A whisky lovers’ road trip

New transnational trail showcases world-class single malts from the Pacific Northwest

On the Vancouver Island leg of the trail, sippers can discover drams from Goldstream, Macaloney’s and Shelter Point distilleries. Reece Sims photo

Whisky enthusiasts have a new reason to raise a glass with the launch of the Northwest Whiskey Trail. The trail, which takes visitors on a journey to some of the best single malt distilleries in the Pacific Northwest, is set to become a must-visit destination for both locals and tourists alike.

Comprising seven distilleries, this transnational trail takes visitors through some of the most beautiful and scenic parts of the region, including the rugged coastlines of British Columbia, the verdant temperate rainforests of Washington State and unspoiled woodlands overlooking stunning city views in Oregon.

Graeme Macaloney, owner of Macaloney Island Distillery in Victoria, first had the idea of creating a whisky trail after realizing how rich the region was with talent. “I could see that the region had some truly world-class distilleries. Macaloney’s, Shelter Point, Westland, Westward and the other participating distilleries have been receiving critical acclaim at the World Whiskies Awards and San Francisco World Spirits Competition,” he notes. “In addition, several of us are exporting our single malts internationally. If we’re building a presence abroad, why not invite more tourism here and put our whisky region on the map?”

Seattle’s Westland Distillery has produced a range of whiskeys showcasing local terroir. Facebook.com/WestlandDistillery photo

Local Provenance

Scotland may have had a profound influence on the characterization of traditional single malt whisky making for decades; however, these Pacific Northwest distilleries are becoming internationally recognized through their re-interpretations of tradition and by creatively curating modern releases that showcase the provenance of the region.

“I am seeing in the marketplace that connoisseurs and new whisky drinkers alike are moving past the big spirits producers and are wanting to explore the great craft distilleries that are coming along,” Macaloney says. “And the northwest is leading the way in this craft boom.”

All seven distilleries along the trail are utilizing locally sourced malts from their respective province or state. This is essential not only for preserving regional flavour profiles, but for creating a sense of place that connects tourists with the communities and ecosystems where these whiskies are being produced. 

Westland Distillery in Seattle is truly at the forefront of showcasing local provenance, in particular with its Outpost Range, which aims to explore central raw ingredients that emphasize the terroir of the Pacific Northwest. For example, the Colere releases explore the impact of different strains of barley, while the Garryana edition uses this native species of oak during maturation.

These Westland expressions use varying varietals of malted barley, as do most of the other distilleries on the trail except for Goldstream Distillery in Duncan, B.C. Typically, “single malt” would refer to a whisky made from 100 per cent malted barley at a single distillery. In the case of Goldstream Distillery, their inaugural single malt release, coming in spring 2024, will be made from 100 per cent malted rye. This expression will be a one-time, small batch release, so if you’re not planning on visiting the distillery during that time, their cherrywood-finished rye whisky (which is readily available) will still provide you with a unique tasting experience.

Smoke from the West

For many whisky enthusiasts, peated whisky is not just a drink, but a way of life. It embodies the spirit of adventure and exploration, and its appeal lies in its ability to transport drinkers to the rugged, windswept landscapes of Scotland and other peat-producing regions. This same spirit of adventure can now be experienced in the Pacific Northwest where a number of these featured distilleries have found modern, award-winning methods by which to incorporate smoke into their expressions.

Some of the distilleries along the trail have utilized Washington-sourced peat to create expressions that are different from any peated Scottish whisky that one may have formerly tried. 

“Different” doesn’t always mean better. However, in this case, it most certainly does. Macaloney Island Distillery recently won the Best Canadian Single Cask Single Malt category at the World Whiskies Awards for The Peat Project: Single Cask Portuguese Red Wine Barrique made with Washington Peat this year. Similarly, Westland Solum – Edition 1 (another expression from their Outpost Range, which focuses on peat), was named World’s Best American Single Malt also at the World Whiskies Awards.

The Smoke Point from Shelter Point is aged in barrels that have been smoked with driftwood from the shores and woodlands around the Campbell River distillery. This unconventional method of imparting a subtle smoke note to the whisky has led to a Double Gold in the Canadian Whisky category at the 2022 San Francisco World Spirits Competition.

Copperworks Distilling in Seattle collaborates with colleagues in Oregon. Facebook.com/CopperworksDistilling photo

Craft Collaboration

Oregon’s brewery industry is a haven for beer lovers and a testament to the state’s longstanding tradition of craft brewing. With more than 300 breweries scattered throughout the state, Oregon has one of the highest per capita brewery rates in the U.S. Westward Whiskey was born from Portland’s craft brew traditions and, as such, combines American whiskey making with craft-brewing techniques. In particular, their use of ale yeasts for fermentation and ex-beer cask finishes produces bold and balanced expressions that have been recognized with gold medals at the San Francisco World Spirits Awards. 

While Copperworks Distillery is located in Seattle, they, too, have worked with Oregon-based breweries to produce beer-cask-finished whiskies including, most recently, the Hair of the Dog Brewing Cask Finish Collection.

What breweries are to Oregon, wineries are to British Columbia. Similarly possessing over 300 licensed grape wine wineries, the province’s wine industry is at the forefront in Canada. In B.C., Shelter Point’s Evans Family Reserve range features annual releases utilizing specialty cask finishes. Their current release is a wine-cask-finished expression using a combination of ex-B.C. Syrah, Foch and Pinot Noir casks. 

Overall, the Northwest Whiskey Trail showcases world-class single-malt distilleries and also offers visitors a unique opportunity to explore the region’s rich history, culture and natural beauty. “From a hint of salt on the back end of the palate, a note of wet pine forest, or the use of local grains, it will be interesting to see if tourists find a coastal influence or northwest style in the whiskies or not,” Macaloney says.

Visit all seven distilleries on the trail and and you can earn an handsome Glencairn glass. Northwest Whiskey Trail photo

Whether you’re a whisky connoisseur or simply looking for an unforgettable travel experience, the Northwest Whiskey Trail is a must-visit destination. For those who dare adventure to all seven locations, a completed passport (which can be acquired at any location) will not only give you bragging rights, but will also earn you a custom etched Northwest Whiskey Trail Glencairn glass that cannot be bought, only earned. 

—by Reece Sims

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