Alberta's first single malt whisky being distilled in Turner Valley
Eau Claire Distillery hopes to have a quality whisky ready to sell in about 3 years
Whisky lovers in Alberta will soon have a local product to taste.
The province's first craft distillery, Turner Valley-based Eau Claire, is trying its hand at making single malt whisky.
Eau Claire won't call it scotch, because the operation isn't based in Scotland, but that's what they're making.
"This is the first single malt distillery in Alberta. Which is ironic, really, because we are the greatest grain producer in the world. We produce barley that we ship to Scotland so they can make scotch, so it's unusual that it's taken this long to get a single malt facility in the province," Eau Claire president David Farran said.
The whisky-making process starts in a custom-made still that was built in Bavaria, Germany. Farran says it's the best equipment in the world.
The product is then moved to a warehouse, where an effort is made to mimic authentic Scottish conditions.
"We're really trying to replicate what would be a dunnage warehouse in Scotland. We're replicating the humidity, by having a clay floor, that we regularly irrigate, so the humidity comes from the floor just as it would in Scotland. And we actually really like the Alberta variations in temperature," he said.
A single malt whisky will only be as delicious as the barrel it's aged in, and Farran says he has that covered too.
"We're doing a lot of different things here, we're putting it in a lot of different types of barrels. We have barrels that we've got from all over the world, including 100-year-old sherry casks," he said.
Farran says this wouldn't be possible if the Alberta government didn't drop a minimum production requirement in 2013.
That was welcome news for micro breweries that produce beer, but the law also applies to spirits.
"The changes made it possible. We couldn't have built this facility without the Alberta government changing," Farran said.
A changing scene
A local whisky retailer says this is good news for the Alberta whisky scene.
Andrew Ferguson owns Kensington Wine Market, a Calgary liquor store that was recently named the second best whiskey retailer in the world.
Ferguson is excited about a craft micro-distilery in Alberta.
"I've heard some favourable reports coming from it, and if they follow through and produce good whisky then I think that's something Albertans can be proud of," he said. "But at the end of the day it still has to be good."
Since this is the first batch, the crew at Eau Claire don't know what the final product is going to taste like.
"Yeah, you're always nervous about it. I mean, I think we've done everything we can to make sure that it's going to be a world class product. But you never know. You don't know what it's going to be at the end, because you're tasting it along the way, but it's going to be three, five, 10, 15 years before you're tasting the final product," he said.
Farran says that final product will reflect the flavours of Alberta.
"One thing that you won't get out of our product is peat, because that's not a naturally occurring thing in Alberta. We're trying to make it very much an Alberta product. But you'll get a very nice, mellow, nice tasting whisky."
Eau Claire hopes to have a quality whisky ready to sell in about three years.