CANADIAN DISTILLER OF THE YEAR: STILL WATERS, ONTARIO
These are early days for Ontario’s first micro-distillery – but all the signs are we’re seeing the birth of another world class whisky maker.
Still Waters is the creation of two Barrys – Stein and Bernstein – and the distillery only bottled its first single malt whisky in 2013.
That’s right – single malt from Canada. And the distillery isn’t stopping there – it’s also distilling a rye that has more in common with the bolder American versions than the Canadian take on the grain.
Canada observes the three year maturation rule so to fill in the time between distilling and bottling, Still Waters released its own blend, called 1+11 Canadian whisky. It’s very good indeed, an intriguing mix of citrus, spice honey and vanilla.
The single malt is released under the name Stalk & Barrel and is, unsurprisingly, very young and under-cooked. But it is extremely well made, has enough about it to capture the attention, and hints at greatness to come. It’s the whisky equivalent of young and untutored new singer – with bags of charisma, great pitch and tone, lots of power and style, but in need of harnessing and pointing in the right direction.
That will come with time, though. Still Waters has won a gold medal for its Canadian whisky and a silver for its Stalk & Barrel single malt.
A work in progress – but what a work!
Interview with Barry Bernstein, co-owner of Still Waters Distillery
Q. Please tell me the history and background of Still Waters
We commenced distilling in March, 2009 as the first micro-distillery in Ontario, a province notorious for strict (and restrictive) liquor laws. We (Barry Bernstein and Barry Stein) are two friends with a passion for whisky. We watched what was happening in the US with the rise of craft distilling and thought we could do that here. Our first whisky love is single malt whisky and as we broadened our horizons from Scotch to single malts from all over the world. We thought why not a great single malt from Canada? After all, Canada produces some of the best quality grains in the world.
Q. Why single malt, and why rye? Both are challenging to make aren’t they?
We started with single malt since that was where our personal interest was. After about 18 months we decided to experiment with some other grains, and created small batches of corn, wheat and rye spirits. We were both struck with the uniqueness of the rye spirit and thought that there might be an opportunity to introduce a unique whisky to Canadians most of whom typically think of rye whisky as something very different, i.e. Canadian Whisky made mostly from corn with a little rye flavouring. We find the rye much more difficult to work with than the malt given its tendency to foam (sometimes uncontrollably) during fermentation as well as distilling. We need to work with smaller batches and a little more slowly with the rye.
Q. Describe how 2014 was for you.
We actually didn’t have a great deal of whisky to sell in 2014 given our production back in 2010/2011. Our goal was to sell everything we had available for sale and we met that goal. It turned out to be a great year for us as we saw increased traction for our single malt whisky and fantastic recognition of our rye, released late 2014 (in fact, it won Best New Whisky at the Canadian Whisky Awards!). Coming of these successes, we have a lot more whisky to sell in 2015 and are very optimistic.
Q. What next for Still Waters?
We now need to concentrate on our marketing and sell our whisky! We are hoping to gradually expand our capacity so that we can double or triple our output over the next 18 to 24 months.
Q. For many, many years Canada was almost closed to the rest of the world and really only known for its big name commercial whiskies. Is that changing now?
We hope things will change for Canadian Whisky world wide. There is a growing craft distilling movement in Canada and some very interesting products being made. Unlike in the US, with hundreds of micro-distilleries but no legal minimum whisky aging requirement, there is a de facto quality mandated by law for Canadian made whiskies. It doesn’t mean all will be good, but it definitely raises the bar and we think we’ll see some extraordinary whiskies coming from Canada over the next few years, mostly from small producers like ourselves.
Q. What does this Award mean to you and how pleasing is it to get international recognition for what you are doing?
Being named Canadian Distiller of the Year is an incredible honour. First and foremost we consider ourselves craftsmen and this validation of our work is very meaningful and important to us. International recognition is wonderful and will hopefully bring more attention to what we are doing here at home, where consumers tend to look abroad when thinking about whisky and often not paying much attention to what is in their own backyards.