So, if a bear approaches you, let’s hope it is Paddington looking for something to wash down a marmalade sandwich. But if he reaches for the whisky, forcing a fight, go for the bridge of his sensitive nose.
Now, why on earth is Whisky Magazine giving bear safety tips? There’s a new bear in Canada, and chances are you are going to encounter it very soon. Blender Andrés Faustinelli has transformed seven-year-old corn whisky into Bearface 7 Years Old Triple Oak and like its namesake this whisky is a killer, though in a good way. Faustinelli’s unprecedented approach to whisky making produces a tonic to soothe even the most grizzly palate.
Faustinelli was an investment banker in Ambev, Venezuela when Hugo Chávez was elected president in 1999. Chávez shut down all trading activity in 2003 so in 2004 Faustinelli left the country to take a position buying and trading malted barley for a large beer company. From there he moved on to managing molasses, then liquids. “I came to the United States through Diageo and they put me in charge of their whisky inventories. It was my job to sell excess stocks,” he recounts. However, working with Diageo and the Crown Royal team soon led to a whisky epiphany.
So when California’s 3-Badge Beverage Corporation came knocking, he left Diageo. “3-Badge took me into mezcal and tequila,” says Faustinelli. “This was the first time I went from procurement into actually transforming sourced liquid. Before this, blending was selecting the right lots to maintain a consistent flavour and profile; now it transitioned into not only selecting the lots and batches but also to approaching different processes in finishing.”
One of his first was a critically acclaimed Canadian whisky called Masterson’s. He selected the whisky for the award-winning blends then shipped it to California for further barrelling.
“I was doing some blending and was also experimenting with Masterson’s by finishing it in virgin French oak and virgin American oak for limited releases. That was the start of working with very high-end seasoned oak like they do in winemaking. It was an eye-opener really.”
Faustinelli was busily racking up awards for Masterson’s when Anthony von Mandi called. He had founded the Mark Anthony Group, a company specialising in estate wines, and he was interested in Faustinelli’s work with Masterson’s and a blended mezcal called Bozal. “Anthony wanted to get into spirits and I said, you should do Canada. That was right at the time when Bourbon was demanding posh prices, and Canada had attractive whisky regulations and a lower price point that gave the freedom to do something different than Bourbon.
“We spent a solid two years developing Bearface. I started with 10 directions and behind each of those were five more directions. When we did the first 10, there was one outlier that came out with a different flavour, great colour and an unexpected finish, and about halfway through the project we knew this one was the right direction.”
Faustinelli purchases mature corn whisky in Ontario, 100 barrels at a time, and has it shipped to his finishing facility at British Columbia’s Mission Hill Winery. Since it is aged in used barrels, this whisky integrates oak and layers flavours in much the same way wine does.
“The wine casks were a natural choice because the quality of the Mission Hill Winery’s casks is amazing,” he says.
Wine casks are not used as long as whisky barrels are, so they have an abundance of flavours to impart to the whisky. “There is a perfect match between the output of the winery and the whisky that can then use those casks,” continues Faustinelli. A wine cask is considered depleted right around its third vintage. When the 150-proof whisky hits these casks, the high proof allows the whisky to penetrate past the four-millimetre deep wine portion and touch some of the unused French oak. This imbues the whisky with floral notes. After about 90 days, he selects the whiskies that are delivering the flavour and colour profile he wants and then he blends them.
That’s when Hungarian oak finishing comes into play. “We decided to create a whisky that isn’t in your face with grain notes and to do that, instead of rye, we finished the whisky in Hungarian oak. It has a spice character that you don’t find in American and French oak.” Faustinelli doesn’t char his barrels. Instead, he toasts them with either a heavy, medium-plus or medium toast.
“Each has a very important role and a different proportion within the blend,” he explains. “The critical point is that the medium–toasted barrels are going to give you tannins and a dry oak finish. We want the whisky to finish dry instead of ending on softer tannins. You start sweet, finish dry, then go back for more. For me, it’s extremely important to have this dry finish as a backbone.” The whisky in the medium-plus toasted barrels gives a spiciness that you would expect from rye grain. “The heavy toast is a texture bomb, the tannins are singing along and giving a lot of texture and fattiness to the whisky,” explains Faustinelli carefully.
Building on the success of Triple Oak, Bearface has set out on another path with its One Eleven series, which takes Canadian whisky’s famous 9.09% rule and turns it upside down. For One Eleven, Faustinelli has blended mezcal into the whisky. “I’m a terroir freak, I love anything that is connected to land and place,” he explains. “Mezcal gives this sense of place. From a blending perspective, I became very interested in finding something that could marry with the floral French oak whisky. The best mezcals are the wild ones; they become really floral over time and my thinking was, virgin French oak-aged whisky would pair really well.”
Canada’s whisky regulations posed a problem though. They forced him to use mezcal at least two years old. It took some searching to find one that still retained its earthy terroir and floral character. “For this first release, I selected a four-year-old corn whisky. The mezcal is so aggressive, even in this small proportion, if you do the marriage with an older whisky, the mezcal has a voice that will take over. I wanted to showcase the whisky, not the collaborating spirit.”
The success of his first Bearface One Eleven release, dubbed ‘Oaxaca’, has led to plans for a new addition to the One Eleven series every two years. “What I love about the series is it extends the limits of where Canadian whisky can go. It’s crazy the things you can do. If it’s an amazing ingredient, then share it. I love being in this space and am hoping to inspire more creativity in the category,” says Faustinelli.
The ethos of Bearface is transparency. And while the name does not pay homage to a family or a legacy, the whisky is well on its way to creating one. “We’re here to disrupt and we’re here to show you what you can do with Canadian whisky. My personal target is not challenging other Canadian whiskies but showcasing to the outside world the positive aspects of what you can do in Canada. We should really focus on that and bond together to show what Canadian whisky can do.”
So, if you do go down in Andrés Faustinelli’s woods tonight fingers crossed the only bear you encounter is Paddington looking for a marmalade pairing. But, if he goes for your whisky, look bigger, stare him in the face and you know what to do next.
Bearface 7 Years Old Triple Oak Canadian Whisky (42.5% ABV)
An oak runway lands juicy dark fruits, black cherry and currants layered with caramel, cloves, dry spices and peppery floral notes. Starts sweet, finishes dry.
Bearface One Eleven Series Oaxaca Batch No. 1 (45% ABV)
Booming peppery spices radiate with clean oak, tobacco, peaches and a buttery sweetness. A pit-roasted floral earthiness and hot spicy finish is loaded with el gusto.
Masterson’s 10 Years Old Straight Rye Whiskey (45% ABV)
A judiciously crafted landscape of moist earth, grassy dry grain and burlap sacks with zingy pepper arching with floral vanilla, aromatic leather and flaked tobacco.
Masterson’s Straight Barley Whiskey (46% ABV)
Slick and sweet with blooms ranging from earthy to herbal. Fresh cut grass and dusty straw are dredged with white pepper and spices changing to cereal sweetness.