Keith Veira: The whisky business is extremely competitive. What was the opportunity that inspired you to become a whisky blender?
Andres Faustinelli: I became a blender not by design or career but by falling into it at some point. I always had a good palate. I know what I like and why. I would always open two bottles of wine simply to understand why I like one versus the other. I never open one bottle. I feel like I have been educating my palate over these years and probably I realized late, because I was an economist, I never studied for this, that I was meant to DO. I am still blending sometimes between bottles at home.
It’s like ‘oh Pinot Noir. Let me just put a drop of Malbec here. It’s going to work, and then I will have the perfect wine.’
When I go to dinner with people, instead of cooking a cake, I have so many whisky samples, I make them a whisky sample, one batch. So I bring a bottle that has been blended for them only because I know then and I say ‘Because I know you, I did a blend for you. There is only one bottle in the world and that’s it. Drink it; it’s going to go.’ Instead of cooking for you a cake or baking something, I make a whisky for you and bring it.
That’s my life. I taste at 11am. It’s when you are hungry, and you have the best moment to recall the senses. I came by trial and error. I came into this after starting in rum and moving into whisky. I was selling excessive whisky so I was trying to understand what people wanted to buy from me. I was tasting with a lot of people and I realized what I liked, and what I didn’t over time. And then I went into doing a Mezcal brand from scratch and I came into this world of distillation in small villages.
Then I did a Tequila brand where I realized oxidation can be really interesting in white spirits. Maybe in the future we will have something like that coming to Bearface. And then every week I was tasting the winery wine and that multi- tasting of different things took me here. I came not by plan, but by falling into this at some point.
DDM: Sometimes, the plan is no plan. It’s not a plan that we see, it’s a plan we experience.
AF: And you need to embrace what comes to you. Never reject what is coming naturally to you. Just embrace it, I think is fundamental.
I think part of my process has always been involving outsiders in everything. I have whisky questions to ask people who are totally unrelated to whisky all the time. That’s part of my innovation process. If I bring in a forager this time, next time I bring in someone else. Like with Bearface elemental ageing, I was bringing in coopers that don’t have any idea about whisky cooperage but wine cooperage. I work very closely with a winemaker with the blends. He’s a winemaker but he does that whisky with me.
“I like to ask the wrong people the right questions. That’s kind of fundamental for me in my process”.
DDM: As the master blender of Bearface premium Canadian whisky, please tell us about the inspiration of Canadian wilderness on you and the blends.
AF: I am a fanatic of the outdoors. I am a trail runner, I am a hiker. I love nature. I grew up in nature in Venezuela. When I was living in Italy, I was missing that big time because I was in Milan and you can imagine Milan doesn’t have too much. And then finally I landed in the west in between BC and California, Northern California. This is like a playground for me. I have been connected with the outdoors forever. And everything I do I always like to be with the food outside. So that’s why at Bearface I put a container outside, exposed to the weather and nature. I still have pictures of Kelowna, me lost in the middle of the woods taking a weekend off, just doing that. I am extremely inspired by the outdoors. Canada is such an incredibly rich environment for this. I grew up with the films of Robert Redford, he was gone in the wild, detaching from the rest. And that for me was really important. When I was eight years old, I was thinking already that I needed to live in the woods outside.
One day Bearface is going to have a home that is really in the woods, completely home. Today we are in the woods but we don’t have a visitors centre set up, we don’t have a place for visitors to stay. But I can see that being a yurt or a container outside, unplugged from electricity. Letting the weather do the job and the whisky sitting there.
DDM: Your latest masterpiece involves an infusion of the elusive Matsutake mushroom, found deep in British Columbia’s grizzly bear country. Why take the risk and what are some of the rewards?
AF: [Laughs] I guess it’s the same risk people take when they hike in Canada. So regardless, I would take it anyways. I remember doing a hike, I was in Glacier National Park up there and we were crossing ice and we had grizzly bears down. We were not very well-equipped and we did it. We love the outdoors.
