Nova Scotia is continuing to see meteoric growth in craft alcohol production; first it was the rise of wineries, then it was the boom of craft beer … and now it’s craft spirits’ turn to thrive. There are more than 10 craft distilleries now, but there was one that paved the way for Nova Scotian success — Glenora Distillers.
Opened in 1990 by the late Bruce Jardine, Glenora became North America’s first single-malt whisky distillery. We had a quick chat with Lauchie MacLean, president of Glenora Inn & Distillery, to talk about the growth of Nova Scotian craft spirits, the success of Glenora and what the future holds in store.
Occasions: Can you tell us how the first major distillery in Nova Scotia comes to make not just whisky … but a single malt?
Lauchie MacLean: When conceiving the focus of Glenora in the 1980s, Bruce Jardine surmised from discussions with other Cape Breton individuals that the area had maintained virtually all Celtic traditions from Scottish ancestors who emigrated in the late 1700s and early 1800s. Our mother tongue (Gaelic), Scottish clans had maintained themselves, plus Scottish style step dancing and Celtic music — such as fiddle — travelled the ocean, but something that didn’t survive was the manufacturing of single malt whisky. Sure, Cape Breton still had a few individuals manufacturing some moonshine for personal consumption, at the time, but there was no legal or commercial enterprises that maintained the proud Scottish tradition of distilled spirits. So Bruce Jardine set about trying to correct this, and worked with businessmen and government funding bodies to raise the financing and arrange the technology transfer from Scotland.
Occasions: Unlike some other popular spirits, whisky requires patience. Why create a business around a product with such a long return on investment?
Lauchie MacLean: Single malt whisky was known as a tremendous spirit, but had not maintained itself among the cultural mainstays found in Cape Breton into the 1900s, as the importation of cheap rum from the West Indies became the spirit of choice. So Bruce thought that needed to change, and a single malt whisky distillery in Cape Breton was created.
As for the patience, it takes a long time for a single malt whisky to truly become a great dram or drink. We tried the aging whiskies all along and wanted to release a five or six-year-old whisky, but it was still not quite ready. It wasn’t until 2000 that we found a few barrels that were mature and tasty enough to release … as our first bottling in October 2000. It can take up to 20 years (or more) to have a barrel of single malt whisky mature into its full flavour profile.
Occasions: What Glenora product brings you the most pride?
Lauchie MacLean: This is tough, as they are all so unique and special, but last year we released a limited edition Glen Breton Bruce Jardine Reserve. Twenty-five years ago, Bruce opened Glenora Distillery to great fanfare, but those first years were extremely challenging. He was only involved in the manufacturing of the 1990 barrels of single malt whisky, as he died several years later, before the first single malt was released from Glenora. We happened to discover a barrel of his whisky still last year and after sampling, we were very pleased to discover that it had developed into a very fine single malt whisky. We invited his widow and children, along with his mother, brother and sisters, to an unveiling of a special packaged bottling of Glen Breton that Bruce Jardine had made himself back in 1990. We had a grand day last fall in celebrating Bruce and HIS single malt … and the vision of Glenora that he helped create.
Occasions: There are a lot of new distilleries in Nova Scotia. Do you think the market is getting too crowded or do you think there are still opportunities for an even larger distillery community?
Lauchie MacLean: The local market may become a bit too crowded someday, but Nova Scotia has seen an uptake in Tourism traffic in the last couple years, so exposing our tremendous drinks to new people is a benefit that I feel outweighs any other. I also see strides being made to expand beyond Nova Scotia’s borders and into a national and international market … hopefully this will continue.
Occasions: How does Glenora embrace their role as a Nova Scotian distillery pioneer?
Lauchie MacLean: Glenora welcomes all distilleries to grow in Nova Scotia. Every distillery will make a different spirit, whether it’s rum, vodka or whisky. Local water or different distilling techniques will make every spirit taste unique as does every beer from all the different breweries. Glenora has assisted other local distilleries in accessing hard-to-source oak barrels for aging, as well as helping to find contacts for accessing bottles, yeasts or logistical information that our community would require. Glenora hopes that we’ll be able to see Nova Scotia become a region of the world noted for its concentration of spirit companies.
Occasions: What’s next on the horizon for Glenora Distillers?
Lauchie MacLean: Glenora is looking to expand its reach further afield in the international marketplace. We are also expanding our product lines into other spirits as well … stay tuned to see what we’ll create next!
Whisky expert Johanne McInnis, better known as The Whisky Lassie, interviews the team behind River John’s Caldera Distillery.
- Glenora Fiddler’s Choice Single Malt Whisky, 750 ml $59.97
- Glenora Glen Breton Rare Single Malt Whisky, 750 ml $79.98