Fort McMurray brewery turning malt from wildfire into smoked whiskey

Spike Baker

Since the wildfire that ravaged Fort McMurray earlier this summer, many residents have struggled to get back on their feet. But Wood Buffalo Brewing Co. is turning lemons into lemonade. Or, rather, smoke into smoked whiskey.

After learning that 1,000 kilograms of malt left on a side patio during the summer’s historic forest fire was safe to use, Wood Buffalo’s head brewer decided to turn it into a limited-edition spirit, found only in Fort McMurray.

Some of the predominant flavours in whiskey are peat and smoke, and after sitting out in a forest fire that burned for months, the malt should have both, says head brewer Spike Baker.

“It was already heavily peated malt destined for whisky, but it absorbed this extra flavour,” Baker told the Edmonton Journal. “You can taste the malt, but it also has this smoky campfire taste to it. This is definitely going to be a one-off whisky because these conditions are never going to be repeatable.”

The new double-smoked whiskey is aptly named The Beast, and will be auctioned off at a local event to raise funds for the Friends of the Fort McMurray Firefighters Charities Association on Friday. Unfortunately, the successful bidders will have to be patient, because distilling whiskey takes time. That means all they’ll receive is an IOU that can be redeemed five years from now, when the whiskey is ready to drink.

But the making of The Beast is about much more than just smoked whiskey.

“It’s an opportunity to celebrate how far we’ve come as a community,” Baker told the Journal. “In honour of the firefighters saving the city and making this whisky possible, we want to move that legacy forward.”

In addition to the 10 bottles being auctioned off later this week, Wood Buffalo plans to auction off another 10 of the total 200 bottles each year in support of wildfire victims.