‘The best laid schemes of mice and men Go oft awry.’¹
A sentiment that we can all agree with. Whether you’re a distiller, writer or shelf filler. You cannot plan for every eventuality or outcome. As much as risk and project management would like to cover you in a safety blanket with reassurance. Things happen. Nature takes its course and one of the greatest human attributes is adapting by making use of what’s in front of us.
‘As cunning as a fox who’s just been appointed Professor of Cunning at Oxford University?’²
My cunning plan following the Spirit of Toronto Hiram Walker session with Dr Don, was to do a follow-up article comprising of all the other sessions I’ll be attending. It seemed like a good, solid and worthwhile premise. Then, it was shattered by the first session with Canadian distillery, Two Brewers, and the insight offered while tasting the whiskies plucked from the warehouse. Amalgamating would lose some of this…
So, this means we’re heading to the Yukon and the enticing prospect of brewers turned distillers in Two Brewers. Bob Baxter, founder, headed the session with @VictoriaWhiskyTastings co-hosting. Bob is on the engineering side of things, so was full of technical information and the unusual things they do to adapt to climate and remote location of the distillery.
This brought things to life and opened your mind to the difficulties distilling with extreme temperature changes and maturing stock, where the alcohol strength goes up and not down – meaning what’s evaporating is the water. Some nuggets included the cost and difficulties of obtaining barrels from Kentucky. These are shipped in smaller quantities to arrive in September, as they cannot have casks sitting around empty due to mould etc and have to be filled by February. They also fill the casks with new make, nothing new there I hear you say, but this is to condition the barrels for a few months, before refilling them with the new spirit to be matured.
You’ll also notice these are all 58% in strength. As outlined, the strength in the cask goes up for Two Brewers, so these are slightly watered down to 58 for this session and also tax purposes. For instance, the heavily peated whisky below came out of the cask at 71% strength.
As stated in our Hiram Walker session, these are maturing casks, so we’re scoring on potential and hopefully one day we’ll have the opportunity to return and see how that promise has been fulfilled.
Two Brewers 2015 Pale Malt – review
Distilled from 100% pale malt; First Fill Bourbon Barrel, 58% abv. This features mash #36 and is their staple offering and comes from barrel #230. Bob outlined their small 450 litre still has a column with 4 plates and normally these are left open. But for this cask they closed all the plates – so think of this in terms of a Lomond still.
On the nose: oh this feels fresh and a good level of vanilla. A lovely mix of orchard fruit with apples feature highly, also a twist with apricot. There’s toffee, a buttery shortcrust pastry and nougat. Some maltiness as well with shortbread and honeysuckle. Water unlocks a little alcohol, fruit sugars and caramel.
In the mouth: winey and sappy, juicy apples and pears picking up that meadow dynamic and vanilla obviously. Biscuity, marzipan and cooking apples on the finish. A little simple but oddly pleasurable with the core flavours hitting home. Adding water unlocks more features with Werther’s Original, almonds, caramel and Kiwi fruit.
Two Brewers 2015 Three Grains – review
Distilled from Vienna (42%) and Honey malts (20%) with malted wheat (38%); Refill Bourbon Barrel #101, 58% abv. This is mash #40 and the cask was filled on 1st December 2015.
Colour: gold bullion.
On the nose: a rich, creamy nose. More density that the first whisky, melon, cardboard, a metallic note and tangerines. Some rust in parts which is enjoyable, almonds and freshly sawn planks. This opens up with time. Playdough, sour apples and cinnamon. Adding water unlocks pine cones, new tea leaves and orange zest.
In the mouth: a luscious texture and some spice in the mix with cracked black pepper being the most prominent, grapefruit and golden syrup along with some gentle meadow fruits again. Water brings forth the apple dynamic and more vanilla cream.
Two Brewers 2013 Heavily Peated – review
Distilled from Bairds heavily peated malt; First Fill Barrel, 58% abv. This one was actually virgin oak according to Bob and was filled on 17th October 2013. Their peated malt ranges from 25-50ppm.
On the nose: a dense presence once again and the peat is there but it’s not in your face – or at least that’s what believe in Scotland. Perhaps if you poured this to those unfamiliar to peat they might reel, but poured blind to a Scottish audience; I’d expect a surprise at its origins. There’s liquorice, wood varnish, nutty and plenty of honey. Driftwood and bashed mint leaf.
In the mouth: again that texture and presence. Oily in parts and more subtle peat – it feels balanced and integrated. More black pepper and a sense that after the nose it is a little one dimensional. Adding water is beneficial here bringing out charcoal, chocolate and an earthiness.
The Two Brewers session just underlined the promise of this distillery that is very open to experimentation. These are young whiskies, but already have character and presence way beyond their 4+ years.
Being brewers for many years, means the team are well versed in the properties of yeast and grain. They’ll experiment, with Bob talking about sour mashes and their open mindset when it came to trying new things. If I’m right, they don’t actually have a core range. The only ‘core’ is the ongoing Release series where every instalment is something new. This does cause problems, as even in Canada, Two Brewers is difficult to find. Bob talked about the Liquor Control Board of Ontario (LCBO), wanting to stock their whiskies, but they always want samples several months in advance. Unfortunately, the distillery doesn’t work that way, as their Releases are always in progress until the last moment.
So, as much as I’d want to tell you to go visit a retailer and pick up a bottle. We don’t have that opportunity and adding to our coverage of Two Brewers will be a slow burn. But we’ll certainly try our best because the promise is real and very much worth covering. Hopefully, an independent bottler can hatch a cunning plan…
My thanks to Spirit of Toronto for the photographs and samples plus the opportunity to attend the session.
¹ Robert Burns from ‘Poems, Chiefly in the Scottish Dialect’, 1786.
² Blackadder Goes Forth.