Glenora Inn and Distillery | Cape Breton, Nova Scotia, Canada

Call it a busman’s holiday if you will. A Scotch whisky guy on vacation seeks out what is billed as “North America’s Only Single Malt Whisky Distillery” in Glenville, Cape Breton, Nova Scotia. The Ceilidh Trail meanders through places reminiscent of Scotland – Dunvegan and Inverness, to name a few. We hug the spectacular and craggy sea coast, then turn inland and gasp at the floral explosions and wooded beauty of gentle glens. The distinctive pagoda chimney of the distillery comes into view first, then the sign: Glenora Distillery. The pagoda is architecturally arresting, and offers a silent “Welcome”.

“We never call it Scotch – it’s single malt Canadian whisky” advises tour guide Terry MacDonald, to one of the guests on our tour. Terry continues: “To be called Scotch, it needs to be distilled and aged in Scotland”. Terry continued explaining, “When the newly-distilled liquid goes from still to cask it is crystal clear, and is called “New Make Spirit” for the first three years of ageing. In Scotland it becomes “whisky” or “Scotch” upon its fourth birthday, and continues to age for many more years. Here, it’s the same, except we don’t call it Scotch.”

Our tour continues across beautifully landscaped grounds and between various buildings. Operations at Glenora are just like ones at distilleries in Scotland, albeit on a smaller scale.

  • * Water, one of only three ingredients used to make single malt whisky, comes from MacLellan’s Brook adjacent to the distillery.
  • * Barley, another of the three (the third is yeast) is trucked to the distillery from a commercial malting company, after drying the germinated barley to exact specifications.
  • * The ageing warehouse and bottling facility are located on-site. The unmistakable, lovely aroma of maturing whisky, in wooden casks resting on earthen floors, has the same effect on the visitor, no matter the location.
  • * The people, both out front and behind the scenes, make visiting distilleries the wonderful experience it is. Sampling a wee dram straight from a cask, letting sweet smelling barley trickle through your fingers, knocking on the ends of casks to determine the level of the liquid inside, or tasting a small amount of New Make Spirit (be careful here – it’s well over 120-proof!) are just some of the pleasant memories to be made.

The Inn component of the Glenora property consists of nine guest rooms and suites immediately adjacent to the distillery buildings, and six log chalets on the hillside overlooking gentle glens. The food in the dining room is superlative, especially when paired with the wonderful whiskies made next door. Authentic Cape Breton entertainment, especially fiddle and piano, is presented several times per week in the inn’s pub. Simply amazing!

Glenora’s primary expressions are the 10 year old Glen Breton Rare and the 15 year old Glen Breton Single Barrel. Also offered is a 14 year old cask strength Glen Breton that visitors can bottle themselves from a cask at the reception centre.

Leaving the pastoral Glenora Distillery in a misty rain was a bit bittersweet. With my memory recharged with the sights, sounds, smells, tastes, and energy of the distillery, I’ll never forget Terry’s words, as we held tight to our rain hats and dodged around streams of water in the parking lot: “Och – it’s a great day for makin’ whisky!”


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