Meridian Writers’ Group
GLENVILLE, Nova Scotia–"I find it big-time chocolatey. I also find it heavy on hazelnut."
Donnie Campbell has a better palate than I do.
"The biggest thing about it is its finish," he goes on. "It stays with you a lot longer than other whiskies."
Now this last comment may be marketing – Campbell is, after all, one of the directors at Glenora Distillery, makers of North America’s only single-malt whisky. It’s the Glenora nine-year-old we’re tasting and some partiality on Campbell’s part is understandable. But as for the rest of his findings, my taste buds slowly come around. I can taste the chocolate notes, though the hazelnut eludes me. Smooth, slightly peaty; very pleasant sipping. "A nice summer whisky," says Campbell.
You’ll note he doesn’t call it scotch. That’s because, while Glenora’s ingredients and process are the same as for a good scotch, we aren’t in Scotland. We’re in Cape Breton, the island part of Nova Scotia. Cape Breton is largely peopled by the descendants of Scots, but it is 5,000 kilometres from the motherland and therefore can’t call its whisky scotch any more than a sparkling wine not from France can dub itself champagne.
And it’s not as if Cape Bretoners, despite their lineage, have a history making single-malt whisky. Jim Murray points out in his Complete Book of Whisky that, historically, the locals have preferred rum. Glenora Distillery only opened in 1990.
It is, however, almost as Scotch as they come. Physically, it looks a little like Edradour, Scotland’s smallest scotch maker. The equipment is from Scotland. So is the barley, which arrives here malted and peated. The water, of course, is local, from MacLellan’s Brook, burbling prettily between the distillery and the small hotel and restaurant connected to it. The biggest difference is the oak barrels: Glenora’s are from Jack Daniel’s in Tennessee.
Tasty though this whisky is, it isn’t cheap. "A $40 scotch in a $75 bottle," is how I’d had it described to me. "We hear that a lot," admits Campbell. But he points out that the main culprit is volume: "Glenfiddich makes in a week what we do in a year." Glenora doesn’t have economies of scale. On the other hand, says Campbell, there are enough single-malt whisky connoisseurs around to have made the enterprise viable.
That is, now there are. When island businessman Bruce Jardine started Glenora in 1990 it was underfunded and went bankrupt after just one year of production. The second owners fared little better. The current proprietor only got things going properly in 2000. Jardine, who continued to live in a blue-roofed house visible from the distillery, died of a heart attack just before the 2000 bottling. He was in his 40s.
After Campbell tells me this sad story, we visit the mud-floor warehouse where the whisky is aged. Two per cent of the hootch, he says, evaporates from the barrels every year. Traditionally it’s called the angels’ share. In this case, Campbell believes it has a more specific destination: "I like to think that Bruce Jardine is getting first crack at it."
For more information on Glenora Distillery visit its website at www.glenoradistillery.com .
For information on travel in Nova Scotia visit the Nova Scotia Department of Tourism, Culture and Heritage website at www.novascotia.com .