Review: Bearface Canadian Whisky Wilderness Series - Matsutake by Jason Hambrey

A bottle of bearface beside one of the many shipping containers used to age bearface whisky in various locations. Image courtesy of Bearface Spirits.

Red wine cask, sherry cask, matsutake mushroom cask
Producer Bearface (British Columbia)

Bearface is one of the most interesting brands in Canada to follow – in large part because of their innovative and interesting outlook. It’s impossible to resist trying Bearface if you ever get to hear Andres Faustinelli break down one of his whiskies, component by component, then build it up again and show you how it works together.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, Andres went on a hike with some foragers and found some wild Matsutake mushrooms that had a depth of flavour that would integrate very well into whisky. This sort of pairing fits firmly within the bearface ethos: “Bearface has always been associated with being outside - for me, I enjoy whisky outside anyway. Incorporating the outdoors in ageing and crafting a whisky showcases that you can give a footprint of time and place to a whisky.”

Andres went back to central BC with a foraging team and collected close to 100 kilos to use in the whisky. After inspection and cleaning, the fresh mushrooms were put entirely inside a “teabag” in a cask of mature whisky. After a month and a half, the whisky had a very unexpected and interesting savoury funky component. As Andres remarks, “Think about a martini without the olive. You need that savoury, salty component. That’s how the mushrooms work for us here.”

Of course, blending played a big role in integrating the mushroom component into the whisky. The whisky is blended from amontillado sherry, cream sherry, pedro-ximinez sherry, and some unique casks that still had grape skins from winemaking inside them that give a strong wine-forward character. The emphasis on sherry is very intentional – it helps balance the dried fruit character of bearface whisky with the earthy, cinnamon-like character of the mushroom by building in hazelnut and nutmeg. After all that, it's hard to at least not want to try it, eh?

This one has almost sold out by now, but Bearface has more planned for the wilderness series in 2023.

Review (2022)

  • Batch: 01 Matsutake

  • Bottling Code: N/A

  • Bottling Date: 2022

The nose has matchboxes, fresh oak, woody forest notes, bright corn notes, blueberry, and white pepper. The palate is fruity and comes in with spice, oak, and dried fruit before finishing in a mixture of dried fruit – and it is here that the mushroom really comes out with a very appealing woodiness and savoury character. The finish is full of caramel, vanilla, and herbal, woody, notes – indeed, “forest” is not a bad descriptor. I find this one to have more depth and intrigue than previous Bearface releases.

Recommended (81% of whiskies I’ve reviewed to date get this recommendation or higher).

Value: Average against the market at $50.

Review: Radoune Gin (O'Dwyer Distillery) by Jason Hambrey

Radoune Gin 1.jpg
Distiller ODwyer (Gaspe, Quebec)

I encountered this at the SAQ in Quebec when a store manager gave me a sip. I was drawn right in! Made out of wild mushrooms in the beautiful area of Gaspe. Made with 4 different organic mushrooms in the gaspesie forest, along with other botanicals. The gin itself is named after a region - Radoune, which is an area between the two mountains where the mushrooms for the gin flourish. I must say I do like the diversity of gin...

Odwyer has whisky on the way, too...

Review (2018)

  • Batch: N/A

  • Bottling Code: N/A

  • Bottling Date: 2017

A really interesting nose, especially with a bit of water added. Cilantro, pepper, a rich earthiness, and loads of umami notes. Citrus, also, in the middle – well worthwhile. The cilantro notes are fascinating – very much like cooked, as opposed to fresh, cilantro. Dried mushrooms on the nose, too. The nose really opens up with water. The palate is lightly sweet, with cilantro and mint sauce playing in amidst the earthiness and light citrus. It really is quite terrific...there is a light, earthy spicy backbone to this too. The finish is full of coriander, but we have the cooked cilantro, wet earth, and a great umami richness on the finish too. Big and long lasting on the finish, and there is a bit of rising heat leading up to the finish – fantastic.

One of the most unique gins I’ve tasted, and I really like it. It is a bit different than many gins I’ve tasted, and I wonder if it won’t be up everyone’s alley...but everyone should try it, if you can find it...

Assessment: Very Highly Recommended.