Collingwood's Best Kept Secret
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Collingwood's Canadian Mist Distillery began producing fine Canadian whisky in 1968 and internationally renowned whiskies in 1971 after spirits powerhouse Brown-Forman bought the operation. However, the downtown distillery itself remains rather unknown.
“We seem to be the best kept secret in town,” says David Dobbin, general manager of Canadian Mist Distillery at 202 MacDonald Road. “It's a wonderful company. It's a small distillery with 31 employees and a quality manager who has been here for over 30 years. Many people have been here for a long time and have an immense pride in what they do. We had a gentleman retire 2 years ago with over 44 years of service. It's fantastic to have that kind of continuity and pride in the operation.”
Venerable American-based Brown-Forman, which produces best sellers like Jack Daniels whisky and Finlandia vodka, created its Canadian Mist whisky primarily for export to the U.S. market and Collingwood whisky for both the Canadian and American markets. Both products are made with fresh Georgian Bay water, locally sourced corn, rye and malt, and aged in toasted, flame-charred oak barrels to create their unique flavours.
Collingwood whisky was launched in its eponymous birthplace in August 2011 after three years of preparation for the new super premium Canadian whisky. At that time, Collingwood was the first new North American whisky to be launched in a decade.
“Brown-Forman had been in the bourbon business for a long time and developed a super premium bourbon called Woodford Reserve that was very successful,” explains Dobbin. “They thought why don't we come up with a super premium Canadian whisky, something really special that stands out from everyone else? The largest market for Canadian whisky is the United States. But in Ontario, whisky is a pretty busy shelf at the LCBO. Canadian whiskies have a long history of being a popular drink in Canada in general, and in Ontario in particular.”
Dobbin notes the taste of a fine whisky is challenging to describe because each taster finds subtle differences in the flavour of the same whisky. The aroma of a high quality whisky, discovered by ‘nosing' or sniffing a drink, can also be very complex.
“For a good whisky like Collingwood, a real aficionado would nose it from a distance and then close in to get the different aromas being released,” explains Dobbin. “If you warm it or add water to it, other aromas are released. You look for something on the nose that makes you say wow, this is something great. A good whisky has a taste with an absence of harshness and a finish at the end that tastes a bit different.”
The impressive oak barrels used to age Canadian Mist and Collingwood have a huge influence on the whiskys' unique flavours.  Under Canadian law, distilled whisky must be matured a minimum of three years in wooden barrels. Brown-Forman is the only spirits company in the world that makes its own barrels. The company owns stave mills that cut raw lumber into staves, and two cooperages that turn the staves into metre-high barrels that hold about 200 litres. Dobbin feels the importance the barrels play in the process is often overlooked.                       
“Colour is extracted from the wood, and the barrels themselves are toasted and then charred by flame,” explains Dobbin. “There is a complex reaction that occurs within the barrels that has a high impact on the flavour of the final product. We have a strict policy on how long a barrel can be used. You could use a barrel, in theory, for 50 years, but there would be no flavour left. So, we use the barrels a limited amount of times and then re-sell them. There is actually a huge used barrel market around the world.”
In 1870, George Garvin Brown founded Brown-Forman in Louisville, Kentucky. The company is still owned by the Brown family who, after five generations, is still very active in the publically traded business.
“The original Mr. Brown was a pharmaceutical salesman when whisky was mainly sold in large containers like barrels,” says Dobbin. “There was a problem with adulteration – people would take whisky out and put water in the barrel. He came up with the idea of whisky in a sealed bottle.”
Whisky sales in Canada tend to go up once the weather turns frosty and people welcome a warming drink. However, Collingwood whisky is also popular in cocktails during the summer season. In fact, super premium Canadian whisky sales are growing strongly across North America – up over 16 per cent during the last 12 months.
“What we call brown spirits are growing in general right now, but whisky is clearly a growth category,” says Dobbin.

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