Bottles of a made-in-Surrey single-malt whisky are about to hit store shelves, following three years of distillation at the Central City facility in Bridgeview.
Casks there are being emptied of Lohin McKinnon whisky, named after brewmaster Gary Lohin and head distiller Stuart McKinnon.
The company is hoping to capitalize on a growing global thirst for whisky.
“The main thing here is always going to be beer, but whisky is certainly important to the operation, the spirits side,” McKinnon told the Now during a recent tour.
“Single-malt whisky is probably 99 per cent of what we do as a distiller,” he added.
Central City’s distillery has operated since 2013, when the company first opened its 68,000-square-foot facility on Bridgeview Drive. Queensborough gin, Seraph vodka and other craft spirits have since shipped.
“We’re working with a commercial distillery license, so we can do other things like rum and anything that can be distilled,” McKinnon explained. “We do have some rum on the go and will make some more in the next couple of weeks, but it’s very small for what we’re doing – maybe 16 barrels of rum for the year, which works out to a few thousand bottles in the end – not a tiny amount, but it’s nothing compared to doing 24 barrels of whisky a week, which is around 6,000 bottles or something like that.
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Originally from Scotland, McKinnon shares a passion for whisky with Lohin, whose brews help produce the company’s new malted barley beverage.
“It’s all intermingled, the beer and the whisky, because on the brewery side we make washes (a barley-water liquid with no added hops) for the distilling process,” Lohin noted.
“We’re lucky being a brewer because we get cash flow from the beer sales, and we don’t have to push the whisky out quicker like we would if we were a distiller only, and you’d be relying on the revenue from your spirits,” he added.
“That’s why so many distillers (make) a clear spirit like vodka or gin because they need a little bit of revenue. You can do those right away, and we have here, too, but for us whisky is definitely a passion, a labour of love, and you have to wait a minimum three years until it’s ready.”
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Central City’s whisky has aged in sherry and sweet-wine barrels, including Pedro Ximénez (or PX), Madeira, Muscat and others.
“Those barrels are hard to get, and we re-purpose them, reuse them,” Lohin said. “We’re experimenting with those and also the ex-bourbon barrels we get.”
In B.C., tax breaks are given to craft distillers who use all-B.C. barley to make single-malt whisky.
“We didn’t go that route because we feel we can’t make world-class whiskys with the malt from B.C. which isn’t very good, and it’s a short growing season,” Lohin said. “So we go out and buy barley from around the world.”
Spirits aren’t yet profitable for Central City, Lohin noted, so current production is all about future growth.
“Once that snowball starts rolling, it won’t stop,” he said. “We figure we can make about 600 to 800 barrels (of whisky) a year if we’re going 24/5 in the brew house, between beer and washes.”