Editor’s Note: These whiskeys were provided to us as review samples by Belfour Spirits. This in no way, per our editorial policies, influenced the final outcome of this review.
Ed Belfour and I were both in Salt Lake City for the 2002 Winter Olympics. I was a reporter for The Boston Globe, working on a story about then-Olympic CEO Mitt Romney. Belfour was a gold medal-winning goalie for the Canadian hockey team.
Eighteen years later, the two of us jumped back on the phone to talk about old times.
Okay, that’s a stretch. Ed Belfour wouldn’t know me from Adam, but we were doing our respective jobs in Salt Lake in 2002 and we did jump on the phone recently to talk about the NHL Hall of Famer’s new business: Belfour Spirits.
Belfour first broke into the National Hockey League in 1988, and spent the next 20 years building his resume as one of the greatest goaltenders of all time. He won an NCAA title with University of North Dakota, a Stanley Cup championship with the Dallas Stars and, of course, that Olympic gold medal. He played in six NHL All-Star games and twice won the Vezina Trophy as the best goalie in the game.
Then he had to answer the question that comes to many high-level athletes: Now what do I do with my life?
In Belfour’s case, what came next is a family business along with daughter Reaghan and son Dayn. Reaghan stepped in to manage finance and operations, while Ed and Dayn spent time together on the Bourbon Trail and attended distiller courses at Moonshine University. Dayn also worked an eight-month internship at Woody Creek Distillers in Basalt, Colo., doing everything from receiving grain orders to working in the tasting room.
“I didn’t want to be one of those celebrities who slaps their name on a bulk spirit and doesn’t know anything about it,” Ed says. “Both Dayn and I have been hands-on right from the beginning. We’re very detailed. We’re 100% into this.”
Dayn produced the family’s initial 12 barrels of rye while he was at Woody Creek, and then Belfour Spirits contracted with Southern Distilling Co. in Statesville, North Carolina, to source its whiskey moving forward. Ed says he and Dayn select the mash bill, pick the barrels and control every aspect of production and aging – including an insistence on sweet-mash fermentation rather than the more commonly used sour-mash process.
Belfour’s initial product line includes a bourbon finished with Texas pecan-wood staves, a rye and the limited-edition straight rye that Dayn first distilled at Woody Creek. Ed says a new small-batch bourbon will be released in April 2020, to be followed by another full bourbon release in 2021.
As of this writing, the Belfour whiskies are available only in Texas and Illinois. But the goal is to expand to 5-7 more states annually – starting with Missouri, North Dakota, South Dakota and Tennessee – and to add Canadian distribution.
Rye, based on a Northeastern mash bill from Pennsylvania, will always be a central part of the Belfour line, both Ed and Day say. But the family is also focused on building and managing its own distillery in the heart of bourbon country. The Belfours say they hope to host a groundbreaking in early 2021, in one of two unnamed Kentucky towns they’re considering, and to have a full distillery up and running within three years.
“Our distillery is going to be an awesome venue for entertainment,” Ed says. “It will have a music theme, a car theme, a history theme. We look forward to entertaining people when they come see us.”
Tasting Notes: Belfour Rye Whiskey
Appearance: golden, light brown
Nose: Peppery; the distinctive scent of rye hits you immediately; even so, there is brown sugar, cinnamon, fresh-cut oak and browned banana.
Palate: Goes down easily for a rye; soft leather; caramel; lemon zest; spiciness on the back palate. A long finish, with hints of nutmeg.
Final Thoughts: “Growing up with the ryes I drank, I wasn’t really a big fan, to be honest with you,” Ed Belfour told me. “We wanted to balance ours out more and make it easier to drink neat. We wanted it to taste pretty smooth.” It is smooth, and drinks well neat. But it also seems to lack some personality, as if Belfour is working out the kinks and the distillery’s best days are still ahead of it.
Tasting Notes: Belfour Bourbon Whiskey Finished with Texas Pecan Wood
Appearance: Dark amber, almost brown
Nose: Sweet, but not the corn-sweet I typically associate with bourbon; butterscotch; caramel-pecan custard. You can tell this is going to be a light and mellow bourbon, with a slow Texas drawl.
Palate: Sugar-glazed pecans; Graham crackers; like with the nose, the taste is not the the typical sweet corn taste I tend to associate with bourbon. The wood staves are more evident than I would have guessed. It’s nice, though; a different take on bourbon. There’s a little bit of a metallic taste on the back palate, but not overwhelmingly so.
Final Thoughts: “The majesty of a 300-year-old, oversized pecan tree on the old Belfour ranch in North Texas inspired this unique spirit,” Belfour Spirits says in its tasting notes. It’s interesting the extent to which that’s true; more than I would have expected. If you’re a hockey fan and would like a Belfour bottle on your shelf, this would be a good place to start. (At a lower price point than the straight rye.) It’s a beautiful-looking bottle, and the bourbon inside it offers something distinctive from most of the other whiskies on your shelf.
Tasting Notes: Belfour Limited Edition Straight Rye Whiskey
Vital Stats: 50% ABV; the original 12 barrels Dayn distilled have been aged for two years in American white oak; comes with a miniature chalice for a topper that looks suspiciously like a Stanley Cup, and each bottle is autographed and numbered; about $299 for a 750 ml bottle.
Appearance: Golden, light brown
Nose: Caramel; vanilla; hazelnut; toasted marshmallow; definitely sweeter and smoother than the regular rye.
Palate: Warm without being boozy; cinnamon; rye spice; semi-soft pomegranate; salt-water taffy; velvet plush. The finish is long, pleasant and coats your tongue.
Final Thoughts: This whiskey was aged two years before bottling, as opposed to one year for the regular rye. It shows, with more hints of oak and a denser flavor profile. My assumption is the $299 price point is based primarily on scarcity. (Dayn made only 12 barrels when he was at Woody Creek, and when it’s gone it’s gone.) That, and the novelty of the chalice topper and the Ed Belfour-autographed bottle.
But this was, in fact, my favorite of the three Belfour whiskies. It’s smooth and easy to drink in ways the other two aren’t. It was aged the longest, which perhaps shows the promise Belfour Spirits has as all of its whiskies age up in the years ahead.
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Scott Bernard Nelson
Scott Bernard Nelson is a writer, actor and whiskey reviewer in Portland, Ore. When he's not working, you can often find him fly fishing or rock climbing in the Pacific Northwest.