Barrel proof stories straight from the
with contributor Sean Mullen
The Whiskey Network Interview
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.
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.
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.
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.
EB - It started out with the family business idea, and Dayn doing that paper was the spark that we needed to get us going in the right direction.
After getting into the conversation with Dayn and Reaghan (my daughter), I wanted something that could last for hundreds of years and always stay in the Belfour name. Whiskey has survived through depressions and it does great all the time. It’s for celebrating, parties, and all the awesome cocktails you can make with it. It just seemed like a good business fit also. I had an awesome career and played on so many great teams and in championships. After 19 or 20 years of playing hockey, traveling the world, and making so many new friends, it taught me a lot about life. I missed playing and being with my teammates.
We wanted to be in a business that we could still have a lot of fun, have some freedoms, and do some fun things together. Like I said, though, Belfour whiskey could go on for hundreds of years. People will probably look back and they'll probably remember the Belfour family for the whiskey, probably not my hockey career.
MP - I don't know about that, let's be realistic: you have a pretty hallowed place in history from the hockey perspective. The whiskey will be a great tribute to your family and their adoration of whiskey. In my opinion there is no such thing as bad whiskey. If you're making whiskey and put it out there, you're either hitting it on the head or you're learning, and that's not a bad place to be.
There was a post in our social media community that talked about how beautiful the bottle is. It was a great discussion and I’m glad to be able to directly share that with you.
SM – It is a beautiful bottle, and it also has beautiful labels. I know there's something to do with the eagle that adorns the top of the bottle, would you elaborate on the origins of the new, sort of stylized eagle for the beautiful bottle you've chosen?
EB - That's a great question and an awesome story.
My good friend, Jeff Friesen, ran Carman Customs for me while I was playing my hockey career. That's another one of my loves: muscle cars, street rods, and all the old drag racing stuff. I drag raced myself a little bit and always enjoyed street racing. Jeff and I grew up street racing together, so that was a lot of fun.
We built some beautiful cars and had a lot of fun doing that. When we won the Stanley Cup in ‘99 with the Dallas Stars, his daughter was just born, and we have a picture of her in the Stanley Cup. Her name is Abby Friesen, she is one of my best friend’s daughters, and we worked closely to design a new eagle. I am so very proud of that fact.
We wanted the eagle to be as fierce and as passionate looking as all the eagles I had on my masks. However, we wanted it to be a little bit more geometric and fiercer looking. She did a great job with it. I was so proud to put it on the bottle and it’s on the neck labels, too.
MP - It's a great logo in and the theme is Art Deco. From the eagle, the glass, the bottle, the script on the bottle, and the wings and the eagle. It all just comes together very nicely and it just screams of very classy packaging.
EB - Thank you Mark. That was that was definitely our inspiration, the roaring '20s. We have this beautiful photo of my grandma and grandpa all dressed up and decked out in their duds from the ‘20s. We really liked that Gatsby era, the celebration era, and Art Deco. We wanted our bottle to be very unique when it's sitting on the shelves. Whether it's a back bar or if it's at the liquor store and you're walking down the aisles. We wanted to have that presence so people would see it as unique and want to see what it's about. Not everybody knows my name, or our family, but the bottle can help create that recognition. We wanted to separate ourselves from the rest of the pack.
There are so many regular bottles out there. Sure, we spent a little extra money on our bottle and our packaging; it represents two years of work. I tell everybody that bottle you see is around version 100. It was a lot of fun to create it, and I’m so thankful that it turned out the way it did.
MP - It’s working because it's catching people eyes and it's definitely a very beautiful bottle and the juice inside is just as good.
The Future of Belfour Spirits
Building a world class luxury spirits company from the ground up isn’t an easy thing to do. It’s certainly not for the faint of heart, but if there is one family who can make this happen… it’s the Belfour family. It’s a part of their family history, quite possibly baked into their DNA in some magical way. Ed believes in his team and wants to grow the business steadily with the craftsmanship and standards they demand.
MP - I understand that there are some exciting developments in the works. What does the future hold for Belfour spirits?
EB - We're working on landing Belfour spirits a home for its distillery. Right now, we're contracting with Southern Distilling out of North Carolina -- Pete and Vienna Barger. They've been great to work with. They let us come in and do what we need to do to get our bourbon and rye whiskey ready, and we're so thankful that. Same thing at Woody Creek. However, we're looking forward to having our own place and calling it home. Especially having our own equipment. We've been working on that for the last four years, trying to narrow down which equipment we want to order and what size of distillery we want to build. That's definitely on our agenda.
