just over ice or with some muddle basil and bubbly water.
What keeps customers coming back to Dillon’s Distillery? If someone travels to Ontario why do they have to make Dillon’s Distillery a “must see” on their travel itinerary?
I think what keeps guests coming back are those spirits that we make in ultra-small batches and release only when their ingredients are in season. Something like the Cassis or Peach Brandy are so unique and only available here. We don’t make enough of them to sell outside of the distillery Sipping Room. It’s new releases that have people coming back again and again. For someone who is visiting the region for the first time, we are a nice change from the winery filled day. We offer something different while still staying true to Niagara.
Description: Dillon’s Rye Whisky, Three Oaks, Made From 100% Ontario Canada Rye. Situated beside the picturesque shores of Lake Ontario in Kingston, Ontario, Canada.
Award winning Black’s Distillery is located in the heart of Peterborough, Ontario. This absolutely outstanding, one of a kind distillery won the gold medal for gin at the San Francisco World Spirits Competition! No surprises and well done!
Owned and operated by Robert Black and his wife Barb, the couple have operated the distillery since 2016. They are aided by a small staff: Chris, sales and production; Helen, tasting and retail; and Joanna, tasting and retail.
Barrels of whiskey maturing. You could really get a sense of the Angels’ Share.
Robert was a tool and dye maker for 36 years. His story for how he developed a love for the science of distilling – from grain to glass – is an interesting one. Robert is of Scottish descent. One day in 2010 while in Scotland on a whisky tour with his brother in Islay he discovered the peat process and simply fell in love. For a while he talked about the idea of making whisky and it was Barb who talked him into taking a distillers course in British Columbia.
Following the distilling course, Robert and Barb decided it was time to set-up Black’s Distillery. With Barb’s background in marketing and Robert’s newly found background in distilling they make the perfect team; she does the administration and marketing and he does the distilling and networking. They’re the Whiskey A-Team!
Barrels of whiskey maturing in the storage room.
Women’s Whisky World was fortunate enough to meet with Robert and Barb for an exclusive interview the highlights of which I shall share with you here:
Women’s Whisky World: What do you look for in a great whisk(e)y/?
Black’s Distillery: A unique profile.* A whiskey with notes of honey, vanilla and floral; something strong, but not harsh. I like a rich flavour, something where you’re able to taste the quality or depth. Something that is not artificially flavoured. The same goes for gin and vodka; something not too harsh.
*Something I noticed is that all of Black’s Distillery’s whiskey’s have a most pleasurably unique flavour profile.
Women’s Whisky World: Agreed. I prefer an unflavoured whiskey myself. What sets your whiskey apart on the market? What makes it stand out?
Black’s Distillery: All spirits are from 100% locally grown grains with the exception of a barley whiskey that has some imported UK peated barley; everything else is locally grown and milled. As well, the terroir really comes out in the grain. We don’t use corn; we use rye and call it rye. Black’s doesn’t flavour any of its products, rather we go for the heart cut. Cuts are part of the magic.
Interview continued beneath photograph…
Entrance to the Storage Room.
Women’s Whisky World: Something that really caught my attention about Black’s Distillery was the option to purchase new make whiskey. What inspired you to bottle and sell new make?
Black’s Distillery: For starters, the taste. It’s fresh. Also, many people haven’t tried it and I wanted to offer a pre-oaked experience. Our new make barley is the only one on the market that we’ve ever seen.
Women’s Whisky World: I would tend to agree. I haven’t seen another barley new make on the market. It’s quite extraordinary. What made you choose this location for Black’s Distillery over all other available options?
Black’s Distillery: There’s a cafe district across the bridge. It is a bustling part of town. This used to be a dry part of town but that has changed in the last 40 years. We looked for a year to find the right fit. Part of what we liked about this place is that it has lots of windows, which is perfect for showing off the machinery. Also, there’s a nice bike path and lake nearby, so we get walk-in traffic. The parking lot is an important feature, too!
