Fine Whisky: Call it a busman’s holiday if you will. A Scotch whisky guy on vacation seeks out what is billed as “North America’s Only Single Malt Whisky Distillery” in Glenville, Cape Breton, Nova Scotia. The Ceilidh Trail meanders through places reminiscent of being in Scotland – Dunvegan and Inverness, to name a few. We hug the spectacular and craggy sea coast then turn inland and gasp at the floral explosions and wooded beauty of gentle glens. The distinctive pagoda chimney of the distillery comes into view first, then the sign: Glenora Distillery. I am reminded of the approach to Glenfiddich in Dufftown, Scotland, driving through the rolling Conval Hills. Glenfiddich’s pagodas are equally as arresting, and offer a silent “Welcome”.
“We never call it Scotch – it’s single malt Canadian whisky” advises tour guide Terry MacDonald, to one of the guests on our tour. Terry continues: “To be called Scotch, it needs to be distilled and aged in Scotland”. Knowing that I am on the tour, Terry asks if I would like to offer additional information. I explain that when the newly-distilled liquid goes from still to cask it is crystal clear, and is called “New Make Spirit” for the first three years of aging. In Scotland it becomes “whisky” or “Scotch” upon its fourth birthday, and continues to age for many more years.
I am fascinated to experience the similarities between Glenora and Glenfiddich as we progress on the tour, starting with the water source.
Water is one of only three ingredients used to make single malt whisky. Glenora’s water source is MacLellan’s Brook adjacent to the distillery. At Glenfiddich, the underground water source is the Robbie Dhu (pronounced “do”) spring, located on a hillside above the distillery. Water is so important in the whisky-making process that the discovery of the spring determined the location of where William Grant built his Glenfiddich distillery in 1886.
Barley, another of the three ingredients in single malt whisky (the third is yeast) is trucked to each distillery from commercial malting companies after drying the germinated barley to exact specifications.
The mash tuns (large wooden vats) used at each distillery to mix together grist and water are made from Douglas Fir from the U.S. Pacific Northwest.
Ageing warehouses and bottling facilities are located on-site at both distilleries. The unmistakable, lovely aroma of maturing whisky, in wooden casks resting on earthen floors has the same effect whether one is at Glenora or Glenfiddich.
Guided tours and stunning landscaping are the hallmarks of most distilleries. In fact, Glenfiddich is celebrating its 40th Anniversary of welcoming the public into its distillery – the first distillery to do so.
The people. Perhaps, above all, it is the passion, experience, and knowledge of the people at the distilleries, both out front and behind the scenes, that make distillery visiting such a wonderful experience. Sampling a wee dram straight from a cask, letting sweet smelling barley trickle through your fingers, knocking on the ends of casks to determine the level of the liquid inside, or tasting a small amount of New Make Spirit (be careful here – it’s well over 120-proof!) are just some of the pleasant memories to be made.
Glenora’s primary expressions are the 10 year old Glen Breton Rare and the 15 year old Glen Breton Single Barrel. Also offered is a 14 year old cask strength Glen Breton that visitors can bottle themselves from a cask at the reception center.
Ironically, on the day I visited Glenora Distillery, the world press announced the launch of Glenfiddich 50-year-old single malt. This extraordinarily rare whisky is offered in the United States at the rate of only six bottles per year, for the next few years. Glenfiddich also recently released a new 15-year-old single malt called Glenfiddich-The Distillery Edition. This whisky is non-chill filtered and bottled at 51% alcohol by volume (102 proof). Other Glenfiddich offerings in the United States are 12-, 15-, 18-, 21-, 30-, and 40-year old single malts.
Leaving the Glenora Distillery in a light, misty rain reminds me of similar departures from Glenfiddich. With my memory recharged with the sights, sounds, smells, tastes, and energy of the distillery, I’ll never forget the parting words from a friend as we held tight to our rain hats and dodged around streams of water in the parking lot: “Och – it’s a great day for makin’ whisky!”
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