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.

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