Editor’s Note: These whiskies were provided to us as review samples by the party behind them. This in no way, per our editorial policies, influenced the final outcome of this review. It should also be noted that by clicking the buy links towards the bottom of this review our site receives a small referral payment which helps to support, but not influence, our editorial and other costs.
Bearface whisky is something of a pan-Canadian product. Although the mash bill leans heavily on corn (99.5% corn to .5% malted barley to be precise) and eschews the rye commonly associated with Canadian whisky, it travels across much of the country. The core spirit is distilled in Ontario before being transported to a B.C. winery, where it is prepared to undergo a unique maturation process that Master Blender Andreas Faustinelli has termed “elemental aging.”
This can be thought of something like backcountry Jefferson’s Ocean— casks are stored in repurposed shipping containers that leave the maturing whisky somewhat exposed to the elements of the remote Canadian North. Of particular interest is the intense seasonal fluctuation of temperatures in this part of the world which introduces both variables of extreme cold and extreme heat to the interaction between wood and alcohol.
I tasted three of Bearface’s offerings– their flagship and two special bottlings. Bearface’s flagship bottle is the Triple Oak, aged in a combination of American ex-bourbon barrels, French former red wine casks, and virgin Hungarian oak. I also tasted the Oaxaca edition of their One Eleven Series, which takes advantage of the flexibility available to the Canadian whisky category by blending in one part mezcal to ten parts of Bearface’s whisky. Inter-liquor blending of this sort is disqualifying for many major whiskey categories, but it is fair game for Canadian whisky, which grants a wide latitude for experimentation.
Speaking of experimentation, the last sample I tasted from Bearface is their Wilderness Series bottling featuring a cask infusion of foraged matsutake mushrooms.
Vital Stats: Aged 7 years. 85 proof. Priced at around $40.
Appearance: Pale gold color and medium-to-thin body.
Nose: Chocolatey-toasty notes vaguely reminiscent of the beer-brewing aromas of mashing in darker malts, but with a weird dry-erase marker off-note that kind of spoils the fun. I initially thought I’d gone overboard with the dish soap the last time I washed my glencairn but after I’d poured new tasters into a couple different glasses I was forced to conclude that this note belonged to the whisky…
Palate: They’re not kidding about the oak. Toasty wood, baking spice, and assertive tannins dominate the palate, punctuated by faint apple notes and a return of the dark malt flavors of the nose which settle somewhere between chocolate and coffee bitterness.
Final Thoughts: Interesting and unique. There’s some promising stuff here, but to my mind it needs some fine tuning to bring some more balance to the palate and to fix whatever is going on with the nose. I’m not really a fan of what I tasted, but I see how I could become one.
Bearface One Eleven (image via Bearface)
Tasting Notes: Bearface One Eleven Series
Vital Stats: No age statement. 85 proof.
Appearance: Brass, on the thin side.
Nose: Holy Coa de Jima Batman! The agave is strong on the nose and augments the wood and caramel aromas in a way that adds up to a tobacco-like smokiness.
Palate: It’s fascinating that although the mezcal is only a small portion of the blend, it’s the agave flavors that come out swinging on the palate. That distinctive, semi-acidic sweetness opens space for a more characteristic caramel body with an omnipresent smoky background.
Final Thoughts: That smoky flavor is likely going to be polarizing as it sort of crescendos over the course of the whisky’s time on the palate and becomes an almost acrid/charred taste on the first sip. I found my palate calibrated to it after a couple sips and it became less overwhelming, but if you don’t care for smoke you probably won’t care for this. Overall the Oaxaca One Eleven is very unique; a fun and mostly successful experiment that suffers a bit from the overly assertive smoke notes. This promises to be a versatile cocktail ingredient.
Bearface Wilderness Series Matsutake (image via Bearface)
Tasting Notes: Bearface Wilderness Series Matsutake
Vital Stats: No age statement. 85 proof.
Appearance: Medium-gold coloring and a light-to-medium body.
Nose: Subdued, earthy aroma with just a nip of spice.
Palate: Rich and complex. Tastes sort of like how decaying wet leaves smell (in the absolute best way possible) supported by a chewy spiced caramel sweetness reminiscent of brett cider.
Final Thoughts: Delicious, inventive, a lot of fun. Absolutely worth a try. This is exactly the kind of whisky I think enthusiasts should taste. Whether or not this unique combination of flavors appeals to your specific palate, it offers plenty to like and is interesting and challenging enough to broaden your horizons.
Jacob Wirt’s past lives as a cook and cultural studies researcher continue to inform his appreciation of fermented grain beverages- not (only) because these professions might drive one to drink, but because they offer a reminder of the knowledge, work, and history that makes every glass possible. His first love...