Armed with nothing but a backpack and unbounded curiosity, master blender Andres Faustinelli set off into the rugged B.C. wilderness of the Monashee Mountains looking for a way to connect Bearface Whisky to the wild, the terroir, the elements and a sense of place. He was successful in finding inspiration, but in an unlikely place—a rare and highly prized mushroom known as the Matsutake or pine mushroom. And then, after more than two years of experimental development, Bearface Matsutake edition was born.
The exploration part of this tale, though, is not a rare or uncommon theme at Bearface; the brand has been exploring the frontiers of the Canadian whisky landscape for years, experimenting with the lesser-known “one-eleven” rule unique to Canada that allows the use of one part non-whisky spirit, wine or sherry to every 10 parts of Canadian whisky. This rule is traditionally hush-hush among distillers, but Bearface decided to bring it into the light and celebrate it—as in its Oaxaca Series, which blends in one part agave espadin mezcal from maestro mexcalero Pedro Hernández.
The company has also explored impressively unique ageing techniques in its Bearface Triple Oak, by using three different oak casks—American, French and Hungarian—and “elementally ageing” them in a repurposed shipping container in the B.C. wild, harnessing the harsh weather into the casks where extreme temperature and humidity ranges amplify the interaction of wood and whisky for a richer, smoother flavour (cool, we know!).
Now, the new Matsutake edition marks the launch of the Bearface Wilderness Series—and it’s the first, we hope, of many more beautiful bottles to come. Its identity is derived from the natural beauty and ruggedness of Canada; this is a drink to be enjoyed around a roaring fire, in a cottage or cabin, mountain- or lake-side, with whisky-loving friends. The process begins with the most challenging step: foraging for the rare mushroom in the forest, around October, and most often in areas ravaged by fires. Once collected and cleaned, the fungi are infused into premium single-grain whisky, introducing not just their flavour but also the moisture in them that holds the essence of the woods from which they came. The whisky is then aged in three different styles of sherry casks and, as previously described, elementally aged to extract and marry the nuanced nutty, sweet-fruit elements of the sherry casks with the earthy, savoury character of the foraged mushrooms. Make no mistake, this is not a “mushroom whisky,” but a complex and layered Canadian whisky first and foremost, made all the better by the umami depth and cinnamon-spice elements of the Matsutake mushroom.
Certainly, the entire process of this whisky release has been steeped in trial and error but, according to a Spanish proverb that has guided Faustinelli, “You need to get lost to find yourself.” Each Bearface limited release is intended for a one-time launch only, and each bottle (priced at $50) is numbered for a uniquely Canadian experience. The Bearface Matsutake release launched at the LCBO this month, and Faustinelli is already tinkering with the next limited Wilderness Series issue. While the inspiration for what’s coming next is anyone’s guess, it’s safe to say it will push the boundaries of an industry heavily steeped in tradition, and push Canada closer to the forefront of whisky innovation. —Janet Helou