A WINNING WAY WITH WHISKY
Be of good cheer in Nova Scotia
Given its Gaelic heritage, it’s no surprise the province of Nova Scotia has an association with whisky. Its name, after all, is the Latin for New Scotland, and many of its earliest settlers brought their tastes for food and drink with them from the old country. Yet Nova Scotians cannot refer to the golden-hued liquor so ably produced in their distilleries as “scotch.” And then there’s that rogue “e.” The Americans and Irish spell the drink with the vowel — whiskey — but Canadians and the Scottish do not.
Throw in some ryes and bourbons and the “water of life” is a tipple fraught with some measure of confusion. Frankly, most of us don’t give a dram.
What counts: You don’t have to travel to Scotland to enjoy a warm, smoky whisky amid misty highlands scenery and Scottish arts and entertainment. Nova Scotia’s burgeoning craft distillers offer a whisky trail designed to please any palate.
The centre of Scottish influence in the province, Canada’s second-smallest, after Prince Edward Island and with no spot more than 80 kilometres from the sea, is Cape Breton Island, and it is here that one’s journey should begin.
On the west coast of the island, in the community of Glenville, nestles the Glenora Distillery, founded in 1990 and the first in North America to create a single-malt whisky. Huddled in the Mabou Highlands, it retains many of the traditions and secrets passed down by the Scottish immigrants of the 1800s, as well as two copper pot stills made by specialists in Speyside, Scotland.
It was whisky on the rocks for a long time, however, as the distiller, despite its Scottish roots, fought a nine-year legal tussle with the Scotch Whisky Association to retain the use of “Glen” in its product line.
“Scotch whisky” is a jealously guarded brand that applies strictly to whiskies produced within Scotland, and the upstarts from the colonies were not going to encroach on hallowed turf without a struggle.
In 2009, the Glenora emerged victorious and marked the occasion with its 15-year-old “Battle of the Glen” whisky.
Providing guided tours and tastings, an on-site pub, nine rooms at the Glenora Inn — plus six mountainside chalets — the distillery has become an increasingly popular destination, earning plaudits from the organizers of the World Whisky Day, who declared it last year “one of eight distilleries to visit before you die.”
Writing in the Halifax Chronicle-herald last July, Glenora president Lauchie Maclean said: “Tourism has always been an important part of economic life, but it’s only in the last decade or so that we’ve seen truly amazing growth. At Glenora, cars roll up our driveway with licence plates from every part of North America.”
With its stunning 300-kilometre Cape Breton Trail and the Cape Breton Highlands National Park, there are already plenty of reasons to cross the Strait of Canso from the mainland.
But Glenora is just one of a growing stable of distilleries in the province, many of them springing up after lawmakers rolled back red tape, slashed markups and permitted the use of smaller stills than those deployed, for instance, in Ontario. It means the province likely has more distillers per capita than anywhere else in the country, CBC says.
In the tiny coastal town of Guysborough, the folks at Authentic Seacoast Distillery & Brewery have been making whisky for many years, including the double- and triple-barrelled Glynnevan lines released in 2015, and offer daily tours in the summer.
Billed as the birthplace of brewing in Atlantic Canada, Guysborough shares its 300-year history of rum-trading and beer-making with visitors, who can take home some Rare Bird craft beer or Sea Fever rum.
Caldera Distilling pays homage to Nova Scotia’s shipbuilding history from its location in the village of River John, on the Northumberland Strait. Named after a clipper built in the town, Caldera offers tastings and customized tours that can include helping owner Jarret Stuart with the distilling or blending process.
Its Hurricane 5 blended whisky, commemorating a harsh 1939 storm, draws on locally grown organic rye, wheat and corn, while its “Champlain whisky” is infused with Cognac. And it punches beyond its weight.
“The distillery’s commitment to its place has led to legions of fans around the globe,” the Chronicle-herald says. “Their spirits are served at many Canadian embassies and can even be found behind the bar at some of New York’s most exclusive bars.”
As with any expedition, a map is essential — and the Good Cheer Trail has you covered. Named after the Order of Good Cheer, established by explorer Samuel de Champlain in Port-royal in 1606, it offers a mix of education and adventure through tastings and tours — all tracked by stamps in a downloadable passport, with prizes at the end of your journey.
“As possibly one of the first gastronomic societies in North America, the Order of Good Cheer raised the spirits of early settlers and set the tone for centuries of Nova Scotian food, drink and fun,” Tourism Nova Scotia says on its website. “We’re proud to carry on Champlain’s legacy with the Order of Good Cheer.”
Lest all this good cheer and tippling have you worried about driving, rest assured Nova Scotia is amply served with traditional bedand-breakfast options, as well as cosy inns and small-town hotels.
Don’t let a little rain put you off, either. Drizzle can descend throughout the year in Nova Scotia, another shared trait with the old country, but what better excuse to savour a snifter? As the old Scottish saw has it: “Today’s rain is tomorrow’s whisky.
Nova Scotia is known for its stunning mountain views and seascapes, but the province is also becoming famous for its whisky trail.
Whisky fans will delight in what Nova Scotia’s craft distillers have on tap.
The Glenora Inn and Distillery offers guided tours and tastings.
Authentic Seacoast Distillery & Brewery has daily tours in the summer months.