You can tell that Glen Breton Rare is a succulent whisky long before it touches your lips. A proper swirl reveals butterscotch, heather, honey and ground ginger, with wood-infused undertones. As it slides down your throat, a smooth, full-bodied and lightly peated flavour is set free. It’s no small wonder this lovely spirit is causing a stir (in more ways than one) around the globe.

Glen Breton Rare is one of the finest whiskies in the world (last year, Wine Enthusiast recognized it as one of the “Top 50 Spirits Worldwide”). Each year, Glenora Inn & Distillery, North America’s only single-malt whisky distillery, produces about 250,000 litres of the stuff from a humble headquarters in Nova Scotia’s gorgeous Inverness County on Cape Breton Island. Constructed in 1989 in the traditional post-and-beam style found in Scotland, seven buildings house the distillery operations, plus a pub, inn and fine dining restaurant. The pub’s live Celtic music wafts over the adjoining valley, inviting visitors to come sample the wares and enjoy easy banter with neighbours and fellow tourists throughout the summer.

Resident chefs John Haines and Tracy Wallace exploit their on-site treasure at every turn in the dining room. Salmon is cold smoked in whisky barrels, the apple strudel gets a naughty smack of whisky in its hot caramel sauce and another edible local treasure—lobster—is served sans shell, infused with Glen Breton sauce, and christened with a curious moniker: The Glen Breton Lawyer.

Or maybe not so curious. As any single-malt cult member knows, the Glenora has required the services of a lawyer or two in recent years.

Whisky Vs. Scotch

In 2004, the Edinburgh-based Scotch Whisky Association filed a complaint against Glenora with the Canadian Trademarks Opposition Board. The association complained that having “Glen” in the whisky’s name was an attempt to market the brand as scotch, distilled and aged in Scotland. (Never mind that there are 45 places that start with the name “Glen” in Nova Scotia.)

President Lauchie MacLean and company hoisted a glass when the board filed its decision in January of this year, ruling that the name Glen Breton does not lead one to believe that Glenora’s single-malt whisky is distilled and matured in Scotland.

MacLean never pretended to be making a scotch, which must be aged for three years in Scotland in order to earn that title. (Scotch, of course, is a type of whisky). Glenora uses the traditional copper pot stills method, with only three ingredients: malted barley, yeast and water. This differs from many other whiskies, which often use several types of grains, such as corn and rye, in addition to barley.

Last year, Glenora launched Glen Breton Ice, the world’s first single-malt whisky aged in ice wine barrels. Here’s hoping that manufacturers of “Ice”-brand beer, or the Ice Capades, won’t try to steal their much-deserved thunder.

Nosing for Newbies

Purists advise that the best way to uncover the true flavour of a quality whiskey is by smelling or “nosing” it, not tasting it. (The alcohol in that first sip will shock your taste buds.) But don’t simply stick your snout in the glass and take a sniff. Give the glass a swirl and let the true personality of the whiskey rise up and find its way into your  crevices. Then, and only then, may you take a swallow.  

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