Posts Tagged ‘Stephen Beaumont’

The Laird of Fintry has Landed

Tuesday, November 5th, 2013

author-beaumontIt’s been a good year for Canada’s Okanagan Spirits. To begin with, a break on the standard retail mark-up in the provincially-owned liquor stores for distillers using locally-grown ingredients – which this fruit belt operation does exclusively – was rather unexpectedly announced in the early spring by the government of the company’s home province of British Columbia.  Then came word from the World Spirits Competition in Klagenfurt, Austria, where Okanagan Spirits was awarded not only World Class Distillery certification, but also the titles of Distillery of the Year 2013 and Spirit of the Year 2013, the latter for their Blackcurrant Liqueur.

Now a six-year project has finally come to completion with the arrival of Laird of Fintry Single Malt Whisky, distilled from 100% British Columbia-grown barley and aged in French and American oak. Although no doubt better known for their fruit-based eaux de vie lof.bottleshotand Taboo Absinthe, the Laird of Fintry is in many ways a landmark release for Okanagan Spirits, representing in production and aging almost a full two-thirds of the distillery’s existence.

“At the time, we weren’t sure we could even make a whisky, so it was more of an experiment than anything else,” explains Rodney Goodchild, marketing and operations director for Okanagan Spirits. “We had a brewery make the wash for us and were able to distill just a single barrel out of it. Then, as time went on, we kept tasting it and tasting it until at about eighteen months we realized that it was evolving into something quite nice.”

The whisky is titled with the nickname given to an early 20th century settler, James Cameron Dun Waters, who named what is now the Fintry Estate provincial park for his Scottish hometown. The distillery has been producing about a dozen barrels of whisky per year, says Goodchild. So while that initial run has resulted in rather meagre release – leading to a lottery-style sale that had 1,527 people vying for an opportunity to buy the a mere 210 bottles of the whisky – there will be more available next year and in the years to come. One key to Okanagan generating more whisky for sale will definitely be a change in what can only in the loosest of terms be called “warehousing.”

“The distillery has no real warehouse,” says Goodchild, noting that the only other significantly aged product is an 18 month old apple brandy, “So we’re currently storing the barrels in the retail area. The problem is, with the changes in temperature and the dryness of our winters, we estimate that we’re losing about 12% of the spirit per year.” Okanagan Spirits aims to reduce that overly generous angel’s share with the construction of a glass walled barrel room adjacent to their current retail space and tasting bar.

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Distiller Peter von Hahn

As for the whisky itself, its nose is possessed of a surprising maturity for a spirit so relatively young, with aromas of plum, cooked pear, and stewed and spiced raisins accompanying the expected notes of vanilla and toffee. On the palate, however, its youthfulness shines, with ample but integrated oakiness and effusive, sweet notes of both fresh and baked pear, apple and yellow plum, caramel and baking spice, all leading to a still fruity, vanilla-accented finish.

Although it is obviously a grain-based spirit, the Laird of Fintry seems to channel the character of many of its stablemates in the Okanagan Spirits portfolio, specifically the fruit eaux de vie for which the distillery is becoming quite famous. As an operation committed to the use of local ingredients, that is not at all a bad thing.

True, in this batch and at this age, the whisky is not likely to excite anyone approaching it in search of Speyside or Highland complexities, or even the simpler charms of a pot-distilled Irish whiskey. But in terms of speaking to its terroir in the one of the largest fruit-growing regions in Canada, it can only be considered a success, and a harbinger of greater things to come from western Canada’s original and arguably greatest and most successful craft distillery.

Visiting Forty Creek Distillery and tasting their new whiskies

Thursday, August 23rd, 2012

Stephen Beaumont, Whisky Advocate contributor, fills us in on his visit  to Forty Creek distillery and gives us a sneak peak of some new whiskies they are about to release.

John Hall, the man behind Forty Creek whisky, turned me around on Canadian whisky.

I was an aficionado of many different spirits, including whiskies and whiskeys, but the Canadian stuff had never moved me, not even back in the 1990’s when Corby experimented with its ill-fated trio of spirits marketed as the Canadian Whisky Guild. Then Hall emerged from the shadows of Niagara Falls with his Forty Creek Barrel Select, composed of corn, barley and rye whiskies separately distilled and aged for up to a decade, then blended into what remains one of the great values of the whisky world.

I was moved. Not to category love, mind you, but along the path towards Canadian whisky acceptance. His special editions—Double Barrel, John’s Private Cask No. 1 and, especially, Confederation Oak—plus assorted finally-stepping-up-to-the-plate releases from bigger names like Wiser’s and Crown Royal, sealed the deal. Finally I could drink Canadian and hold my head high.

So it was odd that, despite the distillery being a short hour’s drive from my Toronto home, I had never visited Kittling Ridge Estate Wines & Spirits, as Hall’s distillery is known. Or rather, was known.

The occasion that ultimately led me down the highway was the August re-branding of the business, plus the release of three new or almost-new products: the once-before-seen Port Wood Reserve, the premium Copper Pot Reserve and the new Cream, Canada’s first-ever home-spun whisky cream liqueur.

You’ll read more about these three brands once our resident Canadian whisky guy, Lew Bryson, gets his palate around them—hint: the Port Wood Reserve is superior to its initial incarnation, and the Copper Pot is true to its “amped up” billing—so I’ll instead tell you a bit about the “new” Forty Creek Distillery.

Now two decades old, the renaming of the company is representative of the fact that Hall says 90% of his production is now spirits, which include brandy and vodka, in addition to the whisky line. With Forty Creek Barrel Select now the seventh largest selling spirit in Canada’s most populous province, you can guess what the comprises the bulk of those spirits.

With increased whisky production, of course, comes a need for increased space, and to that end Hall has expanded his distillery twice to a total of 175,000 square feet, in which he houses 40,000 barrels, with an additional 60,000 stored offsite. That’s a lot of barrelage relative to Hall’s production, but it’s needed due to his insistence on maturing his component whiskies separately prior to blending and further aging them in his own sherry barrels.

Overall, it makes for an impressive tour, one which is open to the general public Tuesday through Sunday or by appointment for groups. Or, if you’re in the area in mid-September, during Forty Creek’s already large and rapidly growing Whisky Weekend, occurring this year on September 15 and 16. For further details, visit www.fortycreekwhisky.com/whatsnew.html.