Nestled on the banks of the Northumberland Strait, River John is far from the centre of the spirit world. Then again, great spirits are often made in harsh and lonely environs. Islay in Scotland, itself a tiny coastal community, boasts a reputation for producing some of the most-prized single malts in the world. Perhaps the idea of producing world-class spirits in River John, whose population barely tops 2,000 — 1,000 less than Islay — isn’t such a far-flung idea.
River John’s Caldera Distillery was born over a late-night dram and an engaging conversation between Jarret Stuart and his father-in-law Doug Cameron. While Stuart, an entrepreneur raised in Calgary, had limited background in whisky, his father-in-law can trace his lineage to the owners of the legendary The Macallan of Speyside in Scotland.
What started as a conversation has resulted in one of the province’s most-beloved distilleries. At its core is an almost Scottish-like devotion to the notion that spirits can deliver terroir character, much like fine wine.
“With the opportunity to grow our own grains and corn, it was too tempting not to try and establish a whisky distillery on our newly acquired land,” Jarret says of the opportunity to craft uniquely Nova Scotia spirits reflective of their north-shore landscape. The distillery uses Canadian rye grown in the dense, dark clay soils found in this part of Nova Scotia. The coolness of climate and soil provides rye that contributes intense, spicy aromas to their whisky, a quality prized by rye whisky aficionados. The distillery also uses the local hard water, instead of treated water. The effort isn’t without its challenges, but the result is a lusher, more-textured whisky and one that better reflects its River John roots.
The distillery’s commitment to its place has led to legions of fans around the globe. Their spirits are served at many Canadian embassies and can even be found behind the bar at some of New York’s most exclusive bars. Not bad, for a distillery located on the quiet shores of northern Nova Scotia.
5 things you need to know about Caldera Distillery
- Caldera officially opened in May 2013.
- Jarret Stuart’s wife Tracy is an Olympic medalist (bronze, 2008, lightweight women’s double skulls).
- Their popular Hurricane 5 is a reference to a notation found on original beam in the barn that houses the distillery. The handwritten “October 18, 1939 storm” refers to a storm noted in history books as Hurricane number 5.
- Their whiskies are non-chilled filtered, much like other premium whiskies from around the world.
- Their prized Champlain is a marriage of Canadian whisky and French Cognac, a one-of-a-kind blend unlike no other in the world.