We're coming out with our straight, small batch, bourbon whiskey here next month, and we're excited about that. That's our first straight bourbon product that we're introducing to our fans. It turned out fabulous. There's not a lot of it. If I remember right, we dumped 92 barrels. We're always trying to do unique and special products, like our special edition straight rye whiskey, which was a tribute to my school, the Fighting Sioux, and my teammates and coaches there. It turned out great and is 106 proof. That's my favorite rye out of all of our products. I love it so much. I get a lot of compliments on that, but we're always trying to do really unique products and small batches that aren't too many barrels. Maybe someday we'll do something that's a little on the higher end of barrel count. Right now, we've been doing anywhere from 10 to 90 barrels.
MP - Do you have a location picked out or are you still scouting locations?
EB - We're still scouting locations, but we've looked in Kentucky. We've met with some wonderful people there. Obviously, it would be a great place to make great bourbon and be part of the Kentucky Bourbon Trail. We've also looked quite a few places here in Texas. We all live here in Texas now, and we won the Stanley Cup here in ‘99. So, we have a lot of roots here. We have a lot of great friends, and Texas bourbons have come on strong in the last few years, so we're leaning towards being here in Texas. I think that's probably what's going to happen. Where exactly? We're not 100% sure yet, but we're excited about the opportunities that have presented themselves. We can't wait to announce it. Looking forward to that day.
MP - In the future, when you are ready to talk about that, you are more than welcome to come sit in the chair and have a conversation with us. We would be happy to communicate all the details on where you're going to be, what all the fun is going to be at the distillery. We really want to be an advocate for you. It's fantastic what it is that you're doing.
Another quick question, where can you find Belfour Spirits right now?
EB - We started off in Texas, Illinois, South Dakota, and North Dakota. Now we're in Michigan, Oklahoma, Louisiana, Tennessee, and South Carolina. We just opened New York and New Jersey. We just got word that we're going to be opening soon in California and Florida.
We're so excited to open that many states in such a short period of time and this year. Especially after the last year, everybody has been great to work with. I'll tell you a story.
When we opened in North Dakota, where I have some good friends from playing for the Sioux, we sold out in three days. We were at 4 events and we sold 110 cases. It was awesome, and we had so much fun doing that. I look forward to getting back there and when we go to new states. We send in our sales team, they go around with all the distributors, salespeople, and it's great to get out and meet folks. We do signings and promote every part of what we do, and the people here in Texas have been awesome to work with. Southern Glazer's is a great relationship here in Texas. If you go to our website, www.belfourspirits.com, you can put in your zip code. It'll tell you the closest restaurants and liquor stores to you within your search radius where you can find us.
Try to be a little patient with that because we're always updating it and sometimes it lags a little.
SM - So for us Canucks, when can I get my hands on one of these bottles up in Canada?
EB - Well, we just had a conversation with Southern Glazer's in Canada and they're telling us that the borders are still pretty shut down. They said they’d let us know as soon as possible when we could come on up and start promoting our brand and get out there to meet folks. I'm hoping sometime this summer.
SM - I can't wait.
EB - I haven't been able to go visit my mom and dad either. That's going on a couple of years and they're getting older. They're 89 and 88 years old, and they usually drive down here every year, but because of what's happened, they haven't been able to come. My dad still is in great shape: he plants the garden every summer, and he says as soon as that border opens he will be coming down, and then I'm sure they'll be bringing whiskey back home.
MP – Mr. Belfour, I hope you understand that you have great friends here at the Whisky Network. We are big fans, and we would love to help promote this great product. Any time you feel like you have something to discuss, you are more than welcome to come sit with us and we would be happy to let you tell that story.
EB - Thank you.
Family Values and Factors for Success
One does not achieve the heights of success on accident. In addition to talent, there are often other factors that contribute to the success of any individual. It was an important part of the conversation to fully explore this aspect with Mr. Belfour. His answers do not disappoint, and it’s clear why he commands success with every endeavor that he engages in.
MP - You've touched on this a little bit and I want to focus on this because it's an important part of our discussion and is something you’ve built upon throughout your life and career. Clearly, you've passed this along to your children and the family business. Talk to me a little bit about what you feel are your values that you attribute to success.
EB - Well, a core value would be a determination for sure. I'm probably one of the most determined people, and I never give up. There will always going to be bumps in the road and things that don't go your way. You're going to get upset, you're going to get angry, and peeved off… but you just keep moving forward and you never give up.
Another one is attention to detail. I'm a very detailed guy. With my equipment, with my positioning in the net, I had to adapt. I didn't play the same way at the end of my career as I did at the beginning. If you tried playing the same way as you did your first year you probably would maybe last three or four years, and the shooters and the scouts are going to figure you out, so you have to get better. You must evolve.
