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Peter Wilkins will have to be patient over the next three years as the Newfoundland Distillery Company’s first batch of whisky ages.
Whisky is a new a product for the Clarke’s Beach-based distillery and one that Wilkins, distillery co-founder, said he and his partner, Bill Carter, have wanted to make since they started the company.
Like some of its other products the whisky has a west coast connection. It’s made from barley grown at Larch Grove Farm in Cormack that is mixed in with malted barley from P.E.I.
In 2017 the company was part of a project with Larch Grove and the then provincial Fisheries and Land Resources department to help determine the potential for the crop.
The project with Larch Grove was successful one with barley from the farm going into the company’s aquavit, vodka and gin.
“Ideally. we wanted to stick with barley because that’s the key ingredient for whisky and we thought vodka would have a bit more flavour and be a bit better if we used that.”
As the company struggled to keep up with production of its products it took a while to get to the point where the distillery could start whisky production.
Now that it has a new distillery, with a new copper still, it is able to produce more and has been able to catch up and focus on laying down for the future.
“It’s been brilliant that we have been able to do that,” said Wilkins.
“We believe that we can do that now and keep adding to it, so we’ll be able to keep supplying whisky.”
The distillery laid down two barrels of whisky on Oct. 19 and the plan is to add another three in the next two weeks and then six a month after that.
Each barrel will produce about 400 bottles, with the first whisky expected to be ready for bottling in 2023.
Food and drug regulations require that Canadian whisky be aged for at least three years in a hardwood barrel.
“The barrel gives all the flavour and the complexity of flavour,” said Wilkins, adding the distillery has gone with a light barrel so as not to override the flavour and the longer it is aged the better the quality will be.
“What’s absolutely paramount is that the quality of the spirit going into the barrel is good and smooth to start with. Because you can’t make a bad thing good in a barrel, but you can make a good thing better.
“Hopefully we’ll get to such a stage where we can let some of the barrels age for five years, eight years and longer.
The barrels have to be rolled regularly to ensure all areas stay wet and the company has to keep a log and test them every now and then. “Just to check and see how it’s all going.”
He said samples of the product have been promising.
“And there’s been an amazing amount of people who’ve asked for the first bottles.”
Until 2017, Ian Richardson, owner of Larch Grove Farm, said he primarily grew other forage crops as food for his dairy cows.
Adding barley has been good for the farm, and not just as a source of food.
“The straw is a huge asset here of the farm. It really helps out with our animals.”
Used as bedding the straw left after the grain is harvested provides more warmth than sawdust for the calves.
“And it gives us a chance to renovate some of our fields … take it out of grass for a while and get the fields turned over so we can grow new crops.”
Richardson thinks having high quality products, that are winning awards and doing well, made with grain produced at Larch Grove is pretty cool.
He sold about 16 to 20 tonnes of barley to the distillery this fall and in total has provided the company with about 40 tonnes.
“And they’re already looking for another 40 tonnes for next year.”
He’ll get started on planting that next spring.
‘Just a little bit of history repeating.’— NL Distillery Co (@NLDistilleryCo) October 19, 2020
We have just barrelled the first Newfoundland Whisky ever made with local barley. And we will keep repeating the process. First bottles will be ready in October 2023. Only 3 years to wait! pic.twitter.com/CCJuxi38xt
Diane Crocker reports on west coast news.