Well an epic week for me after living in the Great White North for over 12 years, I finally sealed the deal and became Canadian.
Swearing the Oath to the Queen and becoming official on the 12th of June 2014 at 9:30am. So now I have a split personality part Australian and part Canadian, or Aus-adian!
Really the perfect segue into a blog on Canadian Single Malt whisky. There has been, for the past two decades, only one choice for patriotic Canadian’s wanting a home grown Single malt. Glen Breton from the Glenora Distillery in Nova Scotia has been the benchmark Canadian Single Malt Whisky producer. Their “Canada’s Only Single Malt” label I noticed just changed recently with their new releases to “Canada’s First Single Malt”. No doubt they have been keeping tabs on developments in the industry and knew it was just a matter of time before someone else joined the party.
It amazes me that they had it all to themselves for so long.
There are now a number of distilleries working up to Single Malt releases. Keep a look out for Shelter Point on Vancouver Island, Okanagan Spirits in Kelowna and Urban Distillery in Kelowna.
Still Waters Distillery in Ontario released their Single Malt last year and have already received great acclaim. Recently picking up the Best Single Cask award in Whisky Magazine, Still Waters have made a definite market impact already on the Canadian micro distillery scene.
To be up front with everyone I have been working with the Barry’s now from their early days as Independent bottlers. Their early entry into the market was frustrated by crazy outdated laws that forced them to have 2% Canadian content in their single casks of Single Malt Scotch. This meant that they had to create a whole new whisky category that consumers could not understand. It was certainly a tough way to start a business. However their passion for whisky never faltered and soon after their still was installed and running.
Most new distilleries on their path to releasing whisky invariably distill something faster to take to market and bring in much needed capital. Still Waters was no exception releasing their Single Malt Vodka under two different labels.
The vodka, while smooth and delicious with a hint of sweet barley on the nose, entered into a tough category that is driven by big marketing budgets and fancy packaging. Vodka is a very lucrative market and is the volume piece of the spirits puzzle. Gaining market share in a crowded sector with a product that is basically shades of grey when comparing quality and flavor is certainly a challenge. I encourage any whisky drinker that wants a vodka for any mixed beverages to check out the Still Waters Single Malt Vodka. Remember that you are directly helping the micro whisky industry drinking small batch spirits. You should, if you are in BC, be buying anything from Shelter point right now to help them get over the line with their Whisky.
Sorry for that slight deviation from topic. I do tend to have a passion for small hand crafted product over the mass produced brands and try to get anyone who will listen to think about supporting the small guys.
So, onto the whisky.
I am going to look at two Single Malts today from Still Waters and do a comparison between single casks and also at cask strength vs 46%.
First up is Cask number 2 bottle number 156 bottled at 61.3%
Tasted in a Reidel whisky glass – my favored glass for Cask Strength and I have a gentle dishwasher.
Nose: Sweet vanilla bean with hints of Seville orange marmalade – just that nice hint of bitter rind. Really inviting nose and very soft in the Reidel. Would no doubt be potentially overpowering in a Glencairn.
Palate: Instantly palate filling with plenty of tingle as it spreads over the tongue with creamy sweet spice laden cinnamon and nutmeg. The 61.3 certainly gives it a dryer edge but is remarkably balanced for such a young malt. With just a drop of water the alcohol really fades away with more of a hay bail and fresh grass tinge underlining the spices. For this whisky I think my preference is at cask strength as it drinks with lovely balance and the alcohol does not inhibit the bulk of the flavor from coming to the foreground.
Finish: long and lasting the sweetness fades away leaving strong barley notes and more of that earthy straw and grass component.
This is a great whisky and has some unique character that barley (Canadian 2 row) and climate (Ontario – Summer heavy humidity courtesy of Lake Ontario and cold persistent winter snow) provide. I can only imagine how good these whiskies will be as time works its magic over the next decade.
Second up is the only 46% cask bottled so far thanks to the Liquor Depot group that purchased the majority of the barrel and requested the lower strength to make it a little more consumer friendly. Cask number 4 bottle number 37.
Tasted in a Glencairn glass which is the best for nosing and is great for understrength whiskies.
Nose: Much more barley up front than its cask strength sister and even at 46% the Glencairn fires the alcohol to the nose enough for some nostril burn if you get too close. As with the cask strength when watered, there is a lot more of that hay bail grassy note. Still perceptible is the vanilla cream but none of the marmalade that I can detect.
Palate: Softer as expected on the palate with very subtle spices and persistence of sweet hay and malt with background vanilla. Almost reminiscent of a scratch and sniff vanilla malted milkshake (throw back to the 80’s).
Finish: Shorter than the cask strength but still lingering and delicious with continuing sweet barley and vanilla.
For the price, the 46% version is well worth it and will also help new whisky drinkers appreciate a fantastic Canadian made Single Malt. For a deeper and more complex experience, paying the extra for a cask strength version will have its rewards.
There are no cask strength bottles available in the Western Canadian market as yet, but will be coming this fall for the Christmas season.
Both these whiskies are an exceptional expression of fantastic hand crafted Canadian micro distilling. Both the Barry’s should be applauded for taking the financial risks associated with a start up distillery and keeping true to their mantra of not cutting corners and being patient to release a truly great whisky.
As a new Canadian I am proud to be drinking and representing such a great distillery.
I would love to hear your experiences with Canadian whiskies and Single Malts in particular (not a lot to choose from but there are a number of expressions out there).
Next week I’m going to get my Stampede on and look at some Cowboy inspired whiskies from the US and Scotland.