Image by Marcus  Castro

The 

Speakeasy

May 2021
SPONSORED BY:
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Barrel proof stories straight from the

source.

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with contributor Sean Mullen

The Whiskey Network Interview

 Ed Belfour

How do you address someone who spent 19 years as a goalie in the NHL and ranks as the 4th in all time wins? What if this person also lives in such rarified air that they are only one of two people to have won an NCAA Championship, a Gold Medal, and the Stanley Cup? 

Well, you address this person as “Mr. Ed Belfour (Eddie ‘The Eagle’).”

As the CEO of Belfour Spirits, he brings his grit, determination, and talent to the world of whiskey. His products are taking the whiskey world by storm. As he connects to the meeting, we see that his office is adorned with fantastic memories of his world. Family photos, hockey mementos, and branded merchandise from his company which carry the tag line “Born for Glory”. All these elements come into play as we go through his journey from the NHL into a building a premium whiskey brand. He is truly a legendary whiskey enthusiast.

You can watch the video of our interview here.

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O Canada Our Home and Native Land

He was born in Carman, Manitoba, and that’s where his journey into whiskey begins. Like many others, his exposure to beer and whiskey came at an early age and in the context of family events. Here is where we first get insight into the strong connection between his family values and success. In fact, there is an interesting connection in his lineage to producing alcohol that we were able to uncover. 

As his playing career flourished, whiskey was readily available for him to explore further. Finally, as he transitioned out the NHL and into other endeavors, it was another family connection that led him into creating a luxury bourbon brand that is good enough to bear his family name.

Mark Pruett - Can you share with us an early memory of whiskey? What got you into this?

Ed Belfour - Growing up in Canada, most of us started drinking beer when we were 10 or 11 years old. I remember having my first sip of whiskey with my dad who at a Christmas party for work. The guys were all sitting around having Crown Royal, and dad asked me if I wanted to try it. My thought was, “Heck yeah I wanna try it!”

That was my first introduction. It was from dad, and I had the chance to sip on it a little bit. Of course, your first time trying it… it's pretty strong and potent, so something I'll never forget. I appreciate my dad for providing that opportunity for me.

 

MP - I would imagine throughout your career, whiskey was socially available. Was there a moment in time where whiskey became something not to just drink socially, but more of a hobby? What was it that made you want to get more into whiskey?

 

EB - Once I was introduced to bourbon, I began trying different ones. None of them taste the same, and it's a very creative field. For myself, I've always had that creative side to me. I always enjoyed working on my equipment and designing equipment, so it fit naturally into the world of whiskies. After my career, we were looking for something to do together as a family, and I thought it would be interesting to look into the spirits industry. My son, Dayn, had just done a paper at school about the spirits industry, and he did a great job with it. It was almost perfect timing.

We started talking about getting into the business. At the same time, we were watching an episode of a tv program about people who make moonshine and having a good chuckle. We thought that if those guys can make some good moonshine in the backwoods (which you know has been going on for hundreds of years), we thought about ordering a still to see how well we could get at making whiskey for ourselves and for our friends.

Obviously, we learned quickly that that was highly illegal.

We then chose the route to get licensing, but quickly realized there's a lot of red tape and hoops you have to jump through to get it. That’s when we decided to create Belfour Spirits and do it on a much larger scale.

In the beginning, we didn't think it was going to get this large, but we have 2700 barrels aging now. We’re also getting ready to build our distillery in the next year here in Texas somewhere. It's been a lot of fun. That first initiation into whiskey with my dad… and somewhere along the line, my mom and dad told me that Grandma and Grandpa Belfour were doing some type of moonshining.

I don't know exactly what they were making, but back in the farm that was the story. We have this beautiful picture of Grandma and Grandpa from the ‘20s, so there was some inspiration there from my family, too, and I just think it was a good fit for us.

It's a very social business, you know. Everyone loves to have fun and you'll do tastings and just have a great time. That's also what hockey is all about, too. We play hard, but we also party hard, and we have a great time after. Celebrating wins and victories.

I remember coming back to Winnipeg to play The Jets when I was with the Blackhawks, this would have been in the early 90s, and our sports recovery drink back then was Labatt Blue and Crown Royal. They would put that on the table after the game and guys could have a beer or sip on the whiskey. We didn't have all the sports drinks that are available nowadays, but looking back on it… that's pretty cool, having a Labatt’s Blue there.

 

MP - I’m making a note to myself. I need to go find some Labatt’s mix it up with some whiskey.

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All Things Whiskey: Flavors, Food, and Cigars

Ed knows what he likes when it comes to bourbon. He’s done a lot of exploring and found his proverbial “sweet” spot. He takes this experience and uses it as a guiding principle in making his own bourbon. During his playing career, he would constantly tinker with his hockey gear. This has translated well into his career as a distiller. Yes, that’s right… he is truly hands-on in this endeavor. He works extremely hard to call the shots on potential mashbills, learning from both success and failure. 

He also has a good understanding that whiskey pairs nicely with both good cigars and food. He is happy to share his food choices, and this is clearly a source of great joy to him. In fact, any sort of experimentation where he can express his creative desires are meaningful to him. 

MP- Going back to whiskey, you mentioned bourbon; what specific flavors do you like when you personally enjoy bourbon?