That's the way I treat our whiskey business, Belfour spirits. We’re always trying to improve our products. We do a lot of research and development behind the scenes. Those are some of the things that have really helped me. You must have faith and believe in yourself and believe in your team.
Finally, you have to love what you're doing. Ever since I was probably 4 years old watching Hockey Night in Canada with my parents, there were only six teams back then, but I knew I loved the game right from the beginning. You have to wake up every day and be glad you're in in that position, go give 110%, and keep moving forward.
MP - Very wise words. You don't spend 20 years in the NHL on accident and you don't build a future proof whiskey business on accident either. I admire the fact that you have those base values baked into the company.
EB - Thanks for that. First, God. God gave me the talents I have. Second, my mom and dad. Mom always told me “you can do whatever you put your mind to doing and you just go out there and do it.” She's also told that to my kids too. She's such a big supporter and such a positive influence. I'm so blessed with parents that that I have.
MP - Outstanding! Thanks mom/Mrs. Belfour.
EB - Exactly.
The Mashbill: Whiskey Network Wants to Know Your Recipe
It is our tradition at the Whiskey Network to ask our guests the same final 5 questions, also known as the Mashbill.
MP - There's a very special treat here at the end of the interview. Don't be nervous, it's not a test, but we do like to ask the same 5 questions to all of our guests. These are built from the most common questions that get asked in our social media community, and it’s meant to be a fun thing. Just tell me what comes to the top of your mind and we'll just have some fun with it. Are you ready?
EB - Yes.
MP - Alright, here we go. This is easier than a penalty shot, I promise. I'm a horrible shot. I was defenseman. I was built to protect you, not to score on you.
EB - Best friends, right?
MP – Absolutely, yes. Well, your best friend is the pipes and then your second-best friend is me.
So, the first question: What was the last whiskey, bourbon, or scotch that was in your glass?
EB - Belfour Spirits.
MP – Great answer! Which one was it?
EB - It was our regular rye whiskey.
MP- That is an excellent, excellent spirit. I love that.
Next question: Do you prefer to drink your whiskey from a specific type of glass?
EB - Well, we have our own glasses at Belfour Spirits, but I like the Glencairn glasses.
MP - I'm going to get a picture of your glass, so the audience can see how fabulous it is.
EB - That's what we do most of our tastings out of is that glass, and that shot glass is exactly what my dad had at home when I was a kid. I remember those little glasses like that, and it just brings back neat memories.
MP - It has the bespoke eagle logo on it so that is fantastic.
Do you have a Unicorn bottle?
EB - I like the Elijah Craig barrel strength 136 proof. I think there's still a couple of them out there, but they're hard to find.
MP - OK, Whiskey Network you heard him; work your magic. Help him find it!
EB - Think about that, how did they even get that to be 136 proof like that. I have the 132 and 127 (I think) and then I saw one that was 136. They must do some special room where they aged it in to get the proof to that high of level, or the barrels are staying at maybe the hottest point in the in the barrel warehouse.
SM - Yes, the most evaporation, probably. There's actually an Alberta Premium cask strength that just came out at 66%. So yeah, 132.
MP - You are a god among men to be able to drink that level of proof, because I tap out at about 110.
EB - Well, the one the one thing about the Elijah Craig is, it's even at that higher proof, it's still really smooth. That’s what I want to achieve with our products, and we're working on it right now. Trying to create our barrel strength so it's really smooth and easy to drink at a high proof level like that.
Obviously, we're still a young company, so it's going to take me a while to get to those higher proof points, but I promise you this, I will try my hardest to get somewhere up there where the Elijah Craig is.
MP - Great, if you need a taste tester I'm not far from Texas, I'm just saying. I'm a tenderfoot, though. Go easy on me.
The next question is a hypothetical question for you. I know what the answer is, but I'm going to ask it anyway, because I know you have a great answer.
I am looking for a gift for a friend, the budget is somewhere between $50 and $75, what would you recommend?
EB - Our pecan bourbon.
MP – Absolutely 100% agree. Highlight reel goal. That is a great bottle and would be a great gift.
OK, the final question, this is my favorite and I love it: Do you have a favorite toast?
EB - I always toast to happiness and good health.
MP – To happiness and good health. I love it. Mr. Belfour, you have been very generous with your time. Thank you so much for bringing everything that you have brought to the Whiskey Network audience today. I'm sure that people are going to be very happy to learn more about Belfour Spirits, where you can find them, and visit belfourspirits.com. This is where they can find information on all the different expressions that you have and some of the plans that you have in store. Thank you so much. Sean, did you have anything that you wