British Columbia Single Malt Whisky

Pemberton's Limited Batch Release Single Malt I was a lucky man on Tuesday: Tyler Shramm was in Vancouver and dropped off my order of his Limited Batch Release Single Malt Whisky.  Pemberton Distillery's whisky marks the latest -- but not the last -- we'll see of new single malts produced in British Columbia.  Already on the scene is Okanagan Spirits Laird of Fintry single malt, which had a very limited release last month (I wasn't one of the lucky ones to get my hands on a bottle).  Urban Distilleries also produces their own unique and award-winning take on a single malt.

But there's more on the way.

  • Odd Society Spirits has plans for an unaged/white whisky, and Master Distiller Gordon Glanz says he'll be putting some aside to age.  
  • Lisa Simpson at The Liberty Distillery has told me they will also produce a white whisky, with plans to barrel some for aging.
  • Victoria Spirits, mostly known for their great gin, reports on their site that they have whisky aging ... I think I need to make a trip to the Island to snoop some more.
  • The Dubh Glas, which I visited this summer, will be BC's second purpose-built single malt whisky distillery, after -
  • Shelter Point Distillery, on Vancouver Island.  Their whisky is "quietly aging in barrels" until 2014.

That's eight distilleries either planning, currently producing, or aging single malt whisky.  It's not quite up to Scotland's volume, but they do have a five century head start us.

While I'm a fan of many kinds of spirits, in my opinion single malt whisky is one of the great testaments to human creativity.  British Columbia has an opportunity, with our growing distilling industry, to become a serious whisky producing region.  It will take 10 or 20 years, but if we as consumers support our distillers and show them we're eager for these products, they will reward us.

Now back to that Pemberton Single Malt: it's just three years old, the minimum to be called a single malt.  Its time in ex-bourbon casks has given it a great mix of flavours -- for our first tasting my wife and I got vanilla, almonds, very light caramel, with some spices (we couldn't pinpoint more specifically) and fruity overtones.

At such a young age, it's not the smoothest whisky on the market, but the complex flavours more than make up for it.  I'd take it over many older single malts I've tried from around the world, including Scotland.  Tyler is letting some age longer, as well -- the latest I've heard is that he's planning his next release at five years.  The character of this whisky is sure to get even better with a couple of more years in the barrel.  If you're a whisky fan, I highly recommend getting your hands on a bottle of the the three-year-old, though.  This is a rare opportunity.


An extra early peak at The Dubh Glas Distillery

The First Tasting at The Dubh Glass On an overcast but still beautiful day in the Okanagan I had the opportunity to meet Grant Stevely, soon-to-be-master-distiller at The Dubh Glass Distillery in Oliver, BC.  Located just a few minutes north of the Oliver town centre, right on Highway 97, work is just starting on their purpose-built distillery, with an expected completion date of December 2013.

Grant was a welcoming host and gave my wife and me the honour of being the first people to taste some spirits at the distillery -- we sampled some Still Waters Stalk & Barrel Single Malt from Concord, Ontario, Saskatoon's LB Distillers Gambit Gin, and some Masterson's Rye.

I was stuck by the strong vision and that Grant has for his distillery, as well as his forward thinking.  While he will produce other spirits which are sure to be a treat, his focus is on creating craft single malt whisky.  He is lucky to be just down the road from Canada's largest cooperage, Okanagan Barrel Works, so he will have the opportunity to explore different finishes and build a close relationship with a local barrel maker.  In addition, Grant has plans to explore the opportunities that come with being surrounded by wineries in every direction looking to offload their spent barrels, which have been soaked in all sorts of interesting flavours.  We're sure to see some innovative stuff come out of a it.

The Dubh Glass represents for us another example of the exciting future of BC distilleries -- passionate distillers who are helping BC to become a major source of innovative craft spirits. I can't wait to see them up and running.

A Small But Shining Local Presence at a Dram Come True

Every year Vancouver's own Writers Festival holds a fundraiser called a Dram Come True. It's focused on Single Malt Scotch, with some Irish, Canadian and Japanese whiskies thrown in for good measure. After a two or three year hiatus I decided it was time to visit and see how things have changed. In the past it was held in a private mansion in Shaughnessy. It was packed full of people, but you could wander the awesome grounds with a a scotch in hand and if it's your thing light up a big ol' cigar to help you with some existential contemplation.

Pemberton Distillery Single Malt

This year it was held at Hycroft House. It was a much bigger location, which meant more room to move around. The lines at the tables were still there, but it was definitely more roomy. Leave your cigars at home, though, as the new property doesn't allow them.

The event held the usual suspects, such as Macallan, Ardbeg, some very nice Caol Ila, and so on.  Also making a strong appearance was the Canadian version of the Scotch Malt Whisky Society, whose headquarters in Leith, Scotland some of us might consider to be close to the centre of the universe. This is definitely not an event to highlight the best of Canadian or BC spirits, though.

One treat was the presence of Pemberton Distillery, tucked away from the other tables. And they came prepared - serving their soon to be bottled single malt whisky, aged in bourbon barrels and barely three years old. It was a treat, to say the least. I tried one forgettable ten year old Canadian Rye Whisky which had nothing on our Tyler's newest product.  It's coming in September this year and I cannot wait.

I think ADCT has lost a bit of its heart moving to the bigger location, but it's still a great event and it's fun to support the Writer's Festival. If they can get more BC-based whiskies in the years to come it will make it all the more special.