Whisky Magazine Issue 138
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A road trip down the Rockies part 1
“Mamas, don't let your babies grow up to be cowboys.” Ed Bruce, 1975
You're parched and impatient in the tasting room at Willie's Distillery, in Ennis, Montana where it's shoulder-to-shoulder people. So you walk half a block to the liquor store only to learn that the local bestseller is none other than Willie's Genuine Canadian Whisky. However, it turns out the liquor store is the only place in town where you can buy it. Montana law says Willie Blazer can't pour it in his tasting room because he doesn't actually make it there. Instead, Willie trucks in this 100 per cent rye whisky from Calgary, Alberta, then cuts it with water from a local fishing stream to 'cowboy strength' - 40 per cent. Willie shrugs, “Canadian whisky is still an important part of the North American Rocky Mountain West.” And Ennis is still a working cowboy town.
However, our story does not begin in Ennis, but 500 miles north of Montana, in Calgary, just a stone's throw from the Rocky Mountain Foothills, and right in the heart of cowboy country. The cowboy whisky bug first bit here, where a cache of liquid gold trickles unseen, right under the average whisky buff's nose and into the nearest tin cup. In days gone by, Alberta's whisky had a less than stellar reputation, though. In fact, whisky was not made in Alberta – legally that is – until horse breeder Frank McMahon and cattle rancher Max Bell built Alberta Distillers in 1946. Before that, until the early 1900s, Old West traders trekked no...