(The Premium Bottlers story continued from yesterday)
Barry Bernstein explains the mandatory blending with domestic spirits regulation. "The 1% rule is mandated by the Importation of Intoxicating Liquors Act (IILA). It is a little confusing, but it essentially says that only provincial liquor authorities can import liquor, however there are certain exceptions. A holder of a federal Excise Spirits License (such as Premium Bottlers) can import bulk alcohol to bottle from certain countries like USA, Mexico, Costa Rica and Chile. We can also import bulk alcohol from other places, but ONLY for the purposes of blending. The policy of the Canada Revenue Agency, the federal agency that administers our license, is that the addition of 1% domestic spirits is sufficient to satisfy the law. We have chosen to add 1% Canadian Malt Whisky (from an unnamed source!) that has been aged at least as long as the Scotch so that our product is still 100% Malt Whisky."
So, they learned that they would need to add 1% domestic spirit to their Scottish bottlings. Since they accepted that the law was not going to be changed any time soon, they sought an aged Canadian single malt whisky (barley spirit) and added 5 drops (1%) to every bottle of their single cask Scottish whisky. Experiments showed that the difference was completely unnoticeable. But the product cannot be called a single malt whisky, but rather a "pure" or "vatted" malt whisky. One problem solved, but the struggle was by no means over. They still needed their Federal and Provincial licenses.
After weeks of being passed around through phone and email from one bureaucrat to another, they learned that they needed a physical place of business before they could apply for their licenses. So they took yet another leap of faith, however this time it was an economic one. Without any licenses, any products, or any source of revenue, they leased an industrial unit north of Toronto. They have been paying rent there since September 2005.
They applied for and received their Excise Warehouse license and Excise Spirits License. They could now legally import spirits in to Canada. However they still could not sell a drop.
They applied for their Provincial licenses (each Province has a different license with different criteria and fees) and learned about product testing that was mandatory in certain provinces. They debated their label style and design and met legal criteria of font, sizing, information inclusion, etc. They secured cork-stopped bottles, a feature all whisky lovers appreciate.
When they could finally focus on sourcing, they discovered a few challenges with the Scotch Whisky Association (SWA). The SWA wanted to approve Premium Bottlers labels to ensure it met their guidelines, which is quite fair, but this added another few weeks to the whole process.
Other obstacles continue to present themselves, from getting notices from freight companies abroad and Canada Customs when their casks are refused at port "not allowed to import alcohol-only the LCBO can do that", to missing the ONE LCBO product call per year, but the dream is finally a reality. After $100,000 of personal investment, countless hours of research, negotiation, and stress, the first independent bottlers of malt whisky in Canada have products available.
Praise the Barrys!!! They are pioneers, passionate and ballsy, breaking the ice so that future whisky lovers don't have to wish they lived in a free country.
"Freedom and Whisky gang thegither" - Robbie Burns
PREMIUM BOTTLERS products are currently available in Alberta, will soon be in BC, and will be in Ontario by October. They never add colouring nor chill filter, and bottle at 46% abv.
LINK, Cask 1012
Divided nose, meatiness and maltiness. Horse barn and concrete, like getting off the streetcar at Exhibition Place in Toronto. Gouda cheese, white grapes, fax paper. Touch of smoke.
Pleasantly slick mouthfeel, not oily but slightly thick. Flavours of red plum skin, taste of the smell of vegetable oil, coriander seeds, Danish or German rye bread, and a little hot, stimulating the tongue like mint gum.
A slightly unusual sherry cask Linkwood, in my experience, but that is what makes single cask whisky so much fun! A perky whisky that could replace the late afternoon cup of tea as a pick-me-up. Not for me, of course. I would NEVER drink whisky in the afternoon...
Malt Mission #56
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