Macaloney’s Island Distillery (previously Macaloney’s Caledonian Distillery) made headlines because of its legal struggles with the Scotch Whisky Association. Now that they’ve resolved their dispute, this Canadian distillery on Vancouver Island is ready to be making headlines for all the right reasons.
In today’s blog post, we’ll go over the three different styles of whisky produced at Macaloney’s Island Distillery, which was founded by Graeme Macaloney, a Scottish immigrant with Irish ancestry who moved to Canada many decades ago. They make single malt whisky (An Loy), peated single malt (Peated Mac Na Braiche), and Irish style pot still whisky (Kildara).
But first, let’s shortly introduce Macaloney’s Island Distillery. And most importantly, go over some of their production methods and philosophy. Starting with the involvement of the late Dr Jim Swan, who has consulted for many whisky distilleries worldwide, most famously Kavalan. Yes, that means STR casks (shaved, toasted and re-charred) are used for maturation, but there’s a little more to Macaloney’s whisky.
Firstly Mike Nicolson, former master distiller of Lagavulin and many other Diageo distilleries, is involved too, so I imagine he has had some input as well. But what most stands out when talking to Graeme, is his genuine enthusiasm, passion, and drive to make quality whisky. Before founding his distillery in 2016, he worked in the biotech sector and specialised in fermentation – expertise that has no doubt come in handy these past few years.
When I interviewed Graeme recently, he said: “I told Jim Swan and Mike Nicolson that I wanted to create a house style that’s going to be creamy and velvety on the palate. It’s got have a lot of natural oils. I wanted to have a lot of tropical fruit in there. Because we use local Canadian barley it is giving us a thicker, meatier, malt base for our whiskies. So let’s build in fruit and floral notes through fermentation and copper contact, to balance the bigger grain notes.”
A lot of information to unpack there. Most interestingly the use of local Canadian barley from British Columbia. As Graeme explains it, this isn’t yet as optimised for distilling as the higher starch varieties that are grown in England and Scotland. “They try to channel more alcohol, but as a result the side metabolisms, which create flavour, have been diminished. The whisky industry now gets 420 litres of alcohol from a tonne of barley. When I use Canadian barley I’m down between 325 and 350 litres of alcohol per tonne. I’ve got a diseconomy of scale.”
Fermentation and distillation are the two big contributors to fruit notes. The fermentation takes 72 hours. “I know some people are experimenting with 5 or 7 day fermentation, and we inadvertently did one of those recently. But I think the perfect balance there is the three days.” Macaloney’s Island Distillery uses a standard M-1 distiller’s yeast, which is great at converting sugars into alcohol, and a second yeast that they keep proprietary.
Distillation is slow and cut points are very precise, per instructions of Dr Swan. It takes them twelve hours or more to distil a batch, which Graeme attributes as crucial to building up the tropical fruits. Graeme doesn’t divulge the cut points, but calls them “perhaps the narrowest cuts in the entire industry.”
A more exhaustive article on Macaloney’s Island Distillery will be published in the upcoming issue of Whisky Passion. If you can read Dutch, I think it is a very worthwhile read. Macaloney’s Island Distillery might well be one of the more exciting malt whisky distilleries in North America.
Macaloney’s Single Malt An Loy (46%, OB, 2023)
Macaloney’s Single Malt An Loy matured in 60% first-fill Bourbon casks, 15% Portuguese STR red-wine barriques, and 15% Oloroso/10% PX Spanish Sherry casks.
Nose: Very bready and malty with hints of dried apricots and oranges, just a tinge of angelica root, some raisins and honey. Baking spices too. Almonds. It’s intriguing and enticing, but I have difficulty finding the right words. Taste: Very malt-forward again, accompanied by jammy fruits, a touch of caraway, toffee, and oak spices. Hints of rye bread and butterscotch too. Finish: Medium length. More of the above, meaning bready and fruity with a touch of aniseed.
This had me at bready. Macaloney’s Island Distillery An Loy is a very exact single malt that champions its ingredients. Not your average single malt.
Macaloney’s Single Potstill Kildara (46%, OB, 2023)
Macaloney’s Single Potstill Kildara matured in Kentucky Bourbon, Spanish Oloroso, virgin American, and Spanish Pedro Ximénez (PX) casks
Nose: We’re starting with a touch of nail varnish but then venture into darker notes of raisins, tobacco, and cinnamon. Opens up after a little while, fresher stone fruits along with Demerara sugar, lychee and an assortment of berries. Overall a little shy though. Taste: Quite a viscous, almost wine-y mouthfeel, this seems rather reliant on sherry oak at first. But there’s certainly more to it, and its pot still DNA speaks. Some cough syrup (often also found in Irish pot still whisky from Midleton), plums, barley husks, but also dark chocolate and charred red berries. Finish: Medium length. Nutmeg, touch of rye bread and strawberries.
Markedly different from their single malt, Macaloney’s Island Distillery Kildara is undeniably a single-pot still whisky. And a good one at that. It needs some time but is ultimately rewarding.
Macaloney’s Peated Mac Na Braiche (46%, OB, 2023)
Fully matured in Portuguese STR red-winecasks, Macaloney’s Peated Mac Na Braiche is made from Canadian barley peat-smoked to 54 ppm at the distillery in a proprietary soaker-smoker.
Nose: Very savoury from the get-go. I suppose it’s the charred beef notes that stand out at first. Gentle peat-smoked paprika powder (that’s probably not a thing) but also sweeter notes of cinnamon, and then lemon pith, rose water, and a touch of cooked cauliflower. Taste: Somewhat dry and ashy but with warming touches of charcoal and peat smoke. A malty sweetness is accompanied by oat cookies, lemon peel, cinnamon and tobacco. Some dried strawberries too. Finish: Medium to long. Drying oak, ashy and a pinch of salt. Honey too.
Matured entirely in Dr Swan's Red Wine STR casks, Macaloney's Peated Mac Na Braiche comes through with a mixture of a fruity, floral, smoky spirit and oak influence. Would love to try a bourbon-matured version of this though.
I came away very impressed with each of the whiskies from Macaloney’s Island Distillery. It seems to me the less efficient Canadian barley truly is a difference maker, as its influence shone through. Considering the whiskies are probably not much older than maybe 4 or 5 years, the level of quality is all the more impressive.
Macaloney’s Island Distillery has an EU webshop if you’re interested. It’s also imported to the Netherlands by Van Wees.