Monday, January 13, 2014

Glenora Distillery on Cape Breton

I really want to like this whisky. I lived in Scotland for two years, I really love malt whisky, I am proud of my Scottish-Canadian roots, and the concept of an authentic single malt distillery in Canada is truly exciting. But like whole roasted barley in the grist mill, my expectations were crushed due to poor customer service and a below average product.

I visited Nova Scotia this past summer to meet my girlfriend's family and to enjoy my first tryst with bawdy Maritime culture. I loved Nova Scotia. In fact, the more time that passes the more fondly I look back at those two and a half weeks. We essentially drove around the entire province: visiting Lunenburg on the South Shore, then up to Cumberland to see Advocate Harbour and Cape Chignecto, then through the apple-filled Annapolis Valley for a stay in Bear River (the Venice of Nova Scotia), and then east to Cape Breton. Cape Breton was a highlight because of its insular character, Acadian quirkiness, outstanding hiking, and gastronomical attractions. Cape Breton has a large number of farms, great access to seafood, and a surprising number of boutique liquor producers. We stumbled upon an emerging craft brewery in the middle of nowhere (just outside of an intersection known as Nyanza) called Big Spruce, and the celebrated Nova Scotia winery Jost is known to use grapes from Cape Breton on a regular basis. Another aqueous attraction on this little island is Glenora Distillery.

Established in 1989 and perhaps best known for its court case with the Scottish Whisky Association, rather than for its scotch, Glenora is one of the few distilleries in North America that is producing a single malt whisky; that is, a whisky that is made from 100% barley from a single distillery. We took a tour of the distillery, which was very short and restricted for $7 per head, and then checked out the gift shop which was run by a brusque middle-aged termagant. Glenora basically makes two products: Glen Breton Rare 10-Year Single Malt and Glen Breton Rare Ice. The Ice is very similar to the regular 10-year except for the fact that it is aged in Jost ice wine barrels. We tried both while at the distillery and found the standard Breton Rare to be unconcentrated, harsh, and bland. The alcohol was very evident as well, and the use of absolutely zero peat did nothing to improve this whisky's lacklustre character. The Ice was better, however. One of my favourite single malts in the world is Edradour's Port Barrel whisky and the Breton Ice has a similar multi-layered profile and honeyed finish.

I am glad that I have a bottle of North America's top selling single malt whisky in my liquor cabinet. It is an okay dram, and I enjoy buying consumables from the source, but Glenora needs to do a lot of work before it can compete with any of the operations in Scotland.

Keywords: "Edradour Port Finish", "Jost Ice Wine", "Alex Dawkins"

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