At the new Victoria Caledonian Brewery and Distillery in Saanich, hand-hammered Scottish copper pot stills gleam with polished artistry of age-old craftsmanship. “Quality in, quality out is my adage” says Caledonian founder Graeme Macaloney. He imported the stills from Forsyth’s, a world leader in manufacturing distillation equipment, since 1890. “What we’re aiming for is to register on an international scale in terms of the quality of our brewing and distilling, our people, and our tourism offering.”
Caledonian’s reception and gift shop is tastefully decorated with Scottish motifs and features a well-stocked walk-up bar. Professionally trained and kilted staff are happy to chat with locals popping in for a quick pint of delicious craft beer. “More and more people want to be able to buy local products,” he says. “Now, they’ve got something right on their doorstep in Saanich where they can come in, have a pint, or take home a growler or six pack.”
Macaloney’s passion for craft beer and Scotch style single malt whisky is an essential part of his heritage. “It really started when I was growing up just outside of Glasgow. Especially at family gatherings like Hogmanay New Year’s parties,” he says. “You’d have what we call a half and a half in Scotland. Your half was your dram of whisky and then a half pint of beer as a chaser. That was the environment I was weaned on.”
Macaloney speaks with authentic enthusiasm of a connoisseur and a confident wisdom of a professional with three decades of experience in fermentation, venture capital fundraising and business development. He started his career as a summer student at the Black and White whisky factory in Glasgow, fell in love with “all things whisky” and later earned a PhD in Fermentation Optimization.
After years of careful research and planning, Macaloney has assembled a team of over 250 Canadian investors, who’ve each invested a minimum of $10,000 in to his venture. “It’s truly by Canadians, for Canadians,” he says proudly, “We aren’t a multinational. I went out personally and talked to these guys, poured them a whisky and told them our vision.
His vision is to create a tourism cluster where locals and tourists can enjoy the full brewing and distilling experience. “We offer tours where you get to touch it, taste it, smell it.” emphasizing the facility is ideally positioned to anchor a tourism corridor between downtown, the airport and Swartz Bay ferry terminal.
Before settling on the Saanich location, Macaloney scouted properties around town. “The municipality here went out of their way to really help us get this up and running as soon as possible and they immediately got the vision of having us to help create new clusters for tourism and business.”.
The working part of the distillery features an open floor plan. “We view it as an event space. If people want to have a party or corporate event, or even a funky wedding, we can lay it out for them.” Whisky and beer food pairings and special public tasting events are coming soon.
With eighteen staff, Macaloney has assembled a talented team of global industry leaders, including Dr. Jim Swan who pioneered a fast maturation process behind some of the world’s top award-winning whiskies. Macaloney aims to bring his product from Saanich to the world. “As soon as the whisky is matured, within five years we’ll be in 25 countries. Locals too can participate in whisky making by coming in to design their own 30 litre cask of whisky with the help of our experts.”
Near the copper stills, Caledonian’s made-in-Saanich whisky is maturing nicely in beautiful oak casks imported from the best cooperages and bodegas in Europe. “Whisky makers have a saying that ‘the wood makes the whisky’ because the wood adds all the colour and 60% of the flavour complexity,” Macaloney notes. “It’s the most organoleptically complex spirit you can drink, that’s why people are flocking to it, because it’s so complex and interesting and varied.”
Victoria Caledonian Brewery and Distillery is located at 761 Enterprise Crescent. Visitors are enthusiastically welcomed by knowledgeable, kilted staff and tours operate daily on the hour between 11am and 8pm. Find them online at vcaledonian.com