Title: Fort McMurray Wildfires and 'The Beast' Whisky by Eddie Douglas, Commercial Director, BML.
In May 2016, wildfires spread through the Community of Fort McMurray in Alberta, Canada where 80,000 people were evacuated from the region as the fires advanced on the town destroying around 2,400 homes and buildings leaving behind widespread devastation, changing lives forever. I made the trip to Fort McMurray on a journey that would become a life changing event where I came to understand first-hand the devastation that the fires caused and how the community pulled together to defeat the fires christened “The Beast” by media.
A local brewing company, Wood Buffalo Brewing, suffered some stock damage to the brewery but a single pallet of heavily peated malt supplied by Bairds Malt (Inverness) was exposed to smoky air that enveloped Fort McMurray for much of the month of May. After testing proved this malt was still fit for consumption, an idea was born. Head Brewer, Spike Baker, and his team decided to use the malt to create a unique single malt whisky to raise funds to help the community affected by the fires.
I was invited to attend a media reception at Wood Buffalo Brewing, on a Friday evening, followed by supporting the distillation and charity auction of the first 10 bottles at the launch party. I had an interesting journey on my way to the launch, including a delayed flight out of Portland, which caused a large knock on effect to my journey, with an unintended reroute via Vancouver BC Airport. To add to the experience,on arrival into Vancouver, I was informed that my luggage did not accompany me on the flight so I was left with no possessions and most importantly, no kilt for the reception the following day. Despite my kilt missing its flight, some very helpful and dedicated Delta ground crew eventually reunited me with my luggage, including my kilt, on the Saturday morning!
So we had to distil the whisky and auction the first ten bottles with only my accent providing any clue to the two hundred and fifty guests that I was indeed the Scotsman in town! The Auction went very well raising over CAN$40,000 (~£25,000) for local community charities. The fire fighters and the Wood Buffalo team were blown away with this, especially Spike, who was in sheer disbelief that some of the spirit that he had produced had raised such an amount for the community with individual bottles selling in the $1,700 to $7,100 range.
Pictured: Spike Baker and Eddie Douglas
During my time in Fort McMurray, I got to shake hands and spend some time with around twenty fire fighters who were so humble, just brushing it off as, “we were only doing our job sir”. However, some of the stories they have on acts of bravery and compassion during their three days non-stop fighting of the fires in the town were amazing.
I learned that over 80,000 people were evacuated from the Fort McMurray area and hundreds of families lost everything they ever owned except for the clothes they stood in and the vehicle they used to flee the town. At the height of the fires they stretched over an area of 250km by 450km and during the evacuation, the dual carriageway that accesses the town had all four lanes of traffic fleeing the town fires and the fire engines were having to drive the hard shoulder at speed as they battled against on-coming traffic to fight the fires. Filling stations and hotels at the side of the dual carriageway were burning down as people tried to battle their way out of town in vehicles.
Fire fighters had to bulldoze over fifty homes, some of which belonged to their friends & families, as this was the only way they could create a fire break and prevent the fire spreading further. Fire fighters had no idea if their own families were safe as they fought the fires constantly over three days, only stopping to rest and get a few hours’ sleep lying in the open or in a basement, if fortunate. A few of the fire fighters had only started with the department on 1st May and were faced with the biggest fires the country had ever experienced some two days into the job. Amazingly, none of the fire fighters sustained any serious injuries over the three days where they constantly battled against the advancing fires.
Pictured: Fort McMurray Fire Department Team Members and Eddie Douglas
We have now created a board of custodians to manage the future release and auctioning of the remaining Beast spirit which will see up to 100 bottles sold over the next 5 years to maintain funds for a number of local charities that are helping rebuild the community post the fires. It is estimated that it will take 2 to 3 years to complete the rebuilding of all the houses lost to the fires.
It was a real life changing trip and certainly renewed my faith in community spirit. I am sure this won't be the last time we hear about 'The Beast' spirit as it will certainly go down as part of Canada's history around the devastating fires that rocked the Fort MCMurray community.
Title: BAIRDS MALTING COURSE, SCOTLAND MAY 2016
Mark Kinsman of Bairds Malt kicked off the 20th annual malting course by introducing himself to a full contingent of 26 Bairds’ customers who were interested to learn how their Malt gets to them, where it came from, how it became Malt and find out more about the UK and world markets. An informative and descriptive series of presentations followed, enabling the customers to see how much skill, effort, care and craftsmanship goes into making their product. In addition, the course has been of great benefit to many attendees who have taken the Industry recognised Institute of Brewing and Distilling examinations over the past two decades.
Late afternoon saw all of the delegates shipped out to Bairds Malt’s Arbroath site for an interactive tour including the Buhler Plant, Laboratory, Weighbridge and the huge Germination Vessel (see pic above). Seeing the plant for themselves allowed the customers to fully understand the process. After the site tour everybody enjoyed an informal meal at a local restaurant.
The course was extremely well received by delegates and Bairds’ employees alike who appreciated the vast amount of information, professional expertise and knowledge that was disseminated over the two day course. From crop choice to steeping, dispatch to germination, quality assurance to kilning, all areas were covered leaving everyone more informed of the process we endeavour to maintain.