Interview continued beneath photograph…
Portrait of David Fife, developer of Red Fife wheat.
Women’s Whisky World: If you could give a tip to someone else starting out in the business what would it be and why?
Black’s Distillery: Open where there’s plenty of foot traffic to bolster revenue for that first year.
Women’s Whisky World: What’s your favourite aspect of the business?
Black’s Distillery: Meeting people. I was a tool and dye maker for decades, so it’s nice to get out of the shop and meet people. I also like sourcing out materials, traveling to get barrels. I get to travel to New York City for the Distributors’ Show.
Interview continued beneath the photographs…
Whisky creation machinery in the Great Room of Black’s Distillery.
A photograph of the beautiful decor in the Great Room at Black’s Distillery
Various spices to help you hone your senses.
Women’s Whisky World: What draws visitors and repeat visitors to Black’s Distillery?
Black’s Distillery: The quality and the taste profile of the spirits. The spirits are unique for people to taste; there is nothing regular about them. The gin is very popular; it’s sales are exploding.
Women’s Whisky World: This has been great! I have one final question before we move into the tasting aspect of the tour. Of the spirits you make, which one is your favourite and why?
Black’s Distillery: There is no favourite. I like them all for different reasons.
Women’s Whisky World: That’s just wonderful. How about we move into tasting the spirits now and getting some tasting notes written down for my readers?
Black’s Distillery: Sounds great. Let’s head over to the bar.
Heritage Vodka Tasting Notes
Nose: Red fife wheat, buttery popcorn, anise
Palate*: Light on the palate, spicy, sweetness, sweetgrass
*Women’s Whisky World Note: This was the best vodka I have ever tasted
Palate: Pepper (just the right amount), oak, celery, sage, green grass, nutmeg, cinnamon.
Finish: Remarkably smooth and long
*Robert prefers to make his Old Fashioned with the White Rye because of the balance in the finished cocktail.
White Rye Aged 6 Months in 1/4 Cask**
Nose: Caramel, vanilla, cherry, oak, leather
Palate: Orange, cinnamon, vanilla, caramel
Finish: Long, smooth and gentle
**Women’s Whisky World Note: If I didn’t know before tasting this whiskey, I would have thought it to be aged at least 15-18 years. It’s unchilled state leads to an instant viscosity on the palate that is simply gorgeous! With a dash of water it opens up the whiskey to add maple on the nose and it amplifies everything on the palate adding a spicy factor. This whiskey is simply glorious.
White Barley (New Make) Tasting Notes
Nose: Barley, terroir of the soil, subtle peat, chocolate, roses, cucumber, leather, cinnamon, black pepper, truffle, pipe tobacco, vanilla, coffee, toffee
With water this opens up the whiskey to reveal greater notes of vanilla and toffee on the palate.
White Barley (Aged 6 Months) Tasting Notes
Nose: Barley, lightly peated, citrus, leather, cedar, gooseberry, current
Palate: Tangerine, orange, black pepper, honey, caramel, chocolate-orange
Finish: Orange, smooth, long
Water amplifies all flavours and really kicks up toffee and chocolate.
If you can’t wait to try all three then grab this perfect starter pack of Heritage Vodka, Gin, and White Rye (New Make).
I saved arguably the best for last…dessert! Get ready for these tasting notes. These will really rock your socks off. You’ll want to purchase three bottles!
Cherry Whiskey Liqueur Tasting Notes
Nose: Rye and Oloroso sherry
Palate: Strong cherry, undertone of clover and lavender
Finish: Deliciously long and smooth
Black’s Distillery’s Line-up. Each is unique and outstanding in its own way.
Women’s Whisky World would like to humbly thank Black’s Distillery for this incredible opportunity, to visit and interview the distillery. Women’s Whisky World wishes Robert, Barb and their staff all the best in their future endeavours. Slàinte🍀
There’s plenty of discussion and debate over what makes a whisky smoky. After considerable research I have broken it down into four main categories with smoke as an umbrella term comprised of the following: peat; toasted barrel; charred barrel; bio-organic sulfuric molecular compounds, the byproducts of yeast fermentation.
