Travel – something we haven’t been able to do a lot of in the past 18 months or so, but when restrictions within Canada were eased, jumping at the first opportunity to visit a new place was a priority and thus a trip to Newfoundland was planned. Of course, no trip is complete without visiting whatever distilleries exist in the location, so a call to the Newfoundland Distillery Company to plan a visit and tasting was imperative.
This was the last place we visited before heading back to the airport, and it was an awesome treat to finish off a whirlwind visit to this gorgeous province. The little town of Clark’s Beach is situated on the Avalon peninsula, on an ocean inlet from Conception Bay. The humble four year old distillery is right in the heart of town on the water with a gorgeous view for a tasting!
We were greeted by Peter, who instantly ushered us into the production facility to show us the equipment, the grain and the barrel room, as he knew that’s what we were most interested in, and telling us about their vision and process. The Newfoundland Distillery has since its inception been producing white spirits primarily – gin, vodka, aquavit – while always putting their own twist on the spirit (more about those later). Similarly, while their still under-aged whiskies take inspiration from Irish Whiskey styles of single pot still malt/grain blends and single malts, they’ve been putting their own twists on these as well, taking full advantage of the flexibility of the Canadian whisky category to define a unique Newfoundland whisky style.
Their grain is all from the Maritimes, as supporting local is a key value, and they incorporate at least some Newfoundland barley into every spirit they produce. This is actually the first time NFLD barley has been used in a larger commercial setting as far as they know!
They use stainless steel fermenters and undergo a 3 day fermentation for all of their grains, before triple distilling the wort in their columns for white spirits, or the hybrid copper pot for whiskey. Their mashes are either single malt, or a mix of NL unmalted barley and PEI malt.
Their whisky spirits enter the barrel at approximately 67% and they’ve chosen to use #2 char virgin oak barrels for the first 6-9 months before transferring to ex-bourbon barrels. The ex-bourbon barrels we saw while there were from Wild Turkey and Buffalo Trace, and they have about 60 full barrels on hand currently aging by the shore of the Atlantic.
The barrel we got a sample from (#7) had been filled about 9 months ago and was a malt/grain single pot still blend. while still nosing fairly young and spirity, there was a ton of woody vanilla there from the virgin oak. The palate was a huge surprise for such a young spirit, with a ton of baking spices, toffee, vanilla, sweet caramel and wood spice. There was a hint of that young spirity character, but surprisingly little. Given a couple of years now in an ex-bourbon barrel, we felt this will develop into a delicious whisky with a ton of depth.
We then had a chance to taste a few of the white spirits that are commercially available. First was their vodka (not pictured) which they distill to retain the barley grain character in. As someone who doesn’t see the point of a flavourless spirit, this was a pleasant surprise and would work well in many cocktails.
The gins were also very interesting and use all locally foraged botanicals – which isn’t hard given most of the province is covered in wild berries, juniper and other edible plants! They not only have the botanicals in the still, they also allow some of the finished gin to macerate on the side to increase flavour. The seaweed gin had some really nice salty notes while the cloudberry was was super herbal. Both weren’t overly juniper forward and would work well with a lighter tonic or martini.
The last spirit we tried was the Aquavit, which they make in an incredibly unique way. They take NFLD peat, NL barley and locally produced honey – apparently one of the purest honeys in the world due to the healthy honeybee populations! – and produce a sweet yet earthy spirit that would go well in a ton of cocktails.
They also have imported rums to which they add some very interesting local ingredients including local salt, kelp, roses and chaga mushrooms, and a whole line of bitters as well. They also ship across Canada!
Overall, a great distillery experience with a gorgeous view and high quality craft spirits. We’re hoping to see their in-progress spirit entered in the 2022 TWS Awards, and are especially excited to try these in a few years once the whisky is all grown up! If you find yourself on the rock (and you should, because it’s gorgeous!) be sure to drop by for a tasting!