Malt of the Earth

Côte des Saints

Côte des Saints’ superb selection of spirits and premium casks make a strong case for classic crafting methods

“Some people thought we were crazy when we said we wanted to not only craft whisky in Québec, but do it at the highest standards. From the very first day, we used this goal as our compass,” says François Marquis, research and development manager for the Côte des Saints farm distillery in Québec, Canada. As one of very few distilleries in Québec to produce its own grain, this field-to-bottle approach is both brave and rare, but Côte des Saints – situated in 30 acres of barley fields – believes this is the key to producing unique spirits to rival the best in the world.

“Very few distilleries have attempted to venture down such a bold and labour-intensive path, but we feel that’s the best way for us to control every aspect of our production and get the flavours we want,” says François. “We optimised each step to ensure not only the highest quality, but a unique local flavour for all our spirits, as a truly terroir-driven distillery.”

Côte des Saints’ whisky is produced in strict accordance with Scotch whisky production techniques, only using local malt, the excellent water from its wells and yeasts specially selected for their aromatic contribution. The company is extremely proud of its distillery, custom-built in 2017, for its environmentally friendly, modern facilities, but also for its traditional all-copper alembics, which, when paired with the team’s stringent standards and savoir-faire, ensure all the sweet and subtle flavours from distillation are retained.

Already, Côte des Saints has won awards for its gin, being named Québec Gin Distillery of the Year at the New York International Spirits Competition in both 2020 and 2022, and winning a gold medal at the 2020 Gin Masters in London.

Of course, premium whisky and gin are not just about using the best ingredients – much of what goes into the alchemy of taste happens in the barrels and other equipment. “Our cask programme is designed to be one of the most ambitious in North America,” says François. “Using casks that once contained various types of premium wines, spirits, aperitifs and bitters, we have a massive array of flavours to bolster our beautiful whisky’s already complex profile and create exclusive products that will be available in small batches for the discerning connoisseur.”

But none of this artisanal devotion and fine-tuned technology would be of use if it wasn’t for the dedication of a passionate team and Côte des Saints’ head distiller. And the best master distillers, it seems, are hard to find. “Despite an intensive local and regional search, we had to look internationally in the end. After interviewing many candidates, we eventually found Matt Strickland, an American who started distilling in Tennessee, and who is extremely well respected in the world of whisky distillation,” says François.

So well respected, in fact, that he trains student distillers in both the US and at the Institute of Brewing and Distilling in London, where he helps write the exams that students take at the end of their training.

Matt Strickland, perhaps, also knows how to sum up the Côte des Saints ethos. “I believe that spirits should exhibit a sense of place. Anyone can make whisky or gin. It takes skill and vision to make a product that feels unique to where it was born. I want to make single malts and gins that showcase the beauty of Québec and Canada.”