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Toast to Robbie Burns with these whiskies from Shelter Point, Odd Society and Devine Distillery.
I like to think of myself as a qualified booster of all things British Columbia. If there’s a wine, a restaurant or a spirit that shines there’ll be no one who boosts more than I. But I won’t get behind something just because it’s local if the quality isn’t there—not just out of principle, but because in the long run it doesn’t do the brand or the consumer any good in this international marketplace we live in.
And for the longest time, single malts in B.C. weren’t there yet for me. They were interesting and ambitious, but quality wise they were way too expensive for the level of sophistication they were offering. And then suddenly it changed. Ok, nothing is sudden in the world of Single Malt Whisky, where age is all important and is measured in years. But starting about three years ago, when I would blind taste the Single Malt entrants in the Canadian Artisan Spirits Competition, the result wasn’t harshness, but a wonderful surprise. Two years ago was better still, and last year I was blown away by the quality. Sadly, because they were blind, I can’t 100% tell you which ones I loved (the results for this year’s competition will be announced February 15th), but here are three I’ve been trying over the last few years that I can (hand on my heart) say stand toe-to-toe with their Scottish counterparts.
Shelter Point has been the standard-bearer for the local single malt industry since 2011, and the tough reality is that nothing beats the combination of time and experience to create good whisky. Shelter Point’s earlier offerings were interesting, but their current line is good. Really, really good. Frankly they don’t put out any duds at all: the most obvious entry for a beginner is their “Classic Single Malt,” which is a sophisticated, classy dram. But I’m going to go for their smoke point because it’s aged in barrels smoked with driftwood for a local take on the peat fires that smoke Islay whisky (those smoke the grain not the barrels, but let’s not be nitpicky). It’s a lovely mash-up of traditional and experimental.
I used to have a totally unfair suspicion of gin and vodka distillers who migrated into whisky. But hey, the economics of whisky more or less require a distiller either to have a huge pile of money or do something to keep the doors open while the whisky matures. One of the bottles that helped shake me of my narrow-minded prejudice was the Commodore from Odd Society. I tasted it blind and it presented like a warm, Lowland Scotch, with a surprising level of finesse given its relatively young age. I also loved that you could buy it in a 375ml, meaning an enthusiast could dip their toe in for a mere $30, which is a great way to win fans. But my pick here is a whisky that I’ve never tasted—it was just released Thursday. It’s distillers Gordon Glanz and Joel McNichol’s special single barrel bottling just for Robbie Burns and it’s a 5-year old that’s matured in ex-bourbon barrels (like so many Scottish Single Malts are). The distillery is having celebrations all weekend and again on the 26th to celebrate Robbie Burns—seems sacrilege not to stop by.
What is it about the Island and single malt? You have Shelter Point, the excellent Macaloney’s Caledonian (which I have less experience with, otherwise they’d be here too) and then Devine. The Victoria distillery has made a name for itself by crafting stellar whiskies out of oddball ingredients (spelt, emmer and khorosan) that we waxed about here, but their take on a single malt is similarly inspired. It enters the palate all fresh and citrusy but ends with much richer, sweeter baking spice notes. A winner—super cool bottle, too.