The mission of Bearface Whisky’s Wilderness Series is to celebrate the terroir of the places that inspire its blends, to challenge the conventions of whisky making, and to make their blends accessible to all, beginners and connoisseurs alike. Bearface Wilderness Series 2 Mitlenatch Island achieves all three of these objectives beautifully. I had a chance to sit down with Master Blender Andres Faustinelli to hear the story of how this newest blend was created.
Celebrate Place- Mitlenatch Island
The forest inspired the first release in the Wilderness Series, Matsutake (which we review here). That blend included foraged matsutake mushrooms from the Kootenay Mountains, and they added an umami quality that evoked the earthy terroir. Moving from la terre to l’eau, and aiming to create something that would create a bridge between land and water, Faustinelli has now looked to the waves and rugged coast of the Pacific North-West for inspiration.
Mitlenatch Island in British Colombia is the place that inspires this latest limited release. Mitlenatch means “calm waters all around” in the Coast Salish language. The phrase beautifully captures the experience of tasting this whisky. It is smooth, mineralic, complex and multi-faceted.
Mitlenatch is a rocky island that, oddly, has a semi-arid climate because of its location in the rain shadow of Vancouver Island. It receives an average of less than 30 inches of rain a year, and there is a theory that the concentration of salt in the ocean waters around it is especially high.
It was while on a visit to artisan salt maker Scott Gibson at Vancouver Island Sea Salt that Faustinelli found his next taste objective. He wanted a blend that would capture the feeling of walking out of a brisk ocean and sipping on a whisky.
Break New Ground with Bearface Wilderness
The innovation in this blend is from the water. While learning about the salt-making process, Faustinelli tasted both the salt and the water that is a by-product of the salt-making process. Sea water is evaporated over maple wood fires to make salt. The distilled water that condenses in this process is pure water but retains the character of smoke and salt and ocean minerality. For the salt makers, it is wastewater. For the whisky maker, it is a magic ingredient.
With his ocean-inspired blend, Faustinelli decided to experiment by adding this distilled water to his whisky. First, he aged the whisky in Chardonnay and alligator-charred ex-burgundy casks, which impart roundness, sweetness, smoke and spice. Then, at the proofing stage, he cut the whisky with distilled water from the maple-smoked salt-making process. The result is a complex blend with a wonderful mineralic aspect.
Not Just for Whisky Lovers
As I wrote in my review of Matsutake, I often joke that my favourite way to enjoy whisky is to sit next to my husband while he drinks it. I love the smoky aroma, but most whiskies are too medicinal for me. Not Bearface. Both of the Wilderness Series blends are smooth and highly drinkable straight, even for a non-whisky drinker like me.
This blend effectively captures the smoke from the salt-making process. However, the smoke does not overwhelm the other flavours, as can so often happen with a heavily peated whisky. It evokes salt water in the first flush of flavour, with the bright minerality at the front of the taste. However, there is no unpleasant lingering sense of that seasoning. It’s all upside as far as the smoke and salt go.
I asked Andres what the reception had been so far, and he said, “Amazing.”
It really is.
Bearface Wilderness Series 02 Mitlenatch is available at the LCBO for $59.85. It is a limited edition, so if you’re curious, get a bottle while you can! Mitlenatch makes a fabulous Old Fashioned and also pairs well with the citrus in a whisky sour.
Cheers to innovation, flavour adventures and celebrating the places that inspire us!
Never drink and drive, and always drink with moderation.
Photo credits: BEARFACE