The Future of Canadian Whisky with Alberta Distillers’ George Teichroeb

The Future of Canadian Whisky with Alberta Distillers’ George Teichroeb

George Teichroeb of Alberta Distillers

In his 26-plus years in distilling, George Teichroeb has seen whisky booms in two different countries. Now the General Manager of Alberta Distillers — known in the U.S. for their Alberta Premium 100% Rye releases — Teichroeb also spent years in Kentucky under the tutelage of figures like Fred Noe. Jim Beam and Alberta Distillers are both part of the Beam Suntory portfolio; Teichroeb’s experience in both Kentucky and Western Canadian distilling is unique in both its breadth and timing.

After witnessing Kentucky’s bourbon boom in the early 2010s, Teichroeb became GM of Alberta Distillers in time to help welcome a new age of Canadian whisky. Alberta Premium’s Cask Strength 100% Rye is perhaps the best-known example, at least in the United States. To him, the expression’s success signals more diversity in Canadian distilling, wherein cask strength and single grain releases are celebrated alongside traditional blending.

We sat down with Teichroeb to talk about his career across borders, the development of Alberta Premium’s flavor profile, and what comes next for both Alberta Distillers and Canadian whisky in general. He also gives a peak at potential new U.S. releases, including 20-plus year rye that is still only available in Canada.

Drinkhacker: Tell us a little bit about your background in the spirits industry, with Alberta Distillers.

George Teichroeb: I started in the industry in 1997. I was a maturing analyst. So what that means is really looking after aging inventory. Getting involved in the business in that part I found so beneficial because most of the flavor really takes place for whiskey in the barrel. The folks who were teaching me the business at that time, it was fantastic. It was really a different time because if you were willing to listen, they were willing to teach, and it was just amazing.

In 2005, I had a great opportunity to join mergers and acquisition. And I was involved in how we value the entire brand and also the assets that go with the brand. What do you need? You need grain, that’s going to be the most expensive part, the energy it costs to actually produce it and convert it, all those things were fantastic to learn. And then 2007 there was an opportunity to grow my experience in the industry in Kentucky.

I joined Jim Beam, the mothership, I’ll call it. I worked in Louisville for almost eight years in many different roles. Businesses were growing, distilleries were popping up everywhere. I had an office across the hall from Fred Noe of Jim Beam. Watching Fred, not only at his house, but at events and talking about the brand and the passion that he had for the history, those are the types of things that you reflect on. Fred always said, “Just don’t BS anyone.” Whether he’s just giving that advice or just saying it, I absorbed that. It was a lot about watching the folks in the business and what they’re doing. It’s helped me immensely working with and learning from people in this industry.

It was a fantastic time to network and get to see what’s happening with startups in the space. In 2014, there was another opportunity. We were looking at making some changes in Canada, specifically at the Alberta Distillers location. So in 2014/2015, I transitioned back into the Canadian operations.

Alberta Distillers Limited

Drinkhacker: What’s your perspective on the role Canadian whisky plays in the global whiskey market? How has that changed from when you started in the industry to today?

George Teichroeb: I was trying to think about this the other day when somebody asked me a similar question. When I started, Alberta Distillers was one of the very few that was doing a 100% rye whiskey. Distilling in the West wasn’t as well known. Releasing a new brand wasn’t something that a lot of distillers were doing. There wasn’t as much innovation, but by the mid 2000s, we noticed a huge influx of innovation, different styles. I’m not talking flavored whisky, I’m talking uniqueness from pot still to dropping away from continuous distillation methods to more refined methods.

We started to see cask strength specialties and different ryes. Differences in grain types, aging, barrels. There was less blending of Canadian whisky, where people were looking at being more craft style. In 2010, I was already in Louisville, and a question came up about rye whisky. I think the stats back then, there were probably only about a hundred thousand case sales of the rye category in North America. Five, six years later, there’s over a million cases, and the category has continued to explode.

Rye typically is associated with Canadian whisky. But in Canadian whiskey rules, there doesn’t actually have to be rye grain to call it a Canadian whisky. But people associate rye with Canadian whiskey. And the good fortune of being with Alberta Distillers is that we’re really heavy on the rye and we like what that that does for the whisky. Our maturation process is a little different being 3000 feet above sea level.

There is value in the flavor profile, and back then, people were finally starting to be interested in it. I think today I’m seeing a bit more of a shift where all types of spirits are looking towards blending to enhance the flavor profile. That has been really favorable for Canadian whiskey.

Drinkhacker: Let’s talk about bringing the Alberta Premium expressions to the United States, specifically the cask strength rye. Tell us a little bit about the thought process.

Alberta Rye Whisky

George Teichroeb: For cask strength, to do that, we wanted to highlight the best of what we do in whisky. We had to ask what was true to our rye whisky, what’s the best. We believed it to be pot still, and we also wanted to age in brand new wood. The typical Canadian whisky is aged in a barrel that’s been used several times. Even in the base expression of Alberta Premium, we use some pot still product, but the cask strength was really to let people know how good a cask strength can be, so it’s all pot still.

And when we released it, to give the consumers that firsthand taste of what comes out of a barrel, and truly to have that maturation of pot still, 100% rye product: we hoped it would be a success, but it was fantastic and beyond what we expected. It was overwhelming. We didn’t realize it was going to be as popular as it was, so now we’re in a position where it’s going to be limited release for quite some time. We love the response that we got, and it’s just a testament to what our facility can do.

Drinkhacker: Having visited the distillery, I’ve seen some pretty impressive age statements from Alberta Distillers in barrels and on Canadian shelves, 20 year old product up to 30 year old product. Should we expect in the coming years in the United States? Any more expressions, including age stated expressions from Alberta Distillers?

Alberta Premium 20 Year Rye

George Teichroeb: Yes. But I’ll say timing is always the key for us on that. We’re a 76 year old company, and we’re in a bit of a growing state. That’s fantastic. As we roll these things out, we want to be mindful of not losing sight of what Alberta Distiller’s values are in creating our brand. The goal isn’t just to release older spirit now. It’s about what we can give our consumers as an experience that they haven’t had before.

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