A mushroom whisky? Seriously? Yes, indeed.
British Columbia-based Bearface Canadian Whisky has launched Bearface Matsutake (Wilderness Series 01), an artful blend of sherry cask-aged Canadian Whisky with an infusion of the rare Matsutake mushroom. It’s known also in North America as the White Pine mushroom and actually tastes delicious — and not only to mushroom geeks! This mycologically nuanced sipper is as much about the umami, or mouthfeel, as the sherried cinnamon and spice undertones.
What on earth would lead Bearface master distiller Andres Faustinelli and longtime friend and colleague Bram Bolwijn to forage boldly into the unknown and undertake such a project? You might well ask. The two had connected at Mission Hill (in Kelowna, B.C.) where Bolwijn (who has a strong wine background) would occasionally supply tasting notes for Faustinelli’s spirits. They’d often mused about some kind of collaboration involving wild foraging. But everything came together when Faustinelli, who divides his time between San Francisco and Kelowna, was stuck in COVID-19 quarantine limbo. And going just a tad stir-crazy.
“We usually talk about whisky in terms of time and cask age, such as 12 or 14 years,” notes Bolwijn. However, says Faustinelli, “the beginning of this idea was to make a whisky that has a sense of place.” In this case, that place just happened to be the heart of the Monashee Mountains, in the pristine wilderness of southeastern British Columbia, north of Idaho.
There were no fancy focus groups or any consumer research, he confides, “no real strategy at all, just an idea to make a mushroom-influenced whisky.”
That idea, while it may sound quite simple, was far from it.
For one thing, as a blender, explains Faustinelli, “the process was completely upside down. This has been the hardest blend we’ve ever made, because usually you start with the larger component and blend back to the smaller. But here we started with the smaller component that was actually a Matsutake whisky.”
The challenge was to ensure the mushroom didn’t overshadow the whisky; to find a way to bring the Matsutake to life but without it being “too mushroom forward.”
Then there was the practicality of actually finding the mushrooms, at the just the right time (they have a very short life span) and in the quantity needed (about 225 lbs.). Matsutake are notoriously scarce and canny pickers guard their location zealously. Along with a couple of local foragers, Faustinelli and Bolwijn took “a helicopter ride to the top of a mountain. And started to walk down.” Once the Matsutake were discovered and unearthed, they picked, cleaned and sliced them on the spot before immediately immersing them in the overproof whisky they’d brought with them on their remote foraging adventure. In all, they were infused for about two months before blending began.
The end result is a superbly smooth nutty and spice toned sipper that’s also a classy cocktail companion. Imagine the lovechild of whisky and Amontillado, conceived in a magical, mountainside forest!