The Only Distillery In The World Aging Whiskey Outdoors Embraces Extreme Weather

Food & Drink

Saskatoon, Saskatchewan is a city of fewer than 275,000 people. It is famous for two things. First, straddling the South Saskatchewan River and situated by the Meewasin Valley, Saskatoon is picturesque — “Meewasin” is Cree for “it is beautiful.” Second, set in the middle of the Canadian prairies, Saskatoon survives extreme temperature swings — lows of -40°F are not uncommon in the winter and highs of 100°F are not uncommon in the summer.

For Black Fox Farm & Distillery, these temperature variances are part of what makes their whiskey unique. By aging their whiskey outside — “under the watchful eye of Mother Nature and Jack Frost,” as co-founder and co-owner Barb Stefanyshyn-Cote puts it — the oak barrels expand and contract with temperature and atmospheric pressure changes. This “breathing” of casks affects the way all whiskey ages, but John Cote, the other co-founder and co-owner, and Stefanyshyn-Cote’s husband, says Black Fox is unique in maximizing this process by exposing their aging whiskey to the elements. “We think we are the last distillery on Earth doing this,” says Cote of Black Fox’s outdoor whiskey “rickhouse”.

Black Fox has partnered with the Saskatchewan Research Council to track the weather and study its effects on aging whiskey. The coldest recorded temperature at Black Fox’s maturation yard is -44°F, while the highest is 104°F. Within one day, the temperature has swung as much as 36 degrees. When the daily temperature swings are this dramatic, researchers found that a small vacuum is created within the barrel, which sucks out whiskey that has seeped into the oak of the barrel. When the vacuum is released with a reverse temperature swing, aging whiskey is pushed back into the oak staves.

It is a common knowledge that high temperatures matures whiskey faster — which is why whiskey from India ages faster than whiskey in Scotland — but Black Fox’s research shows that temperature variance can have a similar effect.

So unique is each bottle of Black Fox’s whiskey, since each barrel will have been subject to different weather, that each carries a unique coin bearing a code consumers use to find out the specifications of that particular bottle — the location where the grain was grown, the temperatures the barrels endured and other information that makes each bottle special.

Black Fox sells three expressions of their whiskey, which is made from triticale, a wheat-rye hybrid grain. The whiskey is sold under the SE Eleven brand — Black Fox is located in the southeast quarter of Section 11, Township 36. SE Eleven Single Grain Whisky is Black Fox’s flagship and is supplemented by special releases of SE Eleven Cask Finish Whisky and an annually released SE Eleven Blended Whisky, a vatting of the distillery’s favorite single-barrel releases from the year. All three expressions have won gold medals at international competitions like the World Whisky Masters and the IWSC.

In addition to serving their local market in Saskatchewan and neighboring provinces, Black Fox has exported its whiskeys to Britain, China, Denmark, Germany, and the United Arab Emirates. It may be the only whiskey in the world where weather is an ingredient.

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