Andres Faustinelli remembers the exact moment when he realized he had achieved his goal.
He was alone in a production lab at Mission Hill Family Estate Winery in West Kelowna and took a sip from his latest experiment, letting the flavour envelop his mouth. “I was like, ‘Ah, this is it!’” Faustinelli says, seated at a table by the window at Kafka’s in Vancouver. “It was amazing.” It wasn’t wine that he was trying—it was whisky.
Hired as master blender by Mark Anthony Brands proprietor Anthony von Mandl, Faustinelli was in charge of creating the company’s first foray into the iconic and gentlemanly spirit. He had presented a satisfactory batch aged for 90 days in French oak red wine barrels from Mission Hill, but it was not enough. “I was not happy,” Faustinelli admits. “And I said, ‘Let me try something more.’” A wine cooper in Napa had suggested doing a round of additional aging in Hungarian oak, so the ever-curious Faustinelli tried it out. The result, as he tasted that day alone in the lab, was magic. And with that, Bearface was ready to roar.
While continuing to heighten the Canadian wine industry (see the Okanagan’s CheckMate and Martin’s Lane, for starters), von Mandl simultaneously set his sights on something new. Strict rules determine whisky’s ingredients and processes in historic producing countries like Scotland and Ireland; the Great White North, though, while no stranger to the drink, has a landscape ripe with opportunity. “Canada is super interesting because it’s got the most flexible regulations on whisky in the world,” says Faustinelli excitedly. “In Canada there is freedom. There is a lot to be still explored.”
Launched in November 2018, Bearface’s flagship and deliciously golden Triple Oak offering undergoes an extensive aging process before reaching the bottle. Seven-year-old single-grain whisky, sourced from distilleries across Canada, is driven to Mission Hill, where it goes into ex-bourbon American oak barrels; then into French oak Bordeaux-style barrels from the winery; and finally, into virgin Hungarian oak barrels that have been air-dried for three years. Why? Well, because why not?
The bourbon barrels add sweetness and vanilla; the French oak adds body, acidity, and fruit; and the Hungarian oak adds dynamic texture and a rye-like flair. “You can actually have something that has layers—a front palate, mid palate, and back palate—but still be drinkable,” explains Faustinelli, who was born in Venezuela and is now based in San Francisco (though he is frequently in Kelowna). That means Bearface Triple Oak is approachable yet complex, with expressive character in its quality, elegant mix of sweet and spice.
“When we worked on this project, the architecture was not to find a very good whisky that was old enough, with a good profile, and put it in a nice package,” says Faustinelli. “The whole concept for this release was very interesting: we wanted to reverse the way whisky is related to oak by using the tools of winemakers instead of whisky-makers.” And the experimentation continues, with Faustinelli teasing some future limited-edition releases that further dive into various oak and age combinations.
Already spotted on some of the hottest backbars around Vancouver, including Toptable Group’s newly opened Yaletown steakhouse Elisa, Bearface is poised to become a staple of the local imbibing scene. And with the doors wide open for innovation, it can essentially make its own playbook, setting the standard for a new vanguard of Canadian whisky. It defines true north, strong and free on its own terms.
Have another sip of whisky.