Leon Webb says the art of distilling spirits is almost like raising children — almost.
Children don’t tend to ferment, but spirits do.
Take for example Victoria Distillers’ next batch of its flagship Craigdarroch Whisky.
Webb, who was recently named the Sidney company’s Master Distiller, says it all begins with creation, tending to the whisky through various steps of its maturation process, letting it age just right, and then releasing it out into the world.
That’s a little simplistic, of course, but it captured the overall feeling Webb has for the spirits he helps create at the small local distillery.
Webb came to Sidney from Scotland last July. He was hired by long time Master Distiller Peter Hunt, who remains with the company as its president. The change gives Webb more responsibility for the end products created by Victoria Distillers.
He came into the job with experience at such Scottish distilleries as Edradour (one of that country’s smallest) and at another distillery on the Isle of Harris.
But he only came to the world of distilling after a stint in high finance. Webb grew up in the Highlands region of Scotland, close to the Spey River — itself famous for the whisky produced from its waters.
“I grew up wanting to be in economics,” he explained. “So that was my first degree in 1998 and I got my Master’s degree in international banking.”
For 10 years he worked in an office and one day looked around and realized he didn’t want to do that job forever. He did, however, have a passion for whisky and went back to university in Scotland to earn a Masters degree in distilling. This new career has taken him all over his home country — and now into Canada and B.C.’s fledgling whisky distilling industry
“It’s a heck of a journey,” Webb said. “When I was in finance, it was all about being in the big cities of the world. In distilling, it can take you to some of the most remote places.”
And in those places, he continued, are some of the friendliest and happiest people.
Webb said he’s very excited to be a part of Victoria Distillers’ foray into whisky and sees a lot of potential for the industry in B.C. as a whole. He said when the company was known as Victoria Spirits, it was one of probably the first three distilleries of its kind in the province.
Now, there are close to 50 of them, riding a wave of popularity.
What sets Victoria Distillers apart, Webb added, is its base. It produces the well-known Victoria Gin and its Sidney Spiced (rum, but not quite rum), among other products. The local company also holds a commercial distilling license, not a craft license, which enables it to reach further afield for its ingredients.
That base, he said, is allowing Victoria Distillers to produce and properly age its next batch of Craigdarroch Whisky. Currently quite rare, Webb said they had a tasting at last weekend’s Victoria Whisky Festival that went very well.
The whisky is currently aging. It takes three years, minimum, in Canada for a spirit to be called whisky and Webb hopes to be part of building the local business to the point where they can produce 10 or 15 year old whiskies of exceptional flavour.
“It’s a window into what’s possible here on the Island.”