Collingwood is the first new Canadian whiskey to be launched in a decade. Three years in the making, the whiskey is distilled at Canadian Mist Distillery in Collingwood on Georgian Bay. The distillery's parent, Kentucky-based Brown Forman, says the crystal clear waters of Nottawasaga Bay are a key ingredient in the new whiskey, which undergoes a unique hand-crafted toasted maplewood mellowing process. (Photo courtesy Town of Collingwood Economic Development)

Collingwood the toast of the town —
new Canadian whiskey creates a buzz on Georgian Bay

There’s a new excitement in the air in Collingwood — already hailed for its four-season resort living — and it’s all thanks to a new whiskey that traces its unique taste to the sparkling waters of Georgian Bay.  

Named for the town in which it is distilled, the “Collingwood” hand-crafted Canadian whiskey was launched with great fanfare on Aug. 31 at the local LCBO by Brown-Forman, the Kentucky-based company whose Canadian Mist Distillery in Collingwood produces the new spirit, which was introduced to the United States in February.  

“Collingwood is a great name. It’s regal,” Brad Fletcher, Brown Forman’s managing director in Canada, said at the unveiling in Collingwood. “We could have named it anything, but with the quality of the product, we wanted to recognize the Georgian Bay water, and the people who make it.”  

Since the Ontario launch, the whiskey has been showing up on local menus — it will be the star of the show in November when restaurants pay tribute to Collingwood during the Whiskeylicious event  — and the phones have been ringing more often at the Town of Collingwood. Seems everyone from tourists to industry to people looking to relocate want more details about the town and the new whiskey’s roots.  

“It’s always a positive note in economic development when you can promote clean, safe water,” says Collingwood Mayor Sandra Cooper. “And we have that here.”  

In fact, according to Fletcher at Brown Forman, Collingwood (the town) has “the best pure spring water in the world.” Combine that water with the finest in Ontario grains and a hand-crafted toasted maplewood mellowing process and you get a whiskey that is smooth and uniquely Canadian, he says. According to a review at the online Canadian Whisky publication, Collingwood comes “highly recommended” and scores four stars for a unique taste that is “juicy, luscious and rich, with a toffee-like mouth-feel.”  

“Whiskey, some would say, is all about the water, and the water that becomes Collingwood Canadian Whiskey is drawn from Nottawasaga Bay,” reviewer Davin de Kergommeaux writes. “The result of thousands of years of slow melt, the ice-age waters of Nottawasaga Bay still contain a hint of their origin. Although now mixed with snow-melt and precipitation, traces of this glacial past remain. When you taste your first Collingwood, remember that a little bit of what you are drinking began as glacial melt some 10,000 years ago, and has rested since in the largest solera system in the world — the Great Lakes. Savour it.”  

Whiskey flying off the shelves

If you’re itching to try the first new Canadian whiskey in a decade, you had better stock up. Now in wide distribution at LCBO stores across the province, Collingwood is a hot commodity in its birthplace and surrounding communities. In fact, a recent online inventory check found that the new whiskey — which comes in an attractive flask-shaped package and costs $29.95 for a 750 ml bottle — was all sold out in Collingwood, Thornbury, Meaford, Owen Sound, Port Elgin and as far as Kincardine to the west. The whiskey was also unavailable in Wasaga Beach to the east and nearby Stayner. The closest LCBO locations with stock on hand were Barrie (about 57 kilometres south, or a one-hour drive) and Midland (about 60 kilometres east, or a 72-minute drive).  

Lucky for Scott Carter, chef and proprietor at the Stuffed Peasant, a Collingwood bistro known for its ribs, steak and arctic char, he thought to stock up on Collingwood while planning the special menu for November’s Whiskeylicious promotion. But already, his supplies are dwindling fast. He’s used six bottles since the local launch after deciding to take a couple of his menu items and “augmenting them” by adding Collingwood whiskey to the recipes.  

“To my pleasant surprise, it improved them!” he told “They will stay on the menu even after Whiskeylicious.”  

One of those recipes is his pork ribs, which are braised in an apple cider that is then used as the base for his barbecue finishing sauce. “With the Collingwood in the sauce, it adds a dollop of sweetness,” says Carter, who says the whiskey is a perfect complement for apple-based recipes. Now that word has got out, “I’m selling more ribs.”  

Locals and tourists are also dropping by to taste his new cocktail (the Double Barrel is equal parts iced apple cider and Collingwood whiskey over ice, with a cinnamon stir stick) and his famous chocolate cake. While the cake was scrumptious when it featured Jack Daniels (another Brown Forman product), “it will knock your socks off” now that liberal amounts of Collingwood have been substituted, he says.  

Eat and drink the new Collingwood

If you happen to be in Collingwood for the Whiskeylicious promotion throughout November, you will be able to taste Collingwood whiskey in everything from main courses to desserts as local restaurateurs let their creativity run wild. For example, the Whiskeylicious menu at Catch 22 Fresh Market Grill includes “intoxicating” Black Tiger shrimp flambéed with Collingwood whiskey, butter and maple-glazed candied pecans; “drunken” braised beef short ribs with Collingwood whiskey maple glaze; and for dessert, “inebriating” Collingwood-style banana Foster cheesecake with Collingwood whiskey caramel butter sauce.

For the mayor, Whiskeylicious is the perfect downtown revitalization event because it shows off the town’s culinary talents. “It broadens our tourism interests,” Cooper says of the new whiskey and its role in promoting Collingwood, which still has that small-town feeling but enjoys big-city amenities to go along with its abundance of nature and outdoor sports. “It’s why young professionals want to live here.”  

What does Cooper think of the new Collingwood whiskey? “I’m not a whiskey drinker,” the mayor tells, adding she prefers a glass of wine. “But at a local restaurant today, I had pulled beef on a bun. The meat had been simmering in Collingwood whiskey and I found it very flavourful.”  

While the mayor did partake in a small taste of Collingwood whiskey at the LCBO launch party and found it smooth to the taste, Cooper admits: “I’d rather eat it.”  

Go online to check out restaurants participating in Whiskeylicious in November. Whiskey lovers will be happy to find they can both eat and drink the new Collingwood at more than a dozen restaurants. — October 2011