Andrew Campbell Walls

Andrew Campbell Walls

New Saanich brewery and distillery to offer growler fills, jobs

Construction underway on Victoria Caledonian Distillery & Brewery's 17,320 square-foot building in Enterprise Crescent, Saanich

The Island’s biggest municipality is poised to get its first craft brewery and distillery.

Construction is underway on Victoria Caledonian Distillery & Brewery’s 17,320 square-foot building in the industrially zoned area of Enterprise Crescent, off Glanford Avenue. The business is on schedule to be selling bottled beers and growler fills on-site this summer.

Owner Graeme Macaloney and head brewer  McLeod (recently of Lighthouse Brewing) said Caledonian will sell a line of beers similar to those in Victoria, while the single malt whiskey will take about three years (the legal minimum), though other spirits may be released in the mean time.

With a $2.4 million contribution from Agriculture Canada to produce all-B.C. whisky, the distillery is well on its way.

“We secured the money from Agriculture Canada because of our rapid maturation technology to use B.C. barley, turn it into whiskey, and ship it to 25 to 30 countries around the world,” Macaloney said.

Rapid maturation, or “rushed whisky,” involves innovative technology to induce the same flavours in three-to-four years that traditionally took six, eight, 12 or more, Macaloney said.

It’s relatively new to North America though it’s succeeded in other countries. To do so, Macaloney has secured the exclusive Canadian rights to Dr. Jim Swan, a Scotsman who’s rushed whiskey practices helped Taiwan’s four-year-old single malt Kavalan defeat a number of well-aged single-malts from Scotland in 2015 whisky competitions.

That Saanich landed the brewery and distillery is a coup, as Macaloney initially negotiated to open in the more aesthetically pleasing brick-clad roundhouse across from Spinnakers and the Crystal Gardens.

Coun. Fred Haynes is excited for the new business and economic growth in Saanich.

“The location is high traffic, it has all the ingredients for an amazingly successful production,” he said. “And it’s important to note that they chose it in part because Saanich was open in working with what they needed. Saanich is fortunate to have this high quality business come forward.”

Location was primary, as growler fills and facility tours are easily accessible from the Vanalman and Quadra ramps off the Pat Bay Highway.

“Our first concern was to have a municipally commercial situation where zoning not an issue, a site already zoned correctly, which we found with Enterprise,” said Macaloney, who had to walk away from the previous two deals. “We also found Saanich administration to be co-ordinated with mayor and council, and we got a very warm and fuzzy welcome, a feel good factor and that was absolutely critical to us.”

Tourism plays a crucial role in the business model for the location of Victoria Caledonian Distillery, as it’s situated on the “tourism corridor” that connects downtown to Butchart Gardens.

There will be a lot to teach to visitors, Macaloney said.

“It will be multifaceted, we’ll sell products, have tours with educational components and tastings and learning how the processes affect the flavours.”

The building promises to be eye-catching with 5,000-litre pot stills on order that will line one side while the brewery tanks will line the other.

“Down the middle we hope to create a special event venue where parties can take advantage of our unique location and products,” Macaloney said.

Macaloney has used a variety of smaller partnership models to invite investors, such as the pre-ordering of a 30-litre whiskey cask which the patron can flavour themselves. In addition, about 200 enthusiasts from here to Halifax have put money down as “founding owners” who will receive certain perks. More can join as shareholders of the company.

The latter will have access to a five day academy where they’ll learn to brew beer and distill whiskey, as well as annual complimentary tastings and other swag such as clothing.

“Imagine designing your own 30-litre cask of whiskey,” Macaloney said. “You get to sit down with our people, pick out your wood, decide if you want it peated or non-peated, and adjust the flavourings how you’d like.”

Casks will cost $4,800.

Personalized casks aren’t new but are traditionally 200 litres, giving the buyer more flexibility.

Overseeing the layout of the brewery this winter is McLeod, who left Lighthouse brewery in 2015 after 3.5 years. It was under McLeod that Lighthouse rebranded its labels, which resulted in a significant boost in sales for several of the beers, in particular the Shipwreck IPA, which ditched a mountain biker label as Switchback for that of a ship.

“We’ll sell the type of beers that people want,” McLeod said. “Certainly we’ll have an IPA, a regular line of beers from the area as well as seasonal beers. Essentially, we’ll experiment until we find what works.”

McLeod is from Australia where he started his brewing career. Caledonian is the 11th brewery he’s worked in and he comes on as the only non-Scottish member of the core team launching the brewery and distillery.

Brand ambassador and sales manager Andrew Campbell Walls is an ex-pat who comes from Edmonton where he was bar manager with The Bothy whisky bar and is a life-time brand ambassador for the Alberta Scotch Society. He moves here next week. The other Scot is master distiller Mike Nicolson, previously with 18 Diageo Scotch distilleries, who lives in Sidney.

The team is uncertain at this point what spirits it might produce though Macaloney says not to anticipate gin as Phillips Brewery’s Fermentorium is doing. Nor does he consider  vodka a worthwhile venture. Rather, Caledonian will likely join some of the new B.C. distilleries selling “young whisky” as a means to build a market share, which is something Caledonian will explore.

In Saanich there is little to no history of having a brewery though the Tod Creek Cidery opened in 2014 near Prospect Lake. Victoria Spirits did produce gin and other products in Saanich from 2007 to 2015 until it relocated into Sidney.

The pot stills for Caledonian are on order from Scotland company Forsyth’s, a three year wait list for the equipment, to be delivered in February.

Macaloney travelled to Portugal, Spain, and Kentucky with Jim Swan to secure the best possible wood on the planet to make sure we make great whiskies and wine casks. The latter is pertinent to Swan’s rapid maturation technology.

The Victoria Caledonian is now recruiting for production, sales and tourism staff in preparation for a spring launch. Macaloney expects to employ up to 20 new full time positions.