 

EB - Well, I look for the caramels and vanillas. I like the sweeter side on the bourbons. I really enjoy Elijah Craig, always have. Maker’s Mark is one that we first started drinking. I really enjoyed how smooth and easy it was to drink. We went after that same approach with a wheated mashbill for our first bourbons. Our is a 60/30/10 mashbill, and we think that it's smooth and pretty easy for everyone to drink. We went through a lot of work to find the sweet spot on the proof point. We always try to find the sweet spot so that we can engage anybody with our products and not get that bitter whiskey face that you get from some whiskeys that are just too potent or a little off on their flavor profiles. We're very proud about that. Again, for me, I like the smoothness of the caramels, the vanillas, and I do like when you get a little bit of smoke in there.

 

MP - I've tried these two of your products: the bourbon that's finished in the pecan barrels and the rye. The bourbon finished with pecan just knocked me over; what a unique whiskey. It has a smooth characteristic and sits at a great proof point (92 proof). I also had a taste of the rye. It has a very smooth characteristic, but it's also got a little bit of that spice kick. You hit the bullseye with this one at 94 proof.

Sean, I know you had some questions regarding some whiskey rituals, or some follow up things. Why don't you jump in here?

 

Sean Mullen - So, Ed, you mentioned you really liked the social aspect and the family social aspect of it; do you have any specific rituals around whiskey when celebrating certain milestones through the years?

 

EB - We would always sip on some whiskey when there were some good things in my career. There were always times of celebration for sure, and I was so lucky to be on so many great teams. I've had a chance to definitely experience that quite often.

Whenever we have milestones with our business, we definitely like to break out Dayn’s Rye Whiskey, which represents our first 12 barrels that we made. It has this beautiful packaging that represents how special those 12 bottles are. Dayn and I went to school to learn how to make the whiskey, and we tried to educate ourselves on how to be successful in this business. We've been at this for eight years, and we just didn't want to be like a lot of the other celebrities who just slapped their name on a bulk spirit, and they don't know that much about the business or about the product. We didn't want that.

We take a lot of pride in everything we do. When we put on our jerseys, go out there on the ice and perform, we're performing for the Belfour family, our team, and for our fans. We want to be the best we can be, and the same thing with our whiskeys. We want to make sure that we're putting our best foot forward.

Yeah, sure, we make mistakes, just like we did in our hockey careers. You learn from your mistakes and you get better. We're always trying to improve our whiskey. That’s why we went to school and learned how to make the juice. Dayn got to do an internship at Woody Creek distilleries in Basalt, Colorado. They are great people up there, Mark Kleckner and his crew, very thankful for them. There was also Dave Matthews, Pat, and Mary. Just allowing Dayn to come in there and work at the distillery every day and then coach hockey at night was the perfect situation for him. I remember the day he called me when he was filling the last barrel and he was crying. He's told me “Dad, oh my gosh, the white dog’s amazing, you hit the button on the head.”

With our first mashbill, I did a lot of research and that just led into more research on every mashbill.  We came up with a 70/20/10 mashbill from the research I did, and it was a Northeastern recipe from Pennsylvania. The rye whiskeys that I grew up on were very potent and spicy and hot, and I wanted ours to just be a little bit more toned down, and that mashbill worked out perfectly for us.

Every time we cross a milestone or something good happens, we like to sip on Dayn’s Rye Whiskey. We always save a few bottles around here and we're actually planning a trip up to Woody Creek here in the next couple weeks because we saved two barrels. One barrel is going to Canada; it would have been there already but with Covid it didn't make it there yet. It just turned four years old on April 1st. We're really excited about going up there to try it and see how it tastes at that age. The stuff in the bottle is right around 2 1/2 years old, so it's fabulous the way it is. The last barrel we’ll save, and our plan is to let it age to be 10 years old. We will then do a special bottle and maybe a special top on it, too. It's been a lot of fun working on this wonderful business with my kids.

Like you were saying, in celebratory times we break out Dayn’s whiskey, and hopefully we'll always be able to do that.

 

SM - That's outstanding, that sounds like an outstanding celebratory bottle. Just related to enjoying whiskey, do you have any favorite pairings? Cigars, food, anything you'd like to pair with your whiskeys?

 

EB - I want to learn more and become a cigar aficionado. Dayn knows a lot more about cigars than I do. That's also an aspect we wanted to have at our distillery.

My favorite is desserts with whiskey. I like carrot cake and certain types of chocolate cake with my whiskey. Also, I like barrel strength bourbon best with dessert. That will be another aspect that we have at our distilleries is an awesome dessert menu to go with the bourbons and the rye.

 

SM - That's awesome. If you ever need any cigar notes, I actually write cigar reviews for the magazine, so just reach out.

 

MP - Ed, we need to have you join us for a live pairing of whiskies with desserts. I'm envisioning this event where you've got carrot cake, chocolate cake, and cheesecake that you've paired up with whiskey. Of course, when you want to talk about cigars, we'll bring you back and have you talk to Sean.

 

EB - It's a lot of fun. You get a whole new explosion of flavors in your mouth when you sip on that whiskey with the desserts. It just pairs so well together.

 

MP - A lot of people just like to drink whiskey by itself, but I think those people are missing out because, food brings out different flavors in the whiskey. It's fantastic.

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Belfour Spirits: Born for Glory

This endeavor is a family affair. His son (Dayn) and daughter (Reaghan) are deeply involved with him in the business. There are other connections of his that have contributed to the business. It’s a true story of building a successful business from the ground up. He is humble about his accomplishments on the ice, and at the same time is determined to build a business that will last for generations to come. There is no doubt that he will accomplish what he sets out to do.

 

MP - Let's delve a little bit more into Belfour Spirits. I am absolutely enchanted with the idea that this is a family business. The Belfour mashbill recipe that you have come up with, you've put all of these things into motion. You talked about the genesis of this being your son writing a paper. How did you get to the point to where you could turn this into a business? Of course, now you've got 2700 barrels.