Road tripping through Canada’s Atlantic Provinces wreaked havoc on my Bucket List. For more years than I care to remember, this area, especially Nova Scotia, was a goal. During my visit, I checked off Cape Breton Highlands National Park of Canada, the Cabot Trail, the Ceilidh (“kay lee”) Trail, and touring what is billed as “North America’s First Single Malt Whisky Distillery”, in Glenville. Nova Scotia translates to “New Scotland”, and I relished the ubiquitous displays of kilts, bagpipes, traditional Scottish food, music, and gracious hospitality – and whisky.
Nova Scotia Route 19 meanders through scenic beauty toward towns of Dunvegan, Glencoe, and Inverness, evocative of routes and towns in Scotland. After hugging the spectacular, craggy sea coast north of the Canso Causeway, the highway turns inland on its way toward Glenville. Soon, wooded beauty of a gentle glen came into view, and a distinctive pagoda chimney signaled our destination, even before the sign, “Welcome to Glenora Distillery”.
The first order of business was a distillery tour. “We never call it Scotch – it’s single malt Canadian whisky” advised our tour guide. “To be called Scotch, it needs to be distilled and aged in Scotland”. Our guide also explained that when the newly-distilled liquid goes from the still into the cask it is crystal clear, and is called “New Make Spirit” for the first three years of aging. At Glenora, it is then called single malt Canadian whisky; in Scotland it’s called single malt Scotch whisky, and at all distilleries the liquid continues to age for many more years.
I was intrigued at the similarities between Glenora’s boutique operation and its larger Scottish counterparts as we progressed on the tour. Water is one of three ingredients used to make single malt whisky. Glenora’s water source is the adjacent MacLellan’s Brook. Aging warehouses and the bottling operation are located on-site at Glenora. Incidentally, the copper stills here were made by a Scottish firm that services many of the distilleries in Scotland.
Distillery visiting is a delight for all the senses. At Glenora, I had the opportunity to smell lovely aromas of maturing whisky, in wooden casks resting on earthen floors, to feel kernels of barley trickle through my fingers, to taste a wee dram straight from a cask, to hear the resonating sounds of knocking on the ends of casks to determine the level of the liquid inside, and to see how time spent in wooden casks changes crystal clear New Make Spirit into golden whisky.
Glenora’s product line includes four Glen Breton Rare expressions. Glen Breton Rare 10 year old evokes aromas and smooth flavors of citrus and maple; GB Rare Ice 10, 15, and 17 year old expressions introduce grape, apple and cinnamon characteristics to the mix. The Ice collection uses barrels from the well-known Jost Vineyards that have previously been used to age their Ortega Ice Wines.
Another similarity between distilleries, regardless of what country they are in, is the passion, knowledge, and graciousness of the people, both out front and behind the scenes. My great appreciation goes out to Glenora President and CEO, Lauchie MacLean, his Executive Partner, Bob Scott, and Daniel MacLean, Distillery Manager/Master Distiller for their time and generosity during my visit.
Unexpected surprises on site were the Glenora Inn, restaurant, and pub. The Inn features nine comfortably elegant rooms adjacent to the distillery and six self-contained log chalets on a mountainside overlooking the distillery. Chef Andrew Kinnear’s approach of using local ingredients, prepared with traditional Nova Scotia technique has won the restaurant the “Best Restaurant on Cape Breton Island” Award from “Where to Eat in Canada”. The highlight of my stay was attending a traditional Cape Breton ceilidh, the Gaelic word meaning “a gathering”. Rousing tunes played on fiddles, guitars and piano rocked the rafters and embraced everyone in the magic of both the distillery and the island.