You know you are doing something right when you fear. And so when I went into that 10 days, I was fearing everyday, like crazy. The fear was there in every single step in the woods. We went across a carcass of salmon up in the hills and the smell was weird. And I heard something. You are fearing the whole time. But I think it’s a good indication that you are doing something right. You are fearing because you are feeling. And usually when I fear, and I am stressed because I don’t know what to do. I am in this place with a lot of people that I don’t know. Usually magic happens. When everyone is feeling the same and kind of isolated from regular life, I think it is important. It’s really important to unplug.
DDM: What’s next on your path for an intense exploration of Bearface Canadian whisky? What do you have coming up next? What is driving you?
AF: I think it’s the voice to be loud in the world with Canadian whisky. Bearface can be loud, and being loud for me the Wilderness Series is an example, a perfect one. Be loud about what Canada can do. I think we can make a difference.
My ultimate goal is to see more people doing what I am doing. The day I will be happy, maybe in 10 years, is if I see more people doing crazy things with Canadian whisky. Yeah, like I did something. Maybe I was one of the first voices pushing Canada a little bit forward, be more comfortable. Canada needs to stop trying to replicate the Scotch whisky, to stop doing that. Embrace who you are and just do something different.
Sometimes it takes an outsider to bring things like that. I remember the early days of mezcal, the guys who discovered mezcal were American guys going to Oaxaca. No one had the confidence in Mexico to do it. And I think in Canada, we are hoping more and more distillers, that’s why I was with Geoff Dillon yesterday, the more people we have embracing that Canada has a character, has a particular... Why WhistlePig is such an incredible success is by being a Canadian whisky but bottled in Vermont. It’s not wanting to be Canadian, right? That’s why it’s sad. Why? Why are we not being from?
I’ve been asked sometimes, like in one market, not in Canada ofcourse and not in the US, but one market came back and said ‘Can you put Canadian whisky on the back label?’ I was so offended by that. I felt so bad. Someone just asking to remove Canadian whisky from the front label to the back. Because there isn’t a reputation that it’s going to be great and I think we can change that.
DDM: So it’s a reputation to repair.
AF: Yeah, we need more confidence. I think in the end it’s not about convincing people, it’s about having conviction. So you need to have self-confidence to do things. It’s coming from inside. It’s not from outside. We’re not waiting for someone to come and help, we just need to be bolder in everything we do from Canada. That’s it. That’s what I am hoping for.
DDM: Bearface adopted a transparency approach to the whisky community. Why is this important as others are opposed to sharing ideas?
AF: It’s connected with the previous point. If I am very transparent it will motivate more people to explore and do things that are similar. I don’t want to be the only one doing this. I am hoping that more people join in and truly join in and feel it with more confidence. And so I am about transparency.
When I do deconstruction tastings, people can taste things they never tasted before. Instead of presenting a tasting of just finished products, I do this deconstruction series in which you taste the American oak by itself, then you know the let it go situation with the cask, the containers, and they you see how toasting a cask makes a difference in the whisky. And I do it with everyone.
You know, one of the best moments for me was being in a whisky festival in Banff, “The Whisky Experience”, and I was there and Davin de Kergommeaux, is the grandfather of Canadian whisky, he was presenting Canadian whisky as a presentation. And he brings to the presentation seven whiskies, his favourite.
And I saw Bearface and was like ‘wow, this is amazing’. And it was One Eleven. The guy that is the grandfather of Canadian whisky is bringing my One Eleven series as his expression of what he loves. And I’m like ‘this is crazy.’ I was expected to be rejected because I am bringing something that is Oaxaca blended with Canada, and actually instead of being rejected, I am embraced.
This is a different country, it’s pretty amazing. I got this question all the time from my French friends and Italians ‘why are you not doing something in Europe?’ And I’m like ‘ no one would ever put Andres on a cognac, you know?’ That diversity and inclusion is part of this country and it’s working. That’s why I am doing it.
DDM: I’m glad you are doing it. We are grateful and happy that you are here and inspiring others to do things that looked difficult until you started.
Yeah, yeah! And improving it. And I get calls from new distilleries, new makers all the time. I am super open and transparent because we want more people joining.
DDM: You can’t have a renaissance unless it’s started. AF: Exactly! -#