Whisky business: After 7 years, this distillery thinks it has crafted just the right spirit

The Newfoundland Distillery Company has launched its new batch of three-year-old whisky, claiming to be the first in the province.
A man sits in a chair in front of shelves of barrels.
Peter Wilkins says that when he and his business partner opened the Newfoundland Distillery company, they wanted to create whisky. Seven years later, the first batch is being released to customers. (Peter Cowan/CBC)

In a Clarke's Beach bar this week, people came to try out a drink that was seven years in the making: a whisky that the Newfoundland Distillery Company says is the province's first.

Ray Broccolo, a self-proclaimed whisky enthusiast sitting at the bar inside the company's building, said it reminded him of an Irish whisky.

"It's has a beautiful nose on it and the palate is very good as well. It's actually has a nice long flavour," he said.

Going from table to table with a tray full of glasses holding the golden whisky was distillery co-founder Peter Wilkins.

"Creating Newfoundland's first whisky is incredibly exciting," Wilkins said. "Because it now means you can actually drink whisky across the whole of Canada in every province."

But making whisky takes time, so in the meantime, and to bring in money, they started with faster spirits like gin, vodka and rum. Then they had to keep up with the demand for them, so the whisky-making plan was worked on slowly in the background.

Wilkins says it was four years of planning and then another three years, after the whisky was processed, to ripen in barrels. The first batch of bottles, 1,600 of them, has been released to liquor store shelves.

A man surrounded by people pours whisky into a glass.
Wilkins pours samples of the new whiskey to tasters at the company's distillery in Clarke's Beach on Thursday. (Peter Cowan/CBC)

The grains are sourced from Prince Edward Island and Newfoundland's west coast. They are distilled three times and then put in virgin oak and bourbon barrels from Kentucky. There, the whisky cocoons for at least three years to soak up the flavours.

Wilkins twirls the cup of whisky in his hands and tastes it slowly.

WATCH | The buzz builds for Newfoundland's first homegrown whisky:

A toast — to Newfoundland’s first homegrown whisky

3 months ago
Duration 3:39
The Newfoundland Distillery Co. in Clarke’s Beach now has a whisky that took seven years to bring to the glass: four to plan and then another three to sit in the barrels. Get a behind-the-scenes look at the launch.

"It's got quite complex character," he said. "But surprisingly smooth finish, a little bit of oak, a little bit of vanilla, little bit of almond, little bit of butterscotch. I think it's delicious."

Restaurant owner and sommelier Jeremy Bonia says he was pleasantly surprised by the taste.

"It's definitely got some oak character to it. You can notice it right off the nose," he said.

"It's a proper whisky."

A man in a green, plaid shirt holds a glass of whisky to his nose, sniffing it, a bottle on the table in front of him.
Jeremy Bonia, a sommelier and co-owner of St. John's restaurants Raymonds and the Merchant Tavern, says he hopes the province will build a whisky-making industry. (Peter Cowan/CBC)

One of whisky's most important ingredients is time.

The longer the whisky is in the barrel, says Bonia, the more the flavour of the oak is mellowed, and the warm notes of fruits and spices emerge.

"So for a three-year old whisky, this is really exciting, honestly, and for it to be a Newfoundland product is very exciting."

In the spirits world, whisky is considered the most prestigious with a large market, Bonia says.

"There's going to be a huge attention to the fact that this is the first-ever whisky from Newfoundland," he said.

In addition to the barrel, time also affects whisky in a bottle. Bonia reserved some bottles from the first batch, saying he's looking forward to the whisky aging.

He says he hopes the launch marks the beginning of a thriving industry, with more mature batches from the distillery coming in the future, other companies venturing into whisky production, and farmers in Newfoundland growing barley.

Wilkins says the next batch is already planned for February, with more to come in the following months.

"For us, to be able to create the first one for the province, you know, we think it's actually a great honour and we're thrilled to have done so. It's there for everybody to share and enjoy."

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Arlette Lazarenko is a journalist working in St. John's. She is a graduate of the College of the North Atlantic journalism program. Story tips welcomed by email:

With files from Peter Cowan

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