The last weekend of October was the inaugural Craft BC Whisky Weekend, hosted by our @whiskymuse Reece of @reecesims. Two days of whisky workshops that can be taken as a crash course for whisky appreciation, or as an excuse to sip on brands you might not otherwise get a chance to. Two days, a handful of seminars each covering subtopics like single malts, ryes, wheat/ancient grains, bourbons, and peated whisky.
Our host Reece was once a Victoria native, now Vancouver die-hard. She started her whisky journey as a local bartender, turned agency expert, and now instructor for various whisky centric events around town. And if I am not mistaken, the only one, as I have yet to see communication on others.
The Craft BC Whisky Weekend was hosted within the famous Vancouver Club. Attendees checked into the designed ball room, and chose a seat set with 6 whisky tasters and a booklet to help in the tasting, and discerning of what you have tried. Said booklet included a description of all the whiskies featured from all the events, should you miss one and like to do a little self-education. Plus, a tasting wheel to help you define your whiskey between fruit/floral, woody, grain based, sweet, or spicy.
We would attend 2 seminars with a lunch break in between to recover and regroup. This will be the recap of the session experience. as well as some notes I took regarding each of the 12 whiskies we tasted.
Our first class was Single Malts Session II, which began with a rundown of what you can expect from single malts.
Canadian whisky is synonymous with rye whisky and is defined as being mashed, fermented, and distilled in Canada. There is a requirement to have it aged in wood for 3 years, and bottled with 40ABV. Each must have the “aroma, taste, and general characteristics of a Canadian whisky”, however that is up to interpretation. Within this vague definition Canadian distilleries are able to be flexible with their flavour profiles.
As of 2013 rye whisky was defined, and was followed by over 250 distilleries in BC releasing their own, with many more in the works. This inevitably created a new space/scene. In order for whisky to be considered an agriculture product in British Columbia it must include no additives or preservatives. Therefore, most distilleries are limited to the amount they can release and are capped at 100,000 litres a year. As a result, there are not a lot of single malt releases, so each is special and one of a kind, only available in small quantities. Many are less than 10 years old, which is reflective on the palate.
Each of the following 6 whiskies are a single malt, made at one distillery, made using 100% malted barley. Prepared in copper pot stills only, and aged in oak for a minimum of 3 years. The difference in cast and barrels used, plus the different microclimates of British Columbia determines how they age.
Here, we were left to our own devices, to taste our way through each taster and to use our guidebook and the tasting wheel within to help identify various notes like citrus, floral, biscuit/Danish, and chocolate. For example, whiskies allowed to rest in ex-bourbon cast- have a caramel finish with vanilla and hints of baking spices.
Fermentorium Distillery Small Talk 2021 edition:
Produced by the same team that is behind Phillips Brewing, this is the second batch of this one-time release. They started with gin and botanicals and have since moved to 100% malted barley, where they do their own malting for a smokey and peated whisky. Small Talk is finished in beer-soaked American oak casts, adding citrus and hoppy notes to the 3 years young whisky. I got notes of gasoline to start and a sweeter finish of apricots and nuts to end on.
Shelter Point Single Malt:
With the Island distillery located the ocean in Campbell River, the salt in the air influences the finish of this West Coast single malt. You expect to get a cleaner cut with a bit of salty brininess to it, as they celebrate their microclimate terrain and terroir. They age their whisky using the same techniques as you would to make sherry, done in a large vat. The result is a very robust liquor with a fuller body. Shelter Point’s goal is to expand their whisky onto the international stage and get out of the craft space; and are doing this with their first 10-year single malt release.
Moon Distillery Antifogmatic Bliss:
This one is aged in a black bourbon cast first, then further aged in a blackberry currant sour ale cast. This gives the whisky a darker hue with cherry and black berry notes in its expression. I personally got brown butter cake with a brunt caramel crust. This was noted as the quirky one of the bunch, with its unique double casting.
Tumbleweed Distillery Walking Bird Single Malt:
Originally the owners of Tumbleweed were gunning for a winery, but after realizing that there were no distilleries in Osoyoos, they diverted their attention in that direction. And thus, Tumbleweed Distillery was born in 2017. The name came from their love of horses and the dessert with the visual of tumbleweeds blowing past. This is a classic tyle of single malt, prepared in ex-bourbon barrels and only 3 years young. I got notes of peanuts and the medicine flavour of petroleum jelly, like watered down Vaseline.
Two Brewers Classic Release 35:
This is the only rye-based distillery in Canada, celebrating the West Coast. It started with two brewers opening their beer company in the Yukon and pivoting their focus exclusively to single malt whisky. Their approach is that of a brewer’s mentality when creating their single malt expression. They focus on small batch, one of a kind releases with the intention to give each its own distinct flavour profile with vintages from 2009 to over 10 years old. This one in particular is the combination of 14 different mashes that are aged together in an ex-bourbon cast, I found this one citrusy, bold, and bright, with a subtle tone of cough syrup.
