As a valuable public service, we crack open spirits from B.C. to Bahrain and beyond, and then give you a highly opinionated, pocket-flask-sized review.
Today’s free pour
Bearface Matsutake Wilderness Series Canadian Whisky
“Our first limited-edition batch captures the wild flavours of foraged matsutake. Uniquely rare, the fresh mushrooms are infused into Bearface to create a one-of-a-kind whisky. The matsutake release is bold yet complex, with spiced layers of nutmeg followed by a leafy earthiness and umami finish.”
In the unlikely event that you’re still unclear on what makes this Bearface Wilderness Series offering special, start with the wildly coveted matsutake mushroom. Because they are highly sought after by the Japanese, most mushrooms picked on Canada’s West Coast—including in the Monashee Mountains just past Kamloops—are quickly loaded onto planes and shipped overseas, where they can retail for $800 a pound.
Yes, you read that correctly.
Japanese fungi fanatics describe the flavour of the matsutake as a mixture of fruity, spicy, and overpoweringly pungent. (The scientific name for the ’shroom, which typically grows under pine trees, is Tricholoma nauseosum, which translates into “smelly mushroom”. Europeans favour the more evocative description of “sock odour”.)
Now you can see why one of the mottos of Bearface is “we believe no idea is too wild and no ingredient is too adventurous.”
Speaking of wild, Bearface takes a decidedly unorthodox attitude to the aging process. Wilderness Series whisky goes into sherry casks, which are then rolled into refurbished shipping containers left outdoors in the British Columbia wilderness. From there fluctating elements—driving rain, freezing snow, pelting rain, two weeks of sun, and more black sheets of rain—factor into the aging. The final “Elemental Aging” step sees the amber liquid gold added to a cask with matsutake mushrooms for finishing.
To answer the big question you’ll have, “No, Bearface’s Matsutake isn’t redolent of smelly mushrooms—or ‘sock odour’—when uncorked.” Instead, expect burnt butterscotch, toasted almonds, a kiss of maple syrup, and fresh damp straw (the latter being far more pleasing than it sounds.)
When sipping, Matsutake goes down smooth despite its 42.5 percent ABV. Taste-wise you get a gentle tug-of war between sweet caramel and dry sherry, with the kicker being something winningly, and fascinatingly, vegetal. Hello matsutake mushrooms, which are designed to give this relentlessly interesting whisky a kick that’s subtle but unique.
The ever-indescribable umami? Yes that will definitely work, not so much as a starting point, but more as something to inspire you on the adventure front.
Imagine spending a week in the wild Monashee Mountains foraging for mushrooms under towering pines in the morning, and then sitting around a campfire at midnight with a bottle of Bearface Matsutake, the stars shining in a clear sky overhead.
As the Japanese say about the West Coast fungi that’s right up there with the Himalayan Yartsa Gunbu and European White Truffle on the coveted scale, that sounds like one thing: heaven.
On paper, it makes about as much sense as a Margarita where gin is the primary spirit, or a Rum Punch where the American bourbon fills in the Caribbean rhyme “One of sour, two of sweet, three of strong, four of weak.”
We’ll likely never know who exactly invented the Mai Tai—Trader Vic Bergeron or Donn “Don the Beachcomber” Beach—but what’s not debatable is that it calls for two kinds of rum, as well as fresh lime.
Evidently all-in on the idea that rules were made to be broken—remember the motto “we believe no idea is too wild and no ingredient is too adventurous”?—Bearface has decided to break with tradition for its Matsutake Wilderness Series whisky.
Instead of Jamaican and Martinique rums and lime, Bearface’s Mai Tai subs in Matsutake Whisky and lemon juice, and goes the stirred rather than shaken route.
Not to disappoint you or your discerning Japanese houseguests, but sorry, it doesn’t call for mushrooms that cost more than you make in a week. Which doesn’t make it any less fantastic.
Matsutake Mai Tai
2 oz Bearface Matsutake Whisky
¼ oz orgeat syrup
¼ oz sugar syrup
½ oz Cointreau
¾ oz lemon juice
three dashes Angostura bitters
Add all ingredients to a mixing glass filled with ice and stir for a minute. Strain into a new glass with fresh ice. Garnish with fresh pine, squeezing the pine for aroma.