Writer: David Orkin
Most would agree that one of the many highlights of a holiday in bonnie Scotland is the opportunity to visit one (or more) of the wonderful array of whisky distilleries. Few people might know that across the Atlantic Ocean lies a land called New Scotland, known since 1621 by its Latin name, Nova Scotia. Parts of Canada’s second smallest province – in particular, Cape Breton Island – remind many visitors of “auld” Scotland. So when exploring the straths, glens and lochs around the Nova Scotia town of Inverness, perhaps one shouldn’t be surprised to come across what was North America’s first single malt whisky distillery.
Green hillsides flank the village of Glenville, and it was once known as Black Glen (but that’s a story for another day). These days, most people stop here for just one reason: since 1990, Glenville has been home to the Glenora Inn and Distillery.
And like Nova Scotia – a province renowned for its rugged coastline, folklore, tales of pirates, ghosts, and mist-veiled lighthouses – itself, the precious liquid produced at the Glenora Distillery has a story to tell.
Not all that many years ago, it came to the notice of the mighty Edinburgh-based Scotch Whisky Association (SWA), an organization “which fulfil its role of protecting, promoting and representing the industry at home and overseas”, that some scoundrels in Canada were making and selling some kind of whisky with the word “Glen” in its name. Although the word “glen” is a Scottish word for a deep valley, the globe is dotted with places outside Scotland with “Glen” in their names. Some examples include Northern Islands Glens of Antrim, Glengowrie, Glen Waverley and Glenelg in Australia, Glenville, Niagara Glen, Glen Nevis and Glen Robertson in Canada, New Zealand’s Glen Eden, Glencowie and Glencoe, and Glen Esk and The Glen in South Africa.
However, the SWA filed a suit against the Glenora Distillery, arguing that the use of the word “Glen” in the distillery’s signature product (Glen Breton Rare Single Malt Whisky) would mislead consumers to believe the spirit was a ‘Scotch’, a designation that can only be used for whiskies made in Scotland. At this stage, I should point out that Glenora Distillery made (and makes) no references to ‘Scotch’ anywhere in its marketing.
After the first set of prolonged legal wranglings, the Federal Court of Canada ruled in 2008 that the distillery company could not register a trademark including the word “‘Glen” in the name of its whisky.
Glenora appealed the decision, compiling 4,000 pages of documentation. A panel of three judges from the Federal Court of Appeal found in favour of the distillers.
But the SWA would not accept defeat. It may have lost that battle, but the war was not yet over – even though there was no evidence of even one whisky-drinker being misled by the nomenclature.
The SWA had one more card to play, and play it it did, taking the matter to the Supreme Court of Canada, the highest court in the land.
In June 2009, (to paraphrase the late Bill McLaren) there was dancing in the streets of Glenville when the verdict was delivered. The Supreme Court of Canada dismissed the SWA’s final appeal and awarded court costs to the distillers. Over seven years of litigation finally ended, and the distillery registered the Glen Breton trademark.
In 2010, the good folk of Glenora celebrated their victory and the first anniversary of the trademark registration by releasing a 15 year-old Single Malt, appropriately named the ‘Battle of the Glen™’. It is not a Scotch.
“The colour is pale honey gold, the nose is honey, vanilla, spice and citrus. It is medium-bodied and the palate entry is gentle with very light peat, chocolate and fruit. The finish is good, long, warm and smooth with hints of apple and spice.”
The distillery’s first release was the Glen Breton Rare 8 Year, and it has also produced 10, 15 and 17 year versions of Gen Breton Rare ICE: cask-strength Glenora whisky aged for four months in barrels once used for Ortega Ice Wine made by a fellow Nova Scotia company, Jost Vineyards. However, the flagship product is Glen Breton Rare 10 Year, aged in American Oak barrels. The distillery’s stills were brought over from Bowmore, Scotland’s second oldest distillery.
So how does the only Single Malt whisky produced in Canada taste ? The colour is pale honey gold, the nose is honey, vanilla, spice and citrus. It is medium-bodied and the palate entry is gentle with very light peat, chocolate and fruit. The finish is good, long, warm and smooth with hints of apple and spice. This whisky was included in the “World’s top 50 spirits” according to Wine Enthusiast magazine in 2006, won a gold medal and was described as “exceptional” by the judges at the 2011 International Review of Spirits, and Ian Buxton – author of “101 Whiskies to Try Before You Die” – liked it enough to include it in his book.
If you visit Nova Scotia, head for Cape Breton Island. Glenville is on Highway 19, approx 9km north of Mabou and 10km from Inverness. The distillery and inn (13727 Hwy 19, Glenville; tel: 001 902 258 2662, Toll Free in North America 1 800 839 0491; www.glenoradistillery.com) have a lovely brookside setting and are open from early May to late October. Choose from nine spacious rooms or six hillside chalets. Be sure to dine at the inn’s restaurant where local ingredients are prepared with modern flair – try, for example, the lobster & scallop fettuccini or the coffee-rubbed ribeye steak. There’s also an on-site pub with free live Celtic music sessions twice daily. Regular standard distillery tours are offered: whisky enthusiasts should book a private tour in advance.
Between spring and autumn, Air Canada (0871 220 1111; www.aircanada.com) offers non-stop daily flights between London Heathrow, and Nova Scotia’s Halifax International Airport. All major car rental companies are represented in Nova Scotia, and there’s a good road network.
All images copyright of Nova Scotia Tourism Agency