With its two distillers crafting fine spirits, Shelter Point Distillery is today one of the largest producers of single malt whisky in Canada, and the accolades are rolling in with two gold medal wins recently announced at the 2019 World Whisky Masters.

Raise your glass: Award-winning spirits, handcrafted on Vancouver Island

‘Field to flask’ at Shelter Point Distillery

In a converted cattle barn with 2,000 barrels of ageing whisky lining the walls as far as the eye can see, a thick, heady scent fills the air. Here, amid the delicious fumes known to whisky lovers as the “angel’s share,” are the makings of more than half a million bottles of Shelter Point Distillery spirits.

This fast-growing Vancouver Island distillery, which barrelled its first batch of whisky in 2011, now produces more than 125,000 litres of spirits – whisky, gin, vodka and liqueur – per year.

Located on the eastern side of Vancouver Island just south of Campbell River, the distillery’s beautiful 380 acres of oceanfront property is criss-crossed by streams, the Oyster River, wetlands and, of course, golden fields of barley and wheat rippling gently in the wind.

Shelter Point’s general manager, Jacob Wiebe, is married to one of Shelter Point owner Patrick Evan’s four daughters and it’s clear this is a tight-knit family business.

“You’ll be successful if you work half a day every day,“ Jacob says, quoting Patrick’s father, who also once worked this land. “Doesn’t matter if it’s the first 12 hours or the second 12 hours.”

Jacob laughs and adds, “That’s Patrick’s motto, too.”

Patrick was raised a dairy farmer. But with the industry in decline, he looked to establish value-added agriculture. Creating Shelter Point Distillery was more about capitalizing on an opportunity than being a whisky aficionado.

“I am a beer drinker myself,” Patrick laughs. “I asked myself, ‘How do you value agriculture to the highest degree?’ Well, one acre of land produces 800 litres of alcohol, or 2,700 bottles of whisky.”

Today, plans are underway to develop a true “field to flask” operation with onsite malting. While Shelter Point currently out-sources malting to a plant in Armstrong, within a year or two, Patrick hopes to be malting here, meaning every aspect of production – from seed to spirit – will occur on this land. It will also allow them to add smoked whisky to their repertoire, incorporating true West Coast flavours like maple, driftwood or seaweed.

“There are different perspectives on what defines the flavour of the whisky,” Patrick says. For him, as a farmer, it’s all about the soil, but other factors include the distilling process, the type of barrel used, and the variety and quality of the grain.

“When the alcohol goes into the barrels, it’s all exactly the same,” Patrick points out. “But it comes out different from each barrel. Even the wood and history of the tree used in making the barrel will affect the taste.”

Water is also essential to the world of whisky. Once the barrelled whisky has aged, water is added to cut back the percentage of alcohol, unless the whisky is bottled at cask-strength. Water at Shelter Point bubbles up from a mountain-fed aquifer, so it’s hard to imagine a more pure-tasting addition to the spirits!

Tours & tastings await

Today, with its two distillers crafting fine spirits, Shelter Point Distillery is one of the largest producers of single malt whisky in Canada, and the accolades are rolling in with two gold medal wins recently announced at the 2019 World Whisky Masters.

Stepping into the distillery with its soaring, timber-trussed roof, gleaming, six-metre-high copper stills and futuristic-looking columns is like walking into a piece of art or a sci-fi movie set. While the entire Shelter Point building is gorgeous – from the beautiful, flowered entranceway to the lounging area flush with cushiony, aged-leather armchairs – this room is truly spectacular.

The distilling process is fascinating, and as public tours of this part of the operation are free for the taking, they’re definitely recommended!

Once finished with the tour, it’s time to taste the fruits of all this labour or perhaps, more accurately, the spirits of all this distilling.)

Beyond the silky-smooth whiskey, gin and vodka, there’s even more to discover – Sunshine in a Barrel Liqueur, which comes with a story.

“My daughter didn’t like the taste of the whisky,” says Patrick, “so we told her to go and create something she did like.”

The resulting liqueur has been the distillery’s bestseller (although this summer sales were surpassed by the gin). And basking in its heavenly blend of sweet, citrus, honey warmth, it’s easy to understand why.

Shelter Point cask purchases: A reward that’s worth the wait

The price of acquiring a cask at Shelter Point may seem daunting as it costs several thousand dollars, but the investment actually offers a variety of benefits. While the cask ages (for an additional two to three years), those who have invested in it can organize tastings of the spirit directly from their own barrel in Shelter Point’s barrel room. Customized bottling is another unique opportunity, but best of all, is the end price per bottle (minimum of 250 bottles per cask), which is significantly below retail pricing.

So like all good investments, the reward is worth the wait.

***

The ABCs of Shelter Point spirits

ABV: Alcohol by volume is the percentage of alcohol in a bottle, sometimes referred to as proof. For example, 80 proof is 40 per cent ABV, since proof is calculated out of 200. The ABV of most Shelter Point spirits is 40 per cent, but it ranges from as low as 30 per cent for Shelter Point’s Barrel of Sunshine Liqueur to 50 per cent or higher for some lots of whisky.

Barrel ageing: To qualify as a whisky, a spirit must age at least five years in a cask, three of which must occur in charred oak casks. Shelter Point uses a variety of different barrels or casks, including Kentucky bourbon barrels and various types of wine casks, many from Quail’s Gate winery in Kelowna. Both the wood of the barrel, plus the flavour of what it previously stored, impart flavours to the whisky as it ages.

Cask strength: In many cases, distillers decide if a whisky from a certain cask can be consumed as is, or if water should be added to reduce the ABV. If a whisky is “cask strength,” it has been bottled exactly as it was in the cask. Cask strength alcohol typically ranges from 46 to 60 per cent alcohol.

Copper pot stills: For any type of distilling, a pot or still is used to extract the spirit from the grain mash or wort (see below). The shape and composition of those stills can have notable effects on the spirit. Shelter Point uses two beautiful hand-crafted stills ordered specially from one of the oldest still manufacturers in the world: Forsyth of Scotland. Why copper? Because it is an excellent conductor, spreading the heat evenly in the distilling process.

E or no E?: Whisky is sometimes spelled whiskey. There is no definitive answer to the age-old question of “e or no e?” but for the most part, Irish and American whiskey is spelled with an “e,” while whisky made in Canada, India and Japan conforms to the Scottish tradition of having no “e.”

Malting: The malting process used in distilling imparts various flavours beyond what the original barley and water provide. The best example is the peat moss used by many Scottish distilleries to add a smoky flavour to their whisky. Shelter Point is planning to add onsite malting to its operation to complete the entire field-to-flask cycle. By having its own malting process, Shelter Point will be able to try various types of smoking, from maple to other woods and even possibly seaweed collected directly from the Salish Sea.

Single malt whisky: A whisky made from malted barley in a single pot distillation process, as opposed to blended whisky made from more than one type of grain or distillation pot.

Wort: The wort, sometimes referred to as the “mash” is the porridge-like mixture of grain that is slowly and evenly heated up to produce fermentation and start the distillation process.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

 

What gives whisky its unique flavour? The soil, and the variety and quality of the grain it grows, but also factors like the distilling process, the type of barrel used, and even the water. At Shelter Point, water bubbles up from a mountain-fed aquifer, for a pure-tasting addition.

While the entire Shelter Point building is gorgeous – from the flowered entranceway to the lounging area flush with cushiony, aged-leather armchairs – the distillery, with its soaring, timber-trussed roof and gleaming copper stills, is truly spectacular.

Comments are closed

Just Posted

Rimbey Meals on Wheels volunteer driver Diana Pearman picks up a bin of supplies to start her week of delivering the hot meals.
photo submitted
Rimbey’s Meals on Wheels program continues to meet the need

Volunteers are always welcome to help with the long-running FCSS program

Alberta Health Services' central zone jumped from 162 active COVID-19 cases to 178 on Friday. Five additional deaths were reported provincewide, bringing the toll to 323. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graham Hughes
622 new COVID-19 cases set another daily high Friday

Province confirmed 622 additional cases Friday

Alberta children whose only symptom of COVID-19 is a runny nose or a sore throat will no longer require mandatory isolation, starting Monday.
477 new COVID-19 cases confirmed in Alberta on Thursday

Changes being made to the COVID-19 symptom list for school-age children

Remembrance Day will look a little bit different this year due to COVID-19. (SUBMITTED PHOTO)
Rimbey Remembrance Day service to be live streamed

This year, the service will be held at the Legion, rather than the Community Centre

There were 410 COVID-19 cases recorded in Alberta Wednesday. (File photo by The Associated Press)
Alberta records 410 new COVID-19 cases Wednesday

Central zone dropped to 160 active cases

City of Wetaskiwin Mayor presenting the AUMA Above & Beyond Award to John Maude and Susan Quinn. Ren Goode/ City of Wetaskiwin.
Wetaskiwin County residents win the AUMA Above & Beyond Award

John Maude and Susan Quinn are being recognized for their role in Wetaskiwin’s sustainability.

Conservative leader Erin O’Toole rises during Question Period in the House of Commons in Ottawa on Wednesday October 28, 2020. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)
Conversion therapy ban gets approval in principle, exposes Conservative divisions

Erin O’Toole himself voted in favour of the bill, as did most Conservative MPs

Pilots Ilona Carter and Jim Gray of iRecover Treatment Centres, in front of his company’s aircraft, based at Ponoka’s airport. (Perry Wilson/Submitted)
95-year-old Ilona Carter flies again

Takes to the skies over Ponoka

Children’s backpacks and shoes are seen at a daycare in Langley, B.C., on Tuesday May 29, 2018. Alberta Children’s Services Minister Rebecca Schulz says the province plans to bring in a new way of licensing and monitoring child-care facilities. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
Alberta proposes legislation to change rules on child-care spaces

Record-keeping, traditionally done on paper, would be allowed digitally

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau shakes hands with US Vice-President Joe Biden on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Friday, December 9, 2016. THE CANADIAN PRESS/ Patrick Doyle
A Biden presidency could mean good news for Canadian environment policy: observers

Experts and observers say even a U.S. outside the Paris agreement may ultimately end up in the same place

People take a photo together during the opening night of Christmas Lights Across Canada, in Ottawa, on Wednesday, Dec. 4, 2019. The likelihood that most Canadians will enjoy a holly jolly Christmas season of gatherings, caroling and travel is unlikely, say public health experts who encourage those who revel in holiday traditions to accept more sacrifices ahead. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Justin Tang
Ho, ho, no: Experts advise preparing for a scaled-back COVID holiday season

Many of the holiday season’s highlights have already been scrapped or are unlikely to take place

Sen. Kim Pate is shown in Toronto in an October 15, 2013, file photo. The parliamentary budget office says a proposed law that would give judges discretion on whether to apply a lesser sentence for murder could save the federal government $8.3 million per year. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Colin Perkel
Judicial discretion for mandatory minimum sentences for murder would save $8.3M: PBO

The result would be fewer people in long-term custody at federal correctional institutions, experts say

Husky Energy logo is shown at the company’s annual meeting in Calgary on May 5, 2017. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
Husky pipeline spills 900,000 litres of produced water in northwestern Alberta

The energy regulator says environmental contractors are at the site

Most Read