Odd Society Commodore Single Malt:
This is the only local Vancouver craft whisky in the scene. They opened in 2013, when BC changed the above-mentioned regulations. Their name speaks to their desire to be different and distinct onto themselves. They impart new world style to their single malts, but also speak to traditions as well. They are a great representation for what BC single malt whisky can be, at a great price point. This younger whisky is aged in an ex-bourbon cast to add more flavour.
This was fruit forward and mellow on the onset, but concludes more abrasive in its intensity.
Here ended our first class, and we had time to grab a bite before our next. We opted for carbs at Nightengale Restaurant nearby.
Going for their chorizo sweet and spicy pizza with pickled shishito, honey, and mozzarella.
And Rigatoni All’arrabbiata a creamy tomato-based sauce with buratta and basil.
Then it was back to the Vancouver Club for our second class of the first ever Craft BC Whisky Weekend. Although truth be told, in my heightened state of drink, after finishing more than my share of the tasters above, my discerning palate and note taking ability took a hit.
As was the case for our first class we were given a preamble on Canadian whiskies.
In Canada there is only one category of whisky. Prior to 2010 the British Columbian government wanted to stimulate the whisky scene, so offered subsides to help encourage the growth of local distilleries, and what we are able to enjoy today is the fruits of that labour. The following are whisky made with creativity in mind, flavoured in different barrels from beer-soaked wood to the essence of mushrooms, and even the mixing in of red wine. The challenge was to identify them blind, with the aid of tasting notes/hints.
The Liberty Distillery Trust Single Grain:
Located at Granville Island, Liberty Distillery is operated by the same folks who owns Liberty Wine Merchants. This distillery also serves as the neighbourhood speakeasy-style cocktail lounge. They focus exclusively on organic grains and triple distill their whisky. Single Grain is named after the fact that it is made from one single grain. A single grain that not rye or malt barely, resulting in a more creamier and oiler mouthful. Its complex spice comes from un-malted barley. Its first still is in a bourbon cast for vanilla, caramel, and toffee notes. And is then aged in a beer barrel for a more citrusy, sweet essence.
Macaloney Brewery & Distillery Invermallie:
This limited release is a part of their November spirits release. They are rebranding and rereleasing, meaning this is the one and only opportunity to grab this bottle. Produced in Victoria BC, Macaloney’s has been focusing on producing different single malts representing different areas in Scotland, hence all the names of their bottles being Scottish inspired. Invermallie drinks heavy thanks to its European cast notes, and creamy from the malted barley used. You get a sweet port-like finish, lush with red, dark fruits; plus the mouthwatering tannis associated with a full body red. This one is smooth and spicy and would pair well with Indian food.
Goodridge and Williams Western Grains:
From the same owner for Nutrl, vodka based coolers in Delta, comes Goodridge and Williams. Being purchased by Labatt has allowed to them produce the volume and gain the additional support needed to move out of the craft designation. Creating consistency in their products, as well as a line of different releases. Western Grain is wheat and rye, and the most classic of all the limited release whiskies we were trying today. It is set in an ex-bourbon cast for a minimum of 3 years. This release speaks to their sister company with its sharp vodka-like finish and botanical notes. It also has a fairly medicinal tone that is indicative of its high alcohol content.
Okanagan Spirits Packinghouse Amber:
Okanagan Spirits is one of the Okanagan’s original distilleries. It is family owned and operated and very much so dedicated to the BC distillery scene. To play off of their surroundings, this limited release whisky is cast in a hoppy beer barrel and then left to rest in an apple brandy cast. The sweetness of the orchard fruits pulls through in this one. Packinghouse Amber is ideal in an easy going highball, or as part of a cocktail where you want a faint waft of sweet fruit and lychee.
Bearface Elemental Release 01: Matsutake:
Bearface does not have their own distillery that you can visit. They still out of the famous Mission Hill winery and are a part of the Mark Anthony Group. They are focused on highlighting ingredients indigenous to British Columbia. This is Bearface’s first experimental release with only 15,000 bottles in circulation. This one is one and done, so if you see it get it. Where else can you find a whisky with a 99.5% corn mash that is steeped in fresh pine mushroom aka Matsutake? It is steeped like tea in a cast with the whisky, before it is bottled. You immediately get the earthiness of mushrooms in this. It is not a bottle to crush, but one you pull out to show off and have as a talking point in your collection. This has me looking forward to their future elemental releases, where they will continue to use a variety of different casts to create their unique, all-encompassing profiles, where they embrace any inconsistencies year to year.
DEVINE Distillery Glen Saanich:
Hailing from the Island, established in 2006, DEVINE is one of the more OG distilleries featured this weekend. “Glen” means valley, and this limited release pays homage to the Scottish heritage and its background. This particular bottle was sold out almost immediately. Finished in a red wine foch cast. Pronounced “FOSHE”, it is a term used to describe a dark style of red wine, that is almost purple in hue. The finished product is heavy and syrupy in its aging. A fruity but bold berry finish with smokey coffee notes. A very luxe sipper.
In conclusion, The Craft BC Whisky weekend was a great way to learn more about local distilleries and to get a taste of what is in our own backyard. If you get a chance, do yourself a favour and sign up for one of these tastings in the future, you will not regret it and neither will your palate.
(High resolution photos provided by @andychanmedia)