When smoke gets in your glass

Bearface blender makes the most of Canada’s flexible rules in his whisky-mezcal mashup

Bearface master blender Andres Faustinelli. Supplied photo

Consider Andres Faustinelli an industry disrupter, in the best possible way.

“The beauty of this project was in our mind from day one,” says the master blender for Bearface Spirits. “The whole idea with Bearface is we’re going to showcase what we can do in Canada, and be way open about it. We’re going to be disrupting and having fun.”

When the Venezuelan-born Faustinelli, who had worked for Diageo for many years, was hired to create a new Canadian whisky brand, he leaped at the opportunity. The appeal? The rules—or lack of them—around Canadian whisky offer creative freedoms few other spirits do.

Chief among them is the so-called One Eleven Rule, which allows a blender to add one part “flavouring” to 10 parts whisky and still call it whisky. (Canadian whisky is defined as a grain sprit that is at least 40% ABV and has been aged in a small wooden cask for at least three years.)

“In Canada you are allowed to add up to 9.09% of wine, Port or spirit. They call it flavourings, but in reality it’s wine,” says Faustinelli. “My approach is to disclose what we’re adding, so: One Eleven.”

Bearface One Eleven Oaxaca Release contains about nine per cent espadin mezcal. Supplied photo

His One Eleven series will feature premium flavoured whiskies starting with the One Eleven Oaxaca Release, which contains about nine per cent espadin mezcal, the first time ever this blend has been attempted. “I felt mezcal would bring so many elements that you would never expect in a whisky,” Faustinelli says.

Now, you might be thinking this is at best a questionable idea, and more likely a terrible one. This, after all, is how we get sticky concoctions like pumpkin-spice-flavoured whisky. But One Eleven Oaxaca is actually delicious.

It has appealing aromas of smoke, grass, pineapple, spice, chocolate and loads of bright agave character on the nose. On the first sip, the whisky character comes through at first, notes of sweet grain, caramel and vanilla, followed by the smoky mezcal, which lingers on a long finish. And as it sits in the glass, hints of flowers and earthiness emerge.

“It’s crazy, but the whisky actually enhances the mezcal,” Faustinelli says. “You taste almost that wet soil aroma, that petrichor, when it’s about to rain.

It helps, of course, that the mezcal is produced by master mezcalero Pedro Hernandez, whose family has been making the agave-based spirit in Oaxaca for more than 200 years. Because they take eight to 12 years to mature, agaves “are like sponges,” absorbing the myriad aromas and flavours in their environment, Faustinelli says. They are then pit-roasted, additional layers of smoky flavour, before being fermented and distilled into mezcal. “It is by far the most terroir-driven spirit in the world.”

The One Eleven Oaxaca will only be available for a short time and is just the first in a series, though Faustinelli wouldn’t reveal what other ideas he has in mind. But given that his first project, 2018’s Bearface Triple Wood, won nine national and international awards, including Best New Whisky at the 2019 Canadian Whisky Awards, we can be sure it will be something exciting and new.

“We’re going to discover how far we can go with this regulation,” Faustinelli says. “I think we can completely change the game.”

The Bearface One Eleven Oaxaca Release retails for suggested price of $49.99; for more info, visit bearfacewhisky.com.

—by Joanne Sasvari

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