Monday, November 24, 2014

Nova Scotia - Day 6: Glenora, Tent Camping, Ceilidh

After a fine night in Cheticamp, we had a leisurely breakfast, then pushed on South. Our destination was the Glenorah distillery - the only producer of single-malt whiskey in North America. You can't properly call it "scotch," because it's not made in Scotland, but that is the kind of drink we are talking about. The grains are from the Canadian plains, the yeast is European origin, and the water comes from the stream that flows through their facility. They were preparing their grain elevator to receive the first of the 2014 grain harvest - another week or two and they'll be brewing and distilling. Although there is peat available in the Cape Breton Highlands, that's park land, and so is not available for commercial harvest. Therefore, Glenora produces a scotch that has essentially no peaty flavor, more in the style of the Scottish lowlands.
One of the other qualifiers about single-malt whiskey is that it, by tradition, it must be barrel-aged for at least 10 years before bottling and sale. Therefore, in order to make a go of it, on needs to distill and store product for a decade before you can expect to start recouping expenses. This presents a serious barrier to entry. But, as our (Scottish) tour guide explained to us, the backers of this project (Canadians of various sorts) had money to spare and were looking for a project. They could have taken up any number of money-sucking idle pursuits: horse breeding, yachting, vintage automobiles, etc. Instead, they decided to produce whiskey. Good for them.
We had a tour of their facility.

This is the kettle where the barley is boiled with the local water to create the wort, which is what gets fermented. What you can't see in the picture is that the kettle goes down almost two storeys from this level - that's a lot of grain!
These barrels are where the fermentation takes place. Apparently when that's going on, the CO2 levels are high enough that access is heavily limited. They are kept constantly filled (with water at the moment) in order to keep the wood swelled up against the hoops, keeping them water-tight. This also prevents the wood from absorbing liquid from the fermenting wort.
After the fermentation is complete comes the distilling. This is done in two passes, first on the right, then on the left. These distilling towers were hand-made in Scotland. They cost a pretty penny when the distillery was first established; today they would cost many times as much due to the increased price of copper, and have a yearlong lead time. The small case situated in between is the "spirit vault" where a final assay of the liquor's strength is made before transferring to the barrels for aging. The aging warehouse, alas, was not part of the tour.
It was during this time that our guide poured a small dram of their 10-year for each of us. I'll not embarrass myself by trying to describe it. Decent stuff.
The distillery has been around long enough to produce successive bottlings of 10-year, and are coming up on their first 21-year. In between they've experimented with various other things, like aging in sherry and ice wine barrels.
Here is the eponymous creek from which they get their water. To the left is the distillery. To the right is an inn and restaurant where we had a fine lunch.
We pushed on that afternoon to Port Hood, our destination for the night. Jasper has taken a liking to having half of the back seat down, so that he can be closer to the family, the sights, and the open window.
Hilary went to great lengths in her planning to find places where Jasper could stay. There was nothing available in Port Hood, however, so we ended up with plan B: camping. We'd brought a single, 2-man dome tent, sleeping bags and pads, with the intention that Hilary and I would cozy up in the tent with Jasper on his mat. B would end up in a B&B with her grandparents.
When we arrived, however, we discovered that the campground was really an RV park with a broad patch of grass for tenting. What is more, there was no one at the front office to accept us or show us where to set up. Undeterred, we took our cues from the maps and pitched in a likely-looking spot. (See above). About 30 feet behind me is the ocean, which was picturesque and all, but meant that there was nothing, nothing, to abate the substantial westerly wind coming off the water that evening. More on that later.
We had a hurried dinner in the very busy Clove Hitch bistro, then booked it a bit further south to the Celtic Music Center in Judique. The Center was hosting a fiddling concert to kick off the week-long Celtic Colours music festival. Hilary and I enjoy celtic music a fair bit, and B is handy with a violin, so it was a great fit.
The Celtic music tradition in Cape Breton has undergone a revival in the last generation or so. Most of the tradition revolves around the ceilidh (KAY-lee) - a jam session of sorts, usually done in someone's home, generally involving a solo fiddle with upright piano accompaniment, sometimes backed with a hand drum, penny whistle, etc. Lots of drink and home-cooked food are involved, too. You can imagine the draw for a community activity like this, far from major cities, in the dead of winter when there's no fishing to be done.
The concert was a fine, foot-tapping time. Each of the players on stage took a turn doing a set: a progression of three movements, each several minutes long, with progressively faster tempo. There's apparently a fairly well-known repetoir of a few dozen tunes, which most of the players learn by ear, rather than through sheet music. (back in the day, people would trade cassette tapes of performances and learn from those!) The guy on the piano is left to follow the timing and key changes, and did a fantastic job at that.
One small interruption came when, several pieces into the first half, the MC got on stage and asked if there was a doctor in the house. I kid you not. Hilary reported for duty. It was not exactly an emergency, but the ambulance response times can be lengthy. In gratitude, the organizers gifted her a CD of an earlier concert. (The Celtic Music Center has a recording studio and publishes a fair number of albums from local artists.)
After the concert B decided, for her own inscrutable reasons, that she would prefer to sleep in the tent, with Hilary and me, and Jasper. We hadn't reckoned on needing a third sleeping bag, but made do with jackets, a blanket from M, and other bits of outerwear. B squeezed in between Hilary and me, with Jasper on Hilary's other side. It was cozy, to say the least. It would not have been all that bad except for the wind, which rattled the tent all night long. Every time a strong gust came along, poor Jasper would start at the noise and the fact that the tent wall was attacking him! It was bad enough that, round about 2 a.m., I pulled the car around to serve as a windbreak, which was surprisingly effective. All the same, it was a restless night for the grownups.
(of course, now that we have two dogs, this kind of plan would be completely out. Next time, B gets to sleep in a tent between the dogs.)

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