The Twelve Barrels Story
A Canadian Whisky Pioneer, a World Champion figure skater and a kid trying to revive their story walk into a bar...
My story begins with making wine. I was sixteen making wine from grape juice, sugar and bakers yeast that I bought from Walmart. As I still lived with my parents, I was forced to conceal my operations under my bed in order to avoid detection. Why go through the trouble of making my own booze? Well when you don’t have a fake ID, and neither do your friends, someone has to come up with a solution!
This is a picture of the first batch of wine I ever made. From this wine to Twelve Barrels...it has been quite the fun journey.
My parents soon caught me. They were not impressed in the slightest. I told my mom that I could be up to a lot worse things… it brought her no comfort. I then began making beer, bought a still and fell in love with whisky.
My dorm room in the first-year of university.
This brings us to 2015. I contacted over 300 distilleries from all over the world, pitching the same story I just told you. I got 298 rejections, 2 job offers and one heck of an opportunity. I moved to the Northwest of England to work at the Lakes Distillery. This was my opportunity to learn how to make whisky and gather an understanding of how a new whisky distillery finds its footing.
When I arrived home, my passion was never stronger and had the knowledge to make a fantastic whisky. Throw in a lot of hard work and you have the recipe for Twelve Barrels.
In the early 1850's, farmers would bring their grains to John's Gristmill on the Napanee River. John would keep 10% of the flour as payment. form the farmers. He would then use the flour to make and sell bread and other products. But bread goes bad in just a few weeks, and when his business began to grow, there weren't enough people buying bread, so there was a lot of waste. To preserve his grains, he mad whisky! Rye and wheat were the two main crops and made for a smooth and spicy whisky
John, pictured above, ran the distillery until the time of Canadian Confederation. This is when significant whisky taxes were imposed. John had priced his whisky so the local farmers who supplied him with grains could afford it. Prices were forced up, and business went down.
John's son, George, went on to become one of Canada's first professional hockey players and World Champion figure skater in 1896 and potentially the first person to take hockey to Europe. While George was growing up, he would use his dad's whisky barrels to practice his "fancy skating" jumps, as it was called back in the day. George became quite good at jumping these whisky barrels. On a frigid winters day, people all across the county came in horse and buggy to see George's showmanship. What began as a showcase of his figure skating talents was finished with a jump of twelve whisky barrels.
Circa 1910. George, pictured above, had quite the medal collection!
Although whisky techniques and knowledge have vastly changed since John began distilling, Twelve Barrels is still loosely based on John's original 1853 recipe. Our name and attitude are inspired by George and his dedication to what he loved to do and his drive to push the boundaries. Twelve Barrels is for those who live as John and George did, willing to take a leap, follow their passions and enjoy life's adventures.