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Taste testing Bearface's Triple Oak - it's about to put Canada on the whisky map

If you like your whisky elementally aged, then this is for you.

Taste testing Bearface's Triple Oak - it's about to put Canada on the whisky map
Marc Chacksfield
16 March 2024

When you think of whisky, a few countries will come to mind: Scotland, Ireland, Japan... but not Canada.

While Canada has been in the whisky making business since the 1830s, it's never quite managed to match the popularity it has had in its own country oversees.

This is a shame as the laws surrounding Canadian whisky are a little looser than that of, say, Scotland. And with that comes a lot of experimentation.

Enter Bearface, a Canadian whisky producer that has recently been bringing bold new ideas to the whisky world.

Late last year it released a whisky infused with mushrooms. Part of its Wilderness series, this was the world's first Matsutake Whisky. As you would expect, the umami finish on that one is said to be incredible.

While that release is not currently in the UK, Bearface has recently released its Triple Oak whisky in the UK for the first time and ShortList has been lucky enough to taste test it.

The Bearface Triple Oak whisky is distilled from 100% corn and matured for a minimum of 7 years in ex-bourbon American oak barrels.

The real kicker, though is that it's then finished for 3-6 months in French oak red wine casks, and 60-90 days in air-dried virgin Hungarian oak. There are three variants of the latter, separated as medium, spiced medium and heavy toast barrels during the distillation.

We tried Bearface Triple Oak - it's about to put Canada on the whisky map
Image Credit: Bearface

To learn a little bit more about this, Bearface's master distiller Andres Faustinelli was on hand to explain his slightly maverick ways of distilling this whisky.

"The whisky industry is trying to always predict what is coming out of its casks," Faustinelli says, while taking us on a taste tour of the different stages of the whisky's maturation.

"They rotate the cask in the warehouses and they know exactly the blend between the casks in the top floor versus the bottom floor. They ensure there is some predictability.

"I don't do that. I am jumping into shipping containers with this whisky and the seasons in Canada are not predictable. Bearface is a blend that is a combination of different seasons."

From -10ºC winters to 40ºC summers, North Canada is very unique in its climate which means that Bearface can do something unique with its whisky making. They call this Elemental Ageing, where the extreme elements make for a more unique-tasting whisky in a shorter amount of time.

As Faustinelli mentions, this is done in shipping containers and the extreme weather surrounding them amplifies the maturing process, offering up what is certainly a bold flavour.

The last bit of this maturation process is fascinating, with the whisky going through three different Hungarian Oak casks.

"The idea came from a cooper that works with wineries," says Faustinelli. "I told then I had a problem with whisky that is very sweet, very fruity, juicy. It needed more more structure and it was this wine cooper that helped with that."

Each of the Hungarian Oaks offer a new layer of toast which adds complexity to the taste - the key to these casks are that they have never touched wine.

"We've gone from very old casks, to a seven years old and now ones that are virgin - it's almost a bourbon upside down," says Faustinelli about the process.

Taste testing Bearface Triple Oak - it's about to put Canada on the whisky map
Image Credit: Bearface

Tasting the Triple Oak and it's clear that the medium toast offers up hints of fresh oak and knocks back the sweetness of the spirit, the medium plus adds a welcomed spice to the mix.

The final heavy toast barrel adds another key ingredient: texture. There is a meatiness to this one, with hints of bacon fat.

It's utterly impressive how much taste difference the three casks offer, in such a little time - given the maximum time in these casks would be 60 days.

"My concept has always been that you don't need whisky to be sitting for years in a warehouse. You can layer oak in a very different way," explains Faustinelli.

"Maybe this is coming more from a more winemaker perspective than a whiskey maker but I think you can bring some something from wine.

"I always say, if you want innovation ask the wrong people the right questions."

It's certainly a different approach and one which would send prickles down a Speyside's spine but you have to admire the new techniques being used here.

And the final result is a decent dram that's got the right elements to make a superb Old Fashioned. It works fantastically well neat, too. I got oranges and cream, vanilla and oak and a dose of spiciness throughout. There's a real smoothness to the finish, too.

Like its distiller, Bearface's Triple Oak whisky is packed with passion - now I am just hoping that the mushroom-infused malt leaves Bear country and heads this way as well.