Back in Britain, we call a quick drink a “sharpener.” It’s something strong and swiftly put away; downed to up productivity, foster creativity, and lift spirits. It’s also one of the many, many words that I’ve brought across to Canada after recently relocating here from London. It’s been a big move, without question, but a thrill to get stuck in with a new magazine, and to continue refining and streamlining the team’s work. To sharpen SHARP, I suppose. And, to help me in this task, I’ve been searching for a sharpener of my own.
Happily, this is a nation of wonderful, flavourful whiskies and, as a dedicated dram-pourer myself, it’s been great fun to step (and sip) outside the smoky scotch comfort zone of home. In Ontario alone, I’ve discovered some brilliant local distilleries, producing whiskies like Lot 40’s new, super-savoury Dark Oak (woodier than a winter cologne). Beyond provincial borders, there are even more treats being bottled, from Bearface Triple Oak — finished in toasted oak barrels over in B.C., to Two Brewers’ limited edition expressions up in the Yukon.
They’re surprising, spirited whiskies — characteristics shared by many of the other Canadian exports I’ve come across during the last few months (all of whom crop up within these pages). There’s Laurent Dagenais, the fork-tossing Insta-chef from Montreal; Alexis Belhumeur, a fashion photographer of towering talent; and Vikram Vij, whose eponymous Vancouver restaurant has its own handsome selection of homegrown spirits behind the bar.
Of course, I’ve also been looking a little further afield on my hunt for the perfect sharpener — sampling American whiskies that are yet to bob their way to British shores. With its syrupy, spicy finish, Bywater Bourbon hails from Louisiana, just like this issue’s cover star, Jared Leto. Long of hair and wild of spirit, the Thirty Seconds to Mars frontman sets the record (and his new album) straight in our exclusive interview. We also meet director Antoine Fuqua, a son of Pittsburgh — once the whiskey distilling capital of the United States. Even Austin Butler, whose deep-drawling whiskey voice in Elvis saw him nominated for an Academy Award earlier this year, swings by for a chat.
It’s a barnstormer of an issue for my first, and it’s been a barnstormer of a first summer here in Toronto (which reminds me, seek out Barnburner if you can — a double-aged, corn-rye blend from the city’s Maverick distillery and something of a barnstormer itself). And then, once you’ve smoked out your perfect sharpener, carve out an hour or two, crack the spine of this latest issue, and raise your glass alongside mine. Here’s to good times ahead.
— JONATHAN WELLS, Managing Editor