Crafting whisky with love
> BY LUCY LAU
Although Liberty Distillery was one of the first places in Vancouver to produce handcrafted vodka and gin, it was another spirit that owners Robert and Lisa Simpson had in mind when they dreamt up the facility and its accompanying tasting lounge in 2010. “The big, big picture at Liberty has always been the whisky program,” Lisa, a former pastry chef and management consultant, tells the Straight during an interview at the Granville Island spot.
That Liberty didn’t launch its debut whisky until 2016—three years after the establishment opened its doors—isn’t the result of any blunder or delay. Crafted from fermented grain mash and traditionally aged in charred wooden casks to acquire its rich, golden-brown hue, whisky, by definition in Canada, must be aged for at least three years before it can be labelled and sold as such. It’s during this time that the whisky matures, the barrel drawing out undesirable flavours while imparting ones that will come to define its nose and palate: primarily vanilla, buttery, and woodsy notes.
Knowing that, it becomes clear that Liberty’s first whisky, the Trust Whiskey Single Grain, has been a work in progress since 2013. It was only last year that the libation— produced from 100-percent organic B.c.–sourced barley and tripledistilled for a smoother sip—was extracted from its cask, offering the Simpsons, Liberty master distiller Raymond Prior, and local imbibers their initial taste of and look at the small-batch spirit.
Boasting hints of caramel and almond with a long, lingering finish reminiscent of an Irish whisky, bottles of Trust quickly sold out. The following spring, Liberty presented its Trust Whiskey Single Cask Madeira—a similarly robust spirit with a slightly honeyed aroma not unlike that of warm Christmas cake—to keep up with what industry folks see as a growing thirst for locally produced whisky. Propelled by the explosive success of craft beer in B.C., which inspired an understanding of and appreciation for the word craft in the regional lexicon, a demand for similar alcoholic beverages—manufactured in limited runs and with care, imagination, and B.c.–grown ingredients—has emerged.
“Craft doesn’t mean bad, craft means exceptional,” states Lisa Simpson. “And there are so many different styles. It’s a whole adventure in itself to go out and experiment with different types of whisky and all those [flavour] profiles, rather than having everything fit into one big-box category.”
Dustan Sept, marketing director at the Surrey-based Central City Brewers + Distillers, which unveiled its first small-batch whisky last year,