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Don’t call it scotch, it’s single malt whisky

OYSTER RIVER — The waiting is the hardest part.

Tom Petty sang that back in 1981. Patrick Evans and James Marinus are living it today.

As owner (Evans) and operations manager (Marinus) of Shelter Point Distillery, the duo still has over a year’s wait before they can produce their first bottle of single malt whisky at their distillery in Oyster River, located halfway between Courtenay and Campbell River.

“The earliest it can come out is June of 2014. It has to be in a cask for three years to legally be called a whisky in Canada. We’re 18 months in,” Marinus says, adding that same requirement applies in Scotland, home of the “water of life.”

Marinus notes there is a chance their whisky – it’s only “scotch” when it’s from Scotland – might not be ready for consumption next summer. “We’ll reserve the right to say ‘Let’s hold on to that another year.’ I’m thinking we’re not going to have to, and we’re not going to want to. But we just don’t want to put a product out that’s not good.”

And even if the whisky is good to go, Marinus says decisions will have to be made as to how much of the three-year-old do they sell and how much do they keep for their 10-year and 12-year and 20-year bottlings.

“I suspect year 10 will be one of our better years. Once we have a 10-year product out there we’ll be in full swing.”

Whisky is judged by its age, but Marinus thinks the novelty of a Canadian single malt will entice people to try it.

The only other single malt whisky distillery in Canada is in Cape Breton.

Marinus says their whisky will be sold at their distillery at first, then go out through the provincial liquor distributers. The goal is to go across Canada then overseas, where lower taxes makes for a more profitable market.

Single malt drinkers are a discerning demographic, and Marinus says he will make the Shelter Point whisky in the same fashion as they do in Scotland.

Evans and Marinus imported two copper pot stills from Scotland and a master distiller from Scotland trained Marinus.

“I want to be like the Scots as much as I possibly can, but still be Canadian. We are Canadian, we can be a little different, but I want to respect the traditions.”

Shelter Point got its start after  two men who were looking for investors to build a distillery approached Evans and Marinus. After many years of dairy farming on the Evans’ family farm, they decided to go for it. The dairy farm property proved a natural location.

Marinus says an aquifer under the property provides an abundance of perfect water. They are growing their own grain and, in the long-term, will be looking to add a malting facility which will allow them to produce their single malt “from field to flask”  a rarity even in Scotland, Marinus points out.

As for the waiting, Marinus says the initial investors are not involved in the distillery. “Just Patrick and I. The financial overhead and long-term wait for money is a lot to take on. But it’s not much different from farming – which is all long-term. So we weren’t as scared of it as a traditional businessman would be.”

Aside from the stills from Scotland and a boiler from Ontario, almost everything else at the distillery is as locally sourced as possible. All the stainless equipment comes from Abbotsford, and the distillery itself is built of wood from the Evans’ property which Evans and Marinus milled themselves.

The other big question people ask is: “What is Shelter Point single malt going to taste like?”

“It’s really hard to say,” Marinus says. “I tell them it’s going to taste like nothing they’ve ever had before. Something unique to Canada for sure.”

And something single malt lovers will look forward to come the summer of 2014. Until then, visit www.shelterpointdistillery.com for updates.

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