I'll admit, "funkiness" is not an adjective I've heard deployed much in conversations about whisky. Same for "umami" or "weird."
And yet, when it comes to describing how deliciously unusual Canada's Bearface whisky's latest release - a blend that features an infusion of foraged B.C. mushrooms - those words make perfect sense.
Master blender Andres Faustinelli says Bearface's current roster of Canadian whiskies is the result of his desire to clap back a bit at whisky "snobbism" and create something "weird and super unexpected."
Bearface is by design a disruptor on not just the Canadian whisky scene, but also global, where whiskies from the Great White North are perceived as falling into two categories: Crown Royal or everything else that's of no interest. Faustinelli sees the label as an opportunity to take advantage of Canada's flexible whisky-making rules while bringing something strikingly different to the world marketplace.
The first in a planned "wilderness" series, Bearface's Matsutake release takes its roots from actual pandemic-era adventures foraging B.C. soil, specifically the Monashee Mountains in the south Okanagan. Faustinelli describes biding time in the region when travel between there and his other home in San Francisco was limited due to COVID restrictions and taking part in a helicopter ride, landing in the wilderness to work with locals to gather the mushrooms.
The Matsutake, which is also known as the White Pine mushroom, is known for its clean, earthy fragrance and flavour, and is considered a delicacy.
It also presented quite a fun challenge for the nimble Faustinelli, who set to work figuring out how to infuse his blend with the mushroom without it turning out too, well, mushroom-y.
"It was the hardest blend I've ever made," admits Faustinelli, who is not someone who shies away from a new or daunting task.
He didn't start out as a whisky-maker, but his life and career have taken him to all sorts of places and experiences. Venezuelan-born, raised in Italy and Switzerland (and the holder of a French passport, too), Faustinelli describes standing knee-deep in a container shipment of grain as a young commodities trader and becoming deeply connected to the product.
Ultimately, it led Faustinelli to whisky and Canada's B.C.-based Mark Anthony Group, who make the Bearface line.
Faustinelli says Bearface reflects a "sense of place and time," and that place, namely, is British Columbia - even though the process begins with whisky made in Ontario before it journeys west to be infused with the Matsutake and aged in three different styles of sherry casks that are aged in shipping containers to be exposed to the elements of multiple Canadian seasons.
While the name of the game for most spirits-makers is predictability, Faustinelli says Bearface is more of an "attitude," that's about being unpredictable.
Not surprisingly, Faustinelli strongly believes whisky-making should push boundaries. "Innovation is about asking the wrong people the right questions," he observes.
So a whisky made with foraged B.C. wild mushrooms is actually pretty right. It's also pretty delicious; though it has a more smoky nose, it's got a delicate undercurrent of delightful umami funk running through it, and it works incredibly well in several cocktail applications.
Much like Bearface's Matsutake captures a moment in time, the bottles are limited; it's been made, bottled, distributed, and won't be made again - though there will be future "Wilderness" releases from the label. And just what wild ingredient or technique will capture Faustinelli's imagination next? He's definitely thinking about it, but he'll get to playing around and we'll just have to wait and see. It's probably going to surprise him, too.
The new Bearface Wilderness Series: Matsutake Release retails for $49.95. It’s bottled at 42.5% and is available now across Canada (except in Quebec) – but only for a limited time.