BC distilleries aim to produce world-class whisky

Surrey’s Central City Brewers + Distillers launched its Lohin McKinnon single malt whisky last week. Central City photo.

Ever since the first drops of elixir trickled from a local craft still more than a decade ago, whisky lovers have been waiting to taste a true made-in-BC single malt.

And now, we can.

Last week, Surrey’s Central City Brewers + Distillers launched its Lohin McKinnon single malt whisky, joining a handful of small-batch BC distilleries that are producing the water of life (and even more that have whisky quietly aging in barrels).

“It’s really a wonderful whisky,” says Davin de Kergommeaux, whisky historian and author of the book Canadian Whisky: The Portable Expert. “This is not cowboy whisky. This is whisky that is mature and balanced.”

Lohin McKinnon single malt is a light, easy-drinking whisky that is enjoyable on its own, but versatile enough for cocktails: pale straw in colour, with a delicate balance of grain and fruit, mostly vanilla but with a hint of soft spice, and a smooth mouthfeel. It has a surprising depth for a spirit that was in the barrel for only three years.

Although Central City is best known for its award-winning beers, making spirits – especially whisky – was always part of the plan, says brewmaster Gary Lohin, whose name, along with that of head distiller Stuart McKinnon, adorns the bottle. “I could see what was happening in the US and I saw [spirits] as the next wave,” he says.

The distillery has already proved successful with its vodka and gin, but whisky takes time – a minimum of three years’ aging in barrels – and money, too: Those shiny copper Holstein stills don’t come cheap, and neither do the barrels, let alone the cost of storing them. “We think each barrel is retailing for 15 grand, and then it’s tied up [with aging] for three years before you can sell anything,” says Lohin.

While other regions in North America are exploring rye and corn whiskies, BC’s distillers are focusing on barley. The Lohin McKinnon single malt, for instance, is made from 100 per cent Canadian barley, mostly from Alberta, with a few promising barrels of BC malt tucked away. Lohin and McKinnon are also experimenting with different styles of whisky, trying a variety of malts and barrel finishes, and even a heavily peated whisky. “I think we have 15 different barrels – mostly Tennessee whisky and bourbon barrels, but also sherry and fortified wines,” says McKinnon. “We’re up to 1,200 barrels, and every year is a little bigger production.”

So far, the response has been overwhelmingly positive. “We get a lot of people who are surprised,” says Lohin. “That it’s from BC is a surprise, and that it’s only three years old is a surprise.”

All of this is just want de Kergommeaux likes to see. “Why would we make malted whisky in Canada when the Scots already perfected it? Because we can do it our way,” he says. “We make fabulous whisky here in Canada.”

As Lohin says,  “We’re trying to put some excitement in the Canadian whisky business. I think BC is going to lead the way in Canada. It’s taking off in the way craft beer did.”

Central City’s Lohin McKinnon single malt whisky is available for a suggested price of $59.99 at BC Liquor Stores, private retailers, and the distillery in Surrey. For more info, visit CentralCityBrewing.com.

BC’s whisky club

With its Lohin McKinnon single malt, Central City joins these other small whisky-producing BC distilleries.

Okanagan Spirits
Rye and corn whiskies are currently available. Laird of Fintry single malt whisky is available once a year by lottery only. OkanaganSpirits.com

Pemberton Distillery
Their single malt whisky is available in limited quantities. PembertonDistillery.ca

Shelter Point Distillery makes a single malt whisky. ShelterPoint.ca

Victoria Distillers’ Craigdarroch Whisky is currently sold out. Watch their website for details of the next release. VictoriaDistillers.com

Liberty Distillery currently offers its limited-release organic Trust Whiskey. TheLibertyDistillery.com

Odd Society Spirits’ Mongrel unaged rye is currently available. Rye and barley whiskies are aging in barrel. OddSocietySpirits.com

Dubh Glas Distillery’s Virgin Spirits Barley unaged whisky is currently available. Single malt whisky is aging in barrel. TheDubhGlasDistillery.com

De Vine’s Glen Saanich single malt is currently sold out. Watch their website for details of the next release. DeVineVineyards.ca

—by Joanne Sasvari

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