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Issue 134 - Way Out West

Whisky Magazine Issue 134
March 2016


This article is 2 years old and some information provided may be time sensitive. Please check all details of events, tours, opening times and other information before travelling or making arrangements.

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Way Out West

Alberta Distillers and Calgary cocktails

It was one of those rare moments in life when you regret not carrying a straw. We were in Calgary on a nose-to-tail tour of Alberta Distillers when suddenly a guy in grey coveralls and industrial-strength gloves was violently drilling out an oak barrel's bung hole. Jamming a metal tube with what looked like a bull's perforated nose ring into the hole, he let the barrel roll down a conveyor. “It draws air in,” he said, reading my mind, as high-proof WhistlePig rye quietly gurgled into a trough below. Alberta Distillers is the last Canadian distillery to dump barrels the old way.

A proper upbringing (and lack of a straw) kept me, from dropping to my knees like a dust-parched cowpoke at a cool stream, and scooping whisky into my mouth. The angels had already taken theirs; in Alberta, this would be the cowboy's share.

Everything Alberta oil tycoon Frank McMahon touched turned to gold. When he dug a mine, he found diamonds. When he bought land, it gushed oil. If he tripped and fell, you could bet he would find a dollar. So of course, when in 1946 he and rancher Max Bell opened a distillery in Calgary, Alberta, the finest rye grain on the planet grew just steps away.

McMahon thought local and bought local decades before it became hip. His Midas touch wasn't luck, but smart business sense such as hiring George Henry Reifel, the son of famed distilling mogul George Reifel to operate the distillery. Within six years Rock Mount 100% Rye Canadian Whisky was walking out of li...

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