(PIKE CREEK, ON) – Daily, a steady stream of tractors pulling trailers with the JP Wiser’s livery move between the former Hiram Walker manufacturing site on Riverside Drive, which since the 1980s has been the home of JP Wiser’s, to a collection of squat, identical warehouses on the shores of Pike Creek in Lakeshore. The combined size of the warehouses equals 132 hockey rinks and play a critical role in the whisky making process.
Freshly produced whisky is poured into wooden barrels; some have been used multiple times while others are new. The selection of the type of wood reflects the ultimate flavor of the product.
For up to 35 years the barrels sit in the quiet of the unheated warehouses. The aging process benefits from the area’s unique climate, which contributes to the spirit’s distinct flavor. Because the buildings are unheated, the temperature inside is basically the same as outside, and as temperatures change, the barrels expand and contract.
They are also influenced by humidity, which in the summer can be quite high. All of this plays a role in the taste of Wiser’s whisky.
As a group of reporters arrived at one of the warehouses they saw a large room filled with barrels, with a few pulled out from the stacks. The group of about 30 media types were the first to taste a whisky that had been aging for twenty years.
The amber liquid produced a warm feeling in the chest, an effect which Master Blender Don Livermore called the, “Canadian hug.”
As the whisky ages it also loses some of its volume. The loss is known as the Angels’ share. In the first year the angels can enjoy as much as 7% of each barrel’s content. In the second and following years the loss stabilizes at around 3%.
Although the Canadian rules for whisky aging requires a minimum of three years, Wiser’s lets its whisky age longer. Its popular DeLuxe offering spends from five to nine years in the warehouses. The other brands aging time can be measured in decades.
During that time, the barrels will rarely see the sun and will sit in complete darkness without even a light bulb to break the scene. There is a reason for that. Alcohol fumes can readily explode, so every prevention is taken to eliminate the threat of a spark.
Senior Brand Manager, Keeshan Selvakumar, told the assembled reporters that the warehouse buildings were actually designed to implode if there ever was an explosion. In this way a fire in one would not spread to the others.
The buildings started to be filled in the 1970s, a process that took twenty years. They have stood silent ever since, being interrupted occasionally for barrels being returned to the distillery for bottling. Selvakumar says it is one of the largest spirit aging facilities in North America.
In November Wiser’s will inaugurate weekly tours of its distilling process from a new brand centre in Building 20 on the Hiram Walker site. The tour will not include a visit to the warehouses, however. The whisky will remain undisturbed.
Next: The Square will cover the real magic of whisky making; the blending of the contents of the barrels. It is a story of how brands are produced.