The goal of the co-owners behind Yukon Brewing was to craft spirits that appealed to their taste buds first, the hope being that, eventually, others would raise drams of it, too.
Their palates were right. The company’s spirits brand, Two Brewers, was recently awarded the best single malt whisky of the year at the 2019 Canadian Whisky Awards, where they were pitted against some of the top producers from across the country, regardless of scale of production. That spirit, which was also given a gold medal, has a sherry cask finish.
It was one of four medals the company won at the competition.
There’s irony here. You can’t buy it anymore, at least the genuine drink rated for the competition.
Co-owners Bob Baxter and Alan Hansen make roughly 40 barrels of whisky every year, putting them into the 1,200-bottle arena, the batches of which will never be exactly that same.
“If you happen to have one in your liquor cabinet at home, lucky you,” Baxter said, “you have the best single malt last year, but you can’t come down here and buy it.”
Baxter is trying to conserve what he has left of it as he only has half a bottle himself.
“We love the fact that people love what we make as much as we like what we make,” he said, “because we’re not in it for the volume and we’re not in it for the money.”
Over the last three years, Yukon Brewing has submitted 10 different variations of its single malt whiskies, securing 10 medals.
That ratio was no different this year. Four spirits were entered and four medals gained, the most they’ve received to date.
Two “innovative whiskies” won bronze.
One was hopped; the other was a Munich malt whisky, barley that’s used for German Oktoberfest beers.
“(It has a) real bready kind of a characteristic that it brings to the whisky,” Baxter said of the latter, adding that it’s bright at the front of the tongue, almost citrusy, then bready afterwards.
The fourth whisky entered won a silver medal. It belongs to the more classic Scotch variety.
“We put together the expression, to mimic what you would find in Scotland as a non-peated whisky,” Baxter said.
Davin de Kergommeaux, co-ordinator of the Canadian Whisky Awards, said Two Brewers whisky is at the forefront of its class, having competed against Canadian heavyweights.
“They competed against well over 120 recipes for all whiskies,” he said. “They have to compete against everything, everything,” he said, including Crown Royal lines.
Part of Yukon Brewing’s success, he said, partly lies in the patience staff take with their batch making.
“Everybody else in Canada seems to be in a great big hurry. They want to get it out, but these guys really waited a long time, and it really does benefit the whisky to mature,” he said. “I love that they take such a slow pace, you know, they’re able to just do it a little bit at a time and the result has been quite phenomenal.”
The fact that barley is used is another facet that sets the company apart, de Kergommeaux said, adding that many producers try to replicate Scotch, which doesn’t measure up, given its origins.
Spirits are judged impartially, “totally blind,” he said.
“You don’t want judges to have any preconception of what they’re going to taste. We don’t tell them anything. None of them know what they’re sampling.”
Ten judges are given samples, which they taste test over a six-week period.
“They take their time and they submit back scores,” de Kergommeaux.
It’s after this point, that the whiskies are categorized – single malt, for instance, for which there were roughly 24 of, he said.
The Two Brewers sherry cask single malt was the only one of its class to qualify for a gold medal, De Kergommeaux said.
While pleased with how his whisky fared during the event, Baxter said part of that likely has to do with single malt producers being few and far between in the country, and because they have been distilling for the past 10 years.
“We were way ahead of the curve,” he said. “There’s some companies that are now in their third or fourth year. Older isn’t always better, but older’s pretty nice to have in your back pocket when it comes to whisky that’s been aging, right?
“We definitely have that leg up.”
Contact Julien Gignac at email@example.com