It’s not uncommon for two very good friends to get along so well they end up running a business together. In this particular situation, two friends had a common goal, the desire to make Canadian single malt whisky. Barry Michael Bernstein and Barry Michael Stein (totally a coincidence) ended up doing something completely uncommon, however. They launched the first award-winning micro-distillery in Canada.
In 2009, the first of the spirit began to flow into barrels and four years later when I walked through their doors they had just released their first Canadian Single Malt. Now you might imagine the distillery spread out over several acres of land, however, they are actually situated in a small strip mall near Concord, Ontario. Every inch of their floor space is operational and they have all they need to make whisky but most importantly the distillery has two tenacious and very dedicated owners: The Barrys. If you know anything about whisky, you will agree that many distilleries use the buzz word “craft”.
Being the first to do anything doesn’t come easy but since Barry and Barry have their hand in every aspect of their whisky-making process, this truly is a distillery that can proudly state they make a whisky that is from grain to glass. What made their 2013 release so interesting is they were the first Canadian distillery to bottle their single malt at cask strength. It was a bit of an innovative twist and something that had never occurred before in this category. It didn’t take long for Still Waters to gain a huge following. Within the first couple of years, they broke new barriers when their whiskies began selling in Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Alberta and certain parts of the United States.
Soon thereafter, the accolades started to roll in: Distillery of the Year – 2013 and Connoisseur Whisky of the Year – 2014. In December of 2015, I chose their 100% rye as my most favourite Canadian whisky of the year. Hands down it beat ryes from the United States, the Netherlands and other parts of Canada. It came as no surprise to me when it won Best New Whisky at the Canadian Whisky Awards in January of 2016. It was the first time a micro-distillery won a gold medal at these awards and they are still forthcoming having recently won international recognition with the 2016 Icons of Whisky Craft Producer of the Year award.
You would think that after all these years of hard work, Barry and Barry might start slowing down just a little bit but there’s no sign of that, as the future is very bright. In October 2016 they released a pair of very interesting whiskies to the Ontario market. Two blends: one Red, the other Blue. Both were created using a high percentage of their single malt and rye whiskies. The Blue bottled at 40% is a beautiful sipping whisky from start to finish whereas the Red blend is bottled at 43% and has a spicier nature with lovely sweet undertones. I predict here and now more awards are on the horizon.
With great whiskies as their foundation and a following that spans across North America, Barry Michael Bernstein and Barry Michael Stein have proven that hard work, passionate dedication to their craft and a great friendship are the flagstones to a successful partnership that has paved the way for other micro-distilleries. There is a certain amount of satisfaction in believing in a product from its inception and personally I see the next phase as a very evolutionary one for the Barrys, more importantly, the results will continue to breathe new life into the Canadian whisky.
by Johanne McInnis