The newest brewery-distillery in Greater Victoria has set up shop in Saanich with a Scotsman and an Australian at the helm and copper pot stills in the back.
Just off the Pat Bay Highway, which takes you to the BC Ferries terminal at Swartz Bay, step inside this new tasting lounge at Victoria Caledonian Brewery & Distillery. Greeted by a kilt-wearing ambassador, grab a seat on a plush leather bar stool for a flight of Twa Dogs Saison, Pale Ale, IPA, and Porter or start with a wee dram to warm you up before a tour.
Graeme Macaloney is the Scotsman behind the operation, with Aussie Dean McLeod as the Brewmaster. Macaloney grew up just outside of Glasgow and later went on to complete a PhD in Fermentation Optimization.
Macaloney has brought together Master Distiller Mike Nicolson⎯whose family has a century-long history of distilling in Scotland⎯and Dr. Jim Swan, a maturation expert with a history of making award-winning spirits, to craft Victoria Caledonian’s whisky offerings.
They have created a unique program for their own whisky to come, including a cask program for buyers to be involved from malting (they use floor malting, an old Scottish traditional method) through brewing and distilling to the delivery of your 30L cask with a brass tap. Choose from five spirit options ranging from single malt to heavily peated, or Irish style, with a range of ten cask wood options.
It will be at least three years before the whisky currently being distilled is ready, even using Swan’s rapid maturation technique, but in the meantime, Victoria Caledonian has two guest whiskies available in the tasting room: Among the Heather and Prince Dougal’s Dram. Both were distilled, matured and vatted in Scotland, then bottled at the plant in Victoria.
There is a ton to learn here; it’s an easy spot to spend a couple of hours. You might like to start with a guided tour, hosted every hour on the hour, and running about 45 minutes, to get the full story on the history, process and details behind everything Caledonian has on offer. Beyond the beautiful copper stills, the brewing tanks are filled with Twa Dogs beers that include a Saison, Pale Ale, IPA, Porter and seasonal offerings.
“Twa Dogs” is a reference to a poem by Robert Burns, the famous Scottish writer; all the beer names come from his poetry.
Dean McLeod moved over from Lighthouse Brewing to head up production and brewing here. He has experience brewing in Australia as well, from small brewpubs to larger-scale production operations. After a tour head back into the lounge, start with a flight, a sleeve or a pint, join the long table or curl up on the couch with a book about whisky. The front of the lounge is filled with guest and blended whiskies, books, locally crafted copper jewelry, branded clothing and more.
I enjoyed the Jolly Beggar’s Pale Ale; it has a nice balance of malt and mouthfeel, and at 4.5% ABV and 20 IBU, it was a great introduction to the line-up. The Drouthy Neibor IPA jumps up to 7% ABV and 60 IBU, with four different hops, enjoyable bitterness and a nice finish. You can fill a growler to go, or find their six-pack bottles in government and private liquor stores.