Cheticamp, NS to Mabou, NS

A middling amount of miles in our U-Haul van.
Home: Glenora Distillery Chalet

There were quite a few hiking trails in the National Park near our Cheticamp campground, and we didn’t have a long drive planned. But instead of exploring one of those paths in the morning, we instead drove to a trailhead Rett had found outside the park that led us to an old gypsum quarry, now a popular swimming hole. The hike up warmed us up sufficiently that taking a dip sounded like a perfect idea. Without the buoyancy benefits of salt water, I timidly kept my skinny dense ass close to the edge where underwater rock could still be found not far away, but Rett reveled in the full experience, crossing over to the cliff edge on the other side (ok, not quite the full experience, since she didn’t climb the rope up to the cliff-top and dive off like some people were doing!)

Gypsum quarry near Cheticamp.
Rett swimming in the gypsum quarry.
Rett made it to the far end of the quarry, though she didn’t climb the rock face and dive in from 20 feet up like some of the more risk-seeking kids did.
The area reminded me of the Black Hills, rather different than the rest of Cape Breton.
Canadian, Acadian, and Nova Scotian flags. Contrary to my expectations, Canadians fly flags far more than their American counterparts.
Cheticamp Lighthouse, painted in Acadian colors, and replicated at many businesses in Cheticamp.

For lunch we stayed with the water theme, but changed it up for salt water, at Chimney Corner Beach. It was a beautiful curved cove beach, with shallow water extending forever, but it was much more crowded than our spoiled selves are used to (we got one of the last “real” parking spots), so I dipped my ankles in, but beyond that, eating lunch on the sunny sand was all we had motivation to do.

Beachgoers more prepared than us.

Soon after, we passed through Inverness, returning ourselves to charted territory and completing our counterclockwise loop of the Cabot Trail. Rett had gotten good campground-bathroom advice from friendly locals about other things to do in this area, but it’s interesting how even with a van to speed us along at 5x biking speed, the list of awesome things we have time for will still remain an infinitesimal fraction of the things we don’t have time for.

In this case we were racing to the Glenora Distillery, where (after five nights in campgrounds) we had booked a fancy, expensive chalet for the night, and as always, we wanted to maximize our value by arriving as close to check-in as possible.

Glenora Distillery.

Glenora is a rare and interesting species in the whiskey world. Founded in 1989, it precedes the current craft spirits boom by a couple decades. And while it’s not exactly a tiny operation, it’s also not a legacy brand owned by a multinational corporation. So that means it’s “craft” enough to be interesting, but old enough that it’s had plenty of time to age its whiskies to depths that the younger craft upstarts can’t fathom (and sometimes even lie about).

Then, while the distillery takes great care to not call its whiskey “Scotch”, it’s produced with a single (barley) malt, and so the only thing that keeps it from being Scotch is the fact that this particular Gaelic-tinged mountainous northern end of a sea-surrounded landmass happens to be in Canada, not Scotland. And still, the Scotchmakers of Scotland apparently felt so threatened that Glenora needed to spend years fighting a lawsuit (all the way to the Canadian Supreme Court) that claimed their use of the word “Glen” in their name was confusing to consumers!

Some big stills at the Glenora Distillery.

Both of those things (the aged legitimacy, and the Scotchiness) are a big attraction to us, so that’s why it felt right to spring for this Scotland-like experience in this very Scottish place. The tour was interesting and informative, though the VHS-quality video intro was laughably outdated. Their buildings also reflect their 20th-century origins, with a somewhat-antiseptic ’90s vibe to the architecture, in contrast to a modern craft distillery whose fashionably rustic furniture attempts to influence the “taste” centers in your brain just as much as the chemicals floating up in your nasal passage do. So perhaps it’s a reflection that Glenora is confident their product can speak for itself.

The tasting at dinner was the real test. Surprisingly, they’ve only produced one batch in their history where the barley was dried with peat smoke (the Islay style of Scotch that’s the favorite of both Rett and I). But luckily that was now 18 years ago that they ran that experiment, and we were able to taste both the bottled (at year 16) and the cask-strength (61.8% ABV!) versions of it. Good shit indeed, and their other varieties, from the moonshine to the ice-wine-barrel-aged whiskey, were all worthwhile.

Whisky tasting and dinner at Glenora Distillery.

It would have been interesting to talk to their business side to understand how they’ve navigated the craft spirits boom: were they prepared for it, and able to take advantage by selling their genuinely aged products for big profits, or, after decades of producing batches that sold with only a middling level of interest, had they resigned themselves to small-volume production, and then were caught unable to leverage their advantages when the masses came looking to buy? It’s such an interesting business, where you need to guess what consumers might be interested in 20 years from now. I thrive on long-term thinking, and barely understand any other way to operate, but even for me, that sort of unpredictability would freeze me to inaction.

We finished the night with a “traditional” Scottish “Ceilidh”, which in this case was just a fiddle/guitar trio playing some songs, but hey, it’s the first live music we’ve had the chance to experience in a while. We closed out, throats, bellies, and hearts warmed, and climbed the steep, pitch-black gravel drive back to our mountainside chalet, with the Milky Way lighting our path.

A Ceilidh at Glenora.
Rett contemplating the galaxy from our chalet at Glenora Distillery.


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