The first source of smoke in whisky, and arguably the source with the most notariety is peat smoke. Peat is a fossil fuel used for heating in many parts of the world; it is also used for imbuing natural flavouring into whisky. This is accomplished by drying the barley for approximately 18 hours which causes the aromatic compounds in peat smoke to adhere to the barley. This drying time varies by distillery and varies by whisky depending on desired flavour profile. Generally speaking a longer drying time yields a higher part per million (ppm) of peat smoke particles having adhered to the barley, which is what will offer its unique peaty scent and flavour. Peat is not for the faint of heart. It’s boggy, but like opera or Baroque music once you’re turned onto it you cannot get enough of its undertone or even overtone. One thing to note about peat, what’s written on the bottle isn’t always what’s in the bottle; sometimes the ppm on the bottle expresses what was on the drying floor. Regardless, one can expect the higher the ppm the more peat presence will be in the final product.
The second source of smoke in whisky comes from toasting a barrel. Toasting a barrel lightly alters the composition of the wood revealing new organic compounds, such as diacetyl, cyclotene, and isomatol. These can be viewed in the diagram below. In short, toasting the barrel releases these compounds, which releases a warmth into the whisky that would otherwise not be present.
The third source of smoke in whisky comes from a charred barrel. Quite simply, the burnt nature of the barrel releases “burnt” compounds into the whisky: cresol, guiacol and syringol as examples. See the barrel figure again, reference the bottom three chemical compounds as an example of how a charred barrel impacts the flavour and aroma of a whisky:
The fourth source of smoke in whisky is in the form of bio-organic waste products eminated from yeasts, sulphuric compounds released during the fermentation process:
Sulfur has a unique scent, like that of rotten eggs, it’s iodine-like; however, don’t mistake sulfur for iodine. Women’s Whisky World’s exclusive blog has cited a scientific study, which shows that while present in whisky the concentration of iodine is insufficient to impact either a whisky’s flavor profile or aroma. See more about iodine in whisky here:
Getting back to one of the byproducts of yeast during the fermentation process, sulphuric compounds are often picked-up in the copper stills during the distillation process, however Master Distillers can alter flow rate and choose the shape of a still so as to effect the outcome of a whisky’s flavour profile. For more information on this visit Women’s Whisky World’s exclusive blog site in the copper distillation process here:
The next time you’re at a whisky gathering and someone comments on the smokiness of their whisky now you will know what they mean. Is it gentle or heavy peat flavour and aroma? Is it a meaty smoke from charring or a lighter smoke garnered from toasting, or could it be the more subtle medicinal undertones detected in whisky from the bio-organic sulfuric byproducts of the yeasts of fermentation? You won’t need to wonder anymore because now you know. Sláinte.
Quarter barrel aged! Triple barrel aged! It all sounds so fancy, but what does it really mean? For this blog post I’ll keep it short and sweet by focusing on the triplets: triple aged, be it in oak, casks, or barrels; don’t worry yet about what the differences are because I’m coming out with another post in future.
However, this business of triple aged, what is it? It’s actually rather simple. I’ll break it down for you. It just means that the whisky was aged in three separate casks all of which impart a different flavor on the whisky.
Let’s take for example the Glenliviet Master Distiller’s Reserve. Have a look here. It talks about three separate casks: Traditional Oak, American Oak and ex-Sherry Oak.
Photo Credit: theGlenliviet.com
Voila! Three separate casks to age a whisky in equals “triple cask” aged whisky. In this case since they’re all oak casks it would be appropriate to call it “triple oak” aged whisky.
C’est tout. That’s it. That’s all.
I love the photo on J.P. Wiser’s Triple Barrel Rye because they actually put three barrels on the front. It’s no wonder they say a picture is worth 1000 words 😊
If you ever have any questions about whisky never be shy. Don’t hesitate to ask. If I don’t know the answer off the top of my head I’ll go digging and find out for you.
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