By: Becky Garrison
Launched in June 2023, the Northwest Whiskey Trail has the distinction of being the first distillery trail to cross an international border. The brainchild of Graeme Macaloney, Ph.D., CEO, and Whiskymaker at Macaloney’s Island Distillery & TWA Dogs Beer, this self-guided trail guides visitors in a quest to sample award-winning whiskies that speak to this region.
Traditionally, whiskey is known for its consistency and heterogeneity with each bottle distilled so that each bottle of a given branded whiskey tastes identically. In comparison, Northwest whiskies are informed by the local climate and locally sourced raw materials that result in expressions of whiskey that are unique to that particular distillery. While the term terroir is typically used to describe the different types of soil for growing wine grapes, as Doug Frost notes in The Oxford Companion to Spirits and Cocktails, simply put, “terroir” is the terrain. “The factors that can vary with a spirit’s place of origin include climate, weather, season, topography, geography, proximity to specific flora, soil, subsoils, and the place and conditions under which these beverages are stored, and even the local traditions and regulations that can affect decisions made by the people who are producing the spirit. (Page 722-723)
While Scottish-born Macaloney first fell in love with Uisge Beatha (“water of life”) during a summer job bottling whiskey, upon arriving in British Columbia, he became enamored of the BC craft beer industry. Upon deciding he wanted to make his own beer and whiskey, he assembled a team of experts: Dr Jim Swan, the foremost whisky maturation expert in Scotland, and Master Distiller Mike Nicolson, who worked in over 18 renowned Scottish whisky distilleries. Together they sought to create a brewery and distillery that encapsulated the spirit of Vancouver Island where their facility is based. As a nod to their success, their Kildara, an island whisky made from their triple distilled single potstill range was awarded the World’s Best Pot Still Whisky at the World Whiskies Awards.
Macaloney was joined in his effort to create this whiskey trail by Copperworks Distilling Company, who stated on their website that their goal for working with this tour is to generate more awareness of single malt whiskey in the Pacific Northwest and provide whiskey lovers (either local or from far and wide) a fun, educational experience across a range of places and producers.
Kelly Woodcock, Partner & Vice President, Guests Experience & Whiskey Club, Westward Whiskey spoke to how this trail is in line with their mission, which she describes at its core is about the place and people from which it comes. “We rely on the inspiration and ingredients found in the American Northwest, so when we heard about the Whiskey Trail we knew we had to be a part of it — it’s a natural fit for us. Our Distillery Tasting Room was designed to be a home for both whiskey enthusiasts and those who are looking for a fun way to spend their afternoon, and this Whiskey Trail helps spread that message to both the casual traveler and those who are seeking out whiskey experiences like the ones we offer.”
Also, Tyler Pederson, Westland Distillery Manager, pointed out how this trail allows them to showcase the flavors of the Pacific Northwest through their American Single Malts. “We fully support the Northwest Whiskey Trail’s mission to guide whiskey lovers through the geological tapestry of whiskey-making, and introduce guests to the caliber of whiskeys coming out of Seattle.”
This tour begins in Oregon before traveling to Washington State and then concluding in British Columbia. The initial tour comprised of seven distilleries: Westward Whiskey in Portland, OR, Copperworks Distilling and Westland Distillery in Seattle, WA, Macaloney’s Island Distillery in Victoria, B.C., Goldstream Distillery in Cowichan Valley B.C., Shelter Point Distillery in Campbell River, B.C., and Deep Cove Brewers & Distillers in Vancouver, B.C. Since then, Goldstream Distillery shuttered its doors due to a real estate issue. Also, Deep Cove Brewers & Distillers’ tasting room is temporarily closed as of this writing. These changes point to the ongoing challenges of arranging any self-guided tour of distilleries given the volatile nature of this industry.
Macaloney chose to focus on distilleries situated along the Pacific Coast because their spirits are all informed by a similar coastal ethos. For example, Shelter Point Distillery is surrounded by 380 acres of farmland and located right alongside the ocean where the salty sea air adds a distinctive flavor to the estate of barley used in their spirits. Also, the sea salt and winds inform both the production of whiskey, as well as the aging process.
Any distillery situated along the Northwest Pacific Coast is eligible for inclusion in this tour provided they produce at least one single-grain whiskey albeit barley, wheat, rye, corn, or a non-traditional whiskey grain. Also, they need to have a tasting room open to the public with opportunities for visitors to interact with their products.
Those wishing to participate in this tour need to grab a Northwest Whiskey Trail passport at any participating distillery and collect a stamp at each destination. As the passports do not expire, travelers can see these distilleries on their own schedule. Once the passport is full, it can be redeemed at the final distillery for an exclusive, limited-edition Northwest Whiskey Trail Glencairn glass. A list of current participating distilleries and additional information about each distillery can be found at the Northwest Whiskey Trail’s website: https://northwestwhiskeytrail.com.
Challenges in Launching a Whiskey Trail
In Macaloney’s estimation, the biggest challenge in launching the Northwest Whiskey Trail was lack of funds, as many craft guys, himself included, don’t have much of a budget. They discovered it requires over $35,000 US dollars annually to design a website, print out brochures, conduct PR, and other marketing measures. He recommends that distilleries interested in starting a whiskey trail for their unique region pool their resources together. Also be sure to connect with local tourism organizations such as tourist boards and Convention & Visitor Bureaus, as well as explore what funding opportunities might be available from local and regional governmental sources. While he sees this tour as initially appealing to whiskey aficionados, over time, he predicts others interested in experiential tourism will be drawn to the interactive experiences available at a distillery.
The Rise of American Single Malt As a Spirits Category
The announcement of the Northwest Whiskey Trails comes amidst the American Single Malt Commission’s advocacy efforts for a formal establishment of a “Single Malt whiskey” category. In 2020, the American Distilling Institute established the “American Single Malt Whiskey” category for those whiskeys. This category was made according to the ASMWC’s proposed statement of identity, which is as follows:
• Made from 100% malted barley.
• Distilled entirely at one distillery.
• Mashed, distilled, and matured in the U.S.
• Matured in oak casks of a capacity not exceeding 700 liters.
• Distilled to no more than 160 (U.S.) proof, or 80% ABV
• Bottled at 80 (U.S.) proof or more, or 40% ABV.
On July 29, 2022, the TTB published in the Federal Register “Notice No. 213, Proposed Addition of American Single Malt Whisky to the Standards of Identity for Distilled Spirits. In this notice, they propose to amend the regulations in 27 CFR part 5 that set forth the standards of identity for distilled spirits to include “American single malt whisky” as a type of whisky that is a distinctive product of the United States. After closing comments on September 20, 2022, the TTB has not made any further announcement regarding Notice No. 213.
While this new spirit’s category only impacts U.S.-based distilleries directly, Macaloney points to how the rise of American Single Malt benefits Canadian whiskeys as well. “Scotch dominates the whiskey market, and of course, Scottish Single Malts is the flagship spirit known internationally. So, whiskey snobs gravitate towards these single malts thinking they’re the best whiskeys in the world. This new American standard for single malt whiskeys is helping to spearhead a sea change with consumers starting to realize the quality of single malt whiskeys coming from outside of Scotland such as the United States, Ireland, Canada, and Japan.