Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Caldera Canadian Whisky - The Maritimes in your glass

You can ask anyone from the #whiskyfabric who has come to stay with Graham and me, our life is wholesome, simple and good. Summer = Fantastic craft beer, fresh lobster and sailing. Winter = Hunkering down during bad storms, feet up by the fire, music/whisky and good food with friends. 

-35C & 7ft banks - Walk in the park!
We are indeed a rugged lot and living in the Maritimes offers us many things the rest of Canada doesn't necessarily get to experience: Spirit of community, life quality and a live and let live mentality. Now this is where people will say: "Now come on Johanne, you can find that anywhere in the world" and I won't argue that you can't. 

What I'm saying is, for most of us, our way of life is passed on from many generations of people who were the 'have not's" and as a result we are genetically inclined to look out for each other, take everything in stride and are built for survival. Just a few examples: After a massive snow storm, we help our neighbours dig out. While Montrealers drive for 3 hours to make their way to cottages in the Laurentides, I take my bicycle and drive about 5 minutes down to our boat on the Kennebecasis river and no I don't care what the color of your skin is, what religion you practise or who you choose as a life partner. 

Maritimers also share a deep love for beer, rum and whisky. The history of rum and beer is a long one but our first whisky distillery didn't take root until 1989 in the highlands of Cap Breton (NS). As we usher in 2016, we now have a few distilleries in each Maritime province making whisky. 

Truth be told there were two recent ones I had my eye on after seeing a few remarks on twitter about them back in October 2015 (thanks Bruce!) but I was immediately skeptical by some of the labels people were posting so went looking for website and product information. I'm not one to mince words - I was not impressed with the marketing "schitck" of either website but when my friend Craig reviewed the Caldera Hurricane 5 Blended Whisky and it gave me a bit more hope... 

Then I saw both would be poured at the Celebrate Whisky Show on March 5th and ensured they were both tasted. The first one tanked. I didn't like it at all I am really sorry to say. So I was a bit nervous as we headed to the next table. I ended up having a quick conversation with the owner/distiller - Jarret Stuart. I was very impressed by his whisky and bought a bottle to take home. Graham and I ended up contacting him later in the week and asked if we could come to visit him in the new location in River John Nova Scotia.  

We arrived shortly after lunch on Saturday March 12th (Graham's birthday). I knew as soon as we walked through the door Jarret was on the same wavelength as a true Maritimer. Dressed in Carhartt pants and Canada's equivalent to his 'wellies' we received warm handshakes followed by some Mortlach served in mason jars. (Man knows how to serve a good whisky!) He and Graham grabbed the old sofa in the corner and carried it over to where the current bottling area is and the three of us spent the afternoon sitting amidst brand new distilling equipment, glass bottles and thousands of boxes destined for market. We discussed whisky, rum making and Jarret's plans for the future. Caldera will be one of the few craft distilleries in Canada that grows its own grains: Corn, barley and rye and then turns them into whisky. First crops are being planted in April 2016 (that explained the website information).

In the meantime, his current whisky in his own words: "It's a whisky recipe I made and perfected here in my small still in Nova Scotia but I've outsourced it to a distillery out west where they make it to my specifications and ship it back to River John where I finish it locally"

It sells for $33/bottle. Yeah... I was a little bit gobsmacked!?!

He was quite honest in saying he could have upped the ABV or sold it at the recommended $45 price point and would have made more money but that's not what he wanted on the market. This is the Maritimes after all and sometimes it's about having less in the moment to gain more in the long run. I was impressed with his constant honesty and full disclosure at all times. 

I wanted to share my take on his whisky because I often think in "pictures" and as I quietly sipped on my Caldera the very first time at the whisky show this is what came to mind:

It's a Friday night and Graham and I have had a long draining work week. We shed our monkey suits, get into our jeans/t-shirts and flip flops. I prep two nice steaks, yell out to Graham to see if he wants me to pour a whisky while we enjoy some down time and wait for the BBQ to fire up. I pour two glasses of Hurricane 5 and we sit in our deck chairs. Nancy waves from across the street and comes over to ask how my dad is doing. We chat and she leaves to drive Greg to ball hockey. As the sensuous golden liquid slowly disappears from our glasses so does the stress that was weighing us down. Suddenly as we sit listening to distant lawn mowers, birds chirping and the sizzle of the steaks, we are officially 'defragged'. 

Hurricane 5 is a small piece of the slower pace, come what may, relax & put your feet up, you can borrow my ladder, did you need a pie for your fundraiser: 'Maritimes'. That's why this whisky excited me so much at the show and I named it as the top of my five favourite drams that night. I felt like I found a whisky that emulated what we live here on the east coast. Best value for money find of the night, hands down!

decided to share with Jarret what I had experienced and as I recounted that first glassful he sat back with his mason jar, smiled and said: "That's exactly what I want people to feel when they drink my whisky". 

So then I reminded him the only place you can get Hurricane 5 right now is Nova Scotia which is where he grinned even wider and divulged that Alberta will be the second province to get it, likely before the beginning of May 2016 (price point might be slightly higher due to transportation costs but he's hoping to keep it as low as possible) so of course I pressed on... where next? His answer was: "I was thinking world domination" (also has a great sense of humour) but on a serious note he's looking at the possibility of representation in Ontario, Quebec and as far as Texas by the end of this year. 

Just look at his smile!!! Happy, happy man ;)
Graham and I had a really great afternoon that Saturday. We also had the opportunity to participate in the bottling line. On average 4 men can rinse, fill, seal, label and pack 600 bottles in one hour. And you can't be from here and not know how much fun it is to sit in a brand new tractor! 

Jarret is doing his best to keep as much of the local flare for his spirits: Caldera was the name of one of the ships built in River John back in 1884 that sailed around the world. Hurricane 5 (name of his blended whisky currently on the market) is just that. Back in 1939, before they named storms, the owner of the barn where Jarret currently houses aging spirits, scrawled 'Oct 18/39 - Storm' on one of the large cross beams. Looking at the weather records, I found this was considered the most dangerous of the storms that year and was simply referred to as Hurricane 5. It would have been classified as a class 4 in today's terminology with winds up to 150 - 200 km/h. The whisky label is quite unique in that it's made from local birch wood (yes, it's wooden). 

Jarret wants to grow, make, promote and sell true local whisky/rum. He is committed to making that happen. 

My tasting notes (in case you were wondering):

Caldera Hurricane 5 Blended Whisky, 40% ABV

Nose: Just a spray of rye spices and then huge creamy toffee. Detect some freshly ground cloves but it's in the backdrop after it's been in the glass for a few minutes.

Palate: Smooth, silky and sweet. Nice notes of fresh gingeroot and honeyed citrus flavours.

Finish: Not long, slightly tannic with peppery notes. Lovely, balanced whisky from start to finish.

We will be watching as Jarret continues his journey as one of the east coast's new distilleries. Graham plans to be back when planting season starts and I really look forward to his rum production too!

Again, there's something to be said about the spirit of the east coast and I can't wait for the rest of Canada (and hopefully the world as Jarret says) to sip away at this laid back, enjoyable and very affordable Canadian whisky. 

I'll be there in spirit proudly saying: "Welcome to the Maritimes, put your feet up and stay awhile..."


PS -> You will note in the photo taken above that Graham and I have initialed the bottle. Actually we initialled 6 total. They have been packed and are going to market...  Jarret will be posting on his website and social media channels that if anyone finds the bottles in question and posts about it, they may get something special!  Looking forward to seeing if anyone actually finds them!  ;)


  1. Nice. When I spoke to him about a visit with our group he suggested this fall during his first harvest. Looking forward to the visit. I am getting a bottle today.

    1. Sorry Ken, I must have misunderstood when I asked if you wanted some... I somehow must have read you had already gone to Amherst to get one! Had I known, I would have glady dropped one off to you! We may end seeing you in the fall when he harvests!!

    2. No worries, I go to Sackville a couple times a week dropping off the boy to Mt A.

  2. Thanks for the mention Johanne! I continue to be impressed with Caldera / Jarret Stuart's willingness to answer even the geekiest of queries.

  3. Just bought a bottle of Caldera Hurricane 5. I just want to say thank you for a fine whisky. I only wish now that I had stopped at your distillery this summer when the wife and I was on vacation.
    Thanks again and cheers.