The Friendly Folks Up North

Last week I traveled north across the border to Gimli, Manitoba, to meet the team of people behind Crown Royal Canadian Whisky. The distillery in Gimli opened in 1968 as Calverts of Canada, and was owned by Seagram’s at the time. In 1991, the plant began distilling and aging the requirements for Crown Royal.

Today the plant, located next to Lake Winnipeg, distills 33 million liters of pure alcohol (LPA), running 24/7 with 75 employees.

Originally built with 24 aging warehouses on 360 acres, the site now houses 46 warehouses and Diageo is building four more. When the expansion is complete, Gimli will hold 1.6 million aging barrels. Because the fire suppression lines could freeze during the harsh Canadian winters, the warehouses have heating systems – but are not cooled in the summer.

Unlike most of its counterparts in the U.S., the Gimli plant has palletized warehouses, stacking six-barrel pallets to the rafters. That allows workers to move product with a forklift, rather than rolling barrels into racks one at a time. Since barrels stay in one place during the aging process and are lined up by batch, palletizing is the most efficient way of aging them. But one problem did arise as the warehouses began switching to pallets – the bungs needed to be moved to the head of the barrel, instead of the side.

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Barrels in the warehouses are palletized, which allows them to be moved with forklifts. However, it also means the bung is relocated to the header of these barrels, instead of the side.

The visit also included a tour of the plant operations, including the warehouses and distillery. Gimli no longer has a bottling line, so once the barrels are emptied, the juice goes into huge container cars and is sent by rail line to the nearest Diageo bottling plant.

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Since the distillery doesn’t have an on-site bottling plant, the finished spirit is taken by train car for the final step of the process.

We capped off the day with a blending session led by Crown Royal master blender Joanna Scandella, who took the group through the many whisky variations that go into Crown Royal. By changing the distillation process, base ingredients, barrel wood, barrel age and aging length, there are endless possibilities of blends the distillery can create.

For our blending session, we used two base whiskies and three flavoring whiskies (Continuous Base, Batch Base, Bourbon Style, Rye and Coffey Rye), experimenting with different percentages of each to create our favorite blends. I was able to create a Canadian Whisky that tasted like it came from Kentucky by favoring the Bourbon Style in my blend.

The tour included a blending session with Crown Royal’s blending team, where the group got to create our own expression using the five whisky bases that make up a Crown Royal blend.

You can read a more detailed Trip Report about my visit to Canada in the January/February 2016 issue of Beverage Dynamics.

Full disclosure: Crown Royal covered my lodging, travel and meal costs during this trip to Canada.

Jeremy Nedelka is the editor of Beverage Dynamics and StateWays, sister publications of Cheers.

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