Yes, they’re making whisky in the Yukon of all places. Where exactly is the Yukon you ask? This was my immediate reaction despite considering myself to be reasonably literate when it comes to geography – thanks to a fondness from afar of my geography teacher. At least I left school armed with a knowledge of distant places, but seemingly not the Yukon. The name rang a vague bell and the Canadian aspect, but Canada is so vast, it’d be like trying to find a good cask in the Jura warehouse. Despite having been to Canada a couple of times, we’d never made it to the Yukon, or anywhere on the west coast, come to think of it.
For the record, Yukon is the next-door neighbour to Alaska and is the least populated area in Canada. It only has one city – Whitehorse – and I like the simplicity of that. One city, one capital and one centre. Pretty much everything you need to survive, laugh and enjoy life should be within the confines of Whitehorse. This, for any reasonable person, should include a brewery and thankfully one was established in 1997 as Two Brewers. Eventually, the owners saw the light and in 2009 purchased the equipment to start distilling their own whisky.
As the engineer here at Malt, I often ponder about where we should be heading next in terms of coverage. Canada needs more spotlight and I don’t know why we haven’t done more until now. Some Canadian whisky is widely distributed and within reach, if you should so choose to track it down. Yet we tend to look down our noses at Canadian whisky and that’s a shame. Personally, I think we can trace back some of this snobbery to 2015 when Big Jim awarded the Crown Royal Northern Harvest Rye a spectacular 97.5 out of 100.
Now, that’s a lofty mark and perfect marketing ammunition. I could descend into the depths of how ridiculous such a score is, but I’m tired of the 100-point thing even without tossing in the hand grenade of half points. Needless to say, Jim had plenty of gushing praise for this Crown Royal release: ‘rye, that most eloquent of grains, not just turning up to charm and enthral but to also take us through a routine which reaches new heights of beauty and complexity.’ Before rounding off the praise with a biblical quote, ‘to say this is a masterpiece is barely doing it justice.’
Except most people I talked to, who managed to purchase this release, were pretty non-plussed about the experience. Adding fuel to fire about the legitimacy of these Bible awards and value. That’s a topic for another day, but all I can remember is seeing multitudes appearing at auction as everyone went mad for Canadian whisky. And then nothing. Our Shakespearian scribe, Adam, managed to get his chops around the Crown Royal release and was as meh as many of my friends. That’s the danger of any personal opinion and then proclaiming such and such is the best of the year. My whisky of the year hopefully, is going to be the next one I try.
You can read the story behind Two Brewers here and the emphasis seems to be on trying different avenues and seeing what the outcome is. The Innovative range is the mainstay of this emphasis and release no.14 features a large proportion of deeply roasted malt in the mix. On average, whiskies from Two Brewers are 6-7 years old.
You’ll notice the prominence of glacier-fed streams on the labelling. It is often a cornerstone of some new distilleries to rely on their water to give themselves a unique aspect. Sagamore does it with their straight rye whiskey to give a home feel to what is a sourced product. When the whiskey or whisky, isn’t from the distillery itself, you can see the benefits of such an approach from a marketing perspective. However, the debate around water itself and its impact on distillation is one that prompts much debate. Recently, I noticed that Bimber took a view that water doesn’t impact the spirit character. Whereas if you read the theses from Craig Alexander Wilson entitled The role of water composition on malt spirit, or a synopsis of this work from Dr P. Brossard, it showcases there is more to it than a summary dismissal. More research needs to be done and I’m always of the belief whatever you put into the distillation process will have an effect to some degree: the variance of is the key aspect. Both seem to agree that peat influence doesn’t come from the water, but having had a handful of experiments dubbed Glenisla, which was produced at Glen Keith, I’m not entirely convinced. A unicorn whisky; one never to be repeated. Glenisla used heavily peated water shipped from Stornaway before it was put through a condenser and then added to the wash charge in batches. The outcome is a unique whisky that just prompts more debate.
Now, I get why you’d deliver this message, having endured London water and being a distillery in the urban landscape of the capital. Whatever the influence, the end result is what matters and Bimber seems to be doing well on this front regardless. Yet, I don’t think we can just immediately dismiss water as a meaningless and more work needs to be done. As for this Canadian glacier-fed aspect there’s only one way to find out…
Two Brewers Yukon Single Malt Whisky – review
The 14th Innovate release featuring a ‘large measure of deeply roasted malts’, non-chill filtered and no added colouring. Bottled at 46% strength.
On the nose: caramel, figs and a pleasing density. Honey, tree sap, sage, sawdust and liquorice. Praline, apples and a very fresh and clean spirit with a floral note. Water reveals varnish, creamy nougat and honey.
In the mouth: I didn’t expect the smoky roast ham aspect which transcends into toffee and then smoke on the finish. Chewy in places as well. Brown sugar, chocolate notes, vanilla and a lightness on the palate. The addition of water unlocks a mustiness and creamy caramel.
Two Brewers Yukon Single Malt Peated Whisky – review
This is release #12 in their peated series and noted to be ‘our most robust peat to date’, which is non-chill filtered and no added colouring. Bottled at 43% strength.
Colour: golf leaf.
On the nose: toffee, black pepper and an oily nature with a touch of peat and a sprinkling of salt. Pine needles, a metallic note and a pleasing fresh and lightness. Water unlocks a malty nature.
In the mouth: peaty of course and a pleasing texture as well. Foilage, toffee and perhaps more limited on the palate? A nuttiness, but not much more. Adding water unlocks more fruit, woody aspects and a little salt on the finish.
An impressive duo from an unlikely source. Both don’t taste or nose young. Both showcase promise. Neither will win a Bible award, but I’m quite satisfied having experienced both. The Innovative release is the better of duo with the peated lacking, ultimately: peat. I’d put it around an Ardmore level of peatiness, which to someone living in Scotland when you want peat isn’t enough.
Yet we’re dwelling on minor points here. Both of these are well-formed and very promising. Better than many young UK whiskies that are overly cask driven. In this article, I don’t think I even mentioned their casks once, because they’re putting as much focus – if not more – into what goes into the cask. And this shows in the final product. A distillery to watch out for down the road.
Images kindly provided by Two Brewers and my thanks to Johanna of Distilled Magazine for these samples.