Roll out the barrel

Surrey’s Central City may have begun as beer brewers, but they are fast becoming one of B.C.’s most important distillers of single malt.

Central City has 1,400 barrels of single malt aging right now.

He may have a lengthy career in brewing behind him, but Gary Lohin is clear: “I’ve been a whisky aficionado for even longer.”

He got his start in beer at Whistler Brewing back in 1989, before spending most of the 1990s at Sailor Hagar’s Brewpub in North Vancouver. He moved to Central City Brewpub in Surrey in 2003 where his Red Racer beer lineup established him as one of B.C.’s top brewmasters. It was on trips to Oregon and California that he visited microdistilleries and began noticing that breweries there were adding stills. So, when Central City began planning its new production facility in 2010, Lohin suggested to his business partner that they should add a distillery.

“It didn’t take me too long to convince him,” Lohin recalls. “With the amount of money we were spending on the brewery, the cost of the stills was a fraction. It was a no-brainer.”

We’re using the same innovation and experimentation that we do in our craft brewing and applying it to our distilling program.

When the new facility opened in 2013, they cranked up their German Holstein stills immediately, putting down washes and distilling batches of vodka and gin that were released soon after. But Lohin was most excited about the single malt aging in barrels, patiently awaiting the three-year mark when it could legally be released as whisky in Canada.

Working with Lohin is Stuart McKinnon, Central City’s head distiller. Lohin brews the wash and then McKinnon handles the distilling process. Lohin has “direction on styles and where we want to go,” and gets involved in the blending process as well.

According to McKinnon, Central City has about 1,400 barrels in use right now and should be up to 1,750 to 1,800 by the end of 2017. Most of that is single malt whisky made from Canadian pale malt aged mainly in used bourbon or Tennessee whisky barrels. “We also have a significant amount aging in Oloroso sherry, Pedro Ximenez, port, Sauternes, Muscat, Madeira,Tokaji, new French oak, and Oregon oak,” he notes.

They’ve also barrelled some heavily peated single malt, as well as some experimental batches that include 30 per cent chocolate malt (traditionally used to make porters and stouts). “You really can taste it in the whisky,” Lohin says. “We’re using the same innovation and experimentation that we do in our craft brewing and applying it to our distilling program.”

Central City is putting more whisky into barrels all the time and plans to build a new warehouse where more barrels can be stored. Lohin, the whisky lover, is already excited about the prospect of releasing whiskies aged for eight and 10 years in the future.

COMING SOON: Since late 2016, Central City has released two batches of Lohin-McKinnon Single Malt Whisky along with the Canada 150-themed 150th Anniversary Lightly Peated Malt Rye Whisky (a blend of peated malt aged in sherry barrels and malted rye aged in bourbon barrels). A third whisky will be released later this fall, featuring four-year-old single malt aged in Pipe (a port-style fortified wine) barrels from Summerland’s Black Sage Vineyard.

—by Joe Wiebe

Read more about Central City Brewers and Distillers.

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