The whisky community thrives in Victoria. In the short time since my arrival in Canada I have been invited to numerous whisky events. The best named event so far is ‘Scotchpocalypse’. This gathering of the faithful involved everyone bringing a bottle of single malt Scotch to the table. The bottles were lined up and sampled in turn, with a wee bit of discussion about each one. Of course, by the time you get to the fifth or sixth all the formalities are thrown out of the window and it descends into a house party.
The Scotch Malt Whisky Society (SMWS) is present in town too. Held monthly at the Strathcona, every tasting I have been to so far has been sold out (approximately 50 seats). There is a palpable buzz around the room as each whisky is announced following a blind tasting. Demand is so high for the bottles that most are snapped up within minutes of being revealed. This is despite prices being far higher than what I am used to back in Scotland. A typical 10 year old will go for C$170 (£110) and older whiskies typically C$250 (£160) and beyond.
Even in sleepy Sidney there are some great whisky events to be had. I am now a ‘member in good standing’ with the Sidney chapter of the International Order of the Companions of the Quaich. The effort put in by Thom and Viola into the tastings is outstanding. A booklet is produced that details tasting notes, fun facts and distillery profiles. Last month we enjoyed a vertical tasting of Glen Garioch, including the rare Vintage 1995 which was the last to use peated malt. I am even more excited however by what is to come – a Supernumeracy Brora tasting. Brora distillery in north-east Scotland closed in 1983 and is a precious find in any whisky bar. The chance to try these rare whiskies 5,000 miles from their origin is an unusual privilege.
In January, Victoria will host its annual international whisky festival. Representatives from distilleries around the world will be present to show off there spirits and meet friends old and new. I have been asked to be part of one such event, representing Victoria Distillers at the tasting and discussion panel of BC distillers. I can’t wait to be a part of it. People will willingly queue at 2am in the morning to grab tickets for master classes when they are released next weekend. I am most impressed by the dedication and determination of whisky-mad Victorians to ensure a place at the official ‘Scotchpocalypse’!
Two and a half years ago I left the banking industry for the last time not knowing where the distilling journey would lead. All I knew was that being part of the whisky industry is something that I would enjoy every day. I had no idea that I would end up 5,000 miles away in a little place called Sidney. The number plates on local cars proclaim ‘Beautiful British Columbia’ – and they are not wrong. The west coast of Canada is blessed with gorgeous islands, stunning coastline and an abundance of incredible wildlife. Victoria Distillers (formerly Victoria Spirits) moved from their forested location in central Saanich to the seafront in Sidney earlier this year. The new owner has grand ambitions to grow the brand in Canada and the US. With such an interesting proposition and wonderful location I jumped at the chance to join the distilling team.
Craigdarroch whisky may not be familiar to you yet, but one day I hope my contribution will bring it international recognition as a malt reflecting the character of Vancouver Island. A small batch was released a couple of years ago and sold out almost immediately. The delectable whisky has a lovely banana note. With a new seaside location I hope maturation will bring further coastal complexity to the whisky.
The new role is a great opportunity to be creative in other areas too. The existing products include Victoria Gin, Oaken Gin, Hemp Vodka, Eau de Vie and a selection of Bitters. This week we have also begun production of a chocolate liqueur and trials of a spiced rum. With all these different spirits the head bar tender has done a great job of putting together a cocktail list to suit all palates for customers in the distillery lounge.
The lifestyle is very laid back, which suits me perfectly. I live a a simple life with hardly any possessions. I have no car and no bike, my sole mode of transport is my skateboard. I have no TV and no bills to pay as everything is included in my minimal rent. The team at work are great, fun and friendly. I have a free gym pass at work (which I sometimes use), but most of my free time is spent socializing in the local bars or exploring my new surroundings. All in all, life is good in Beautiful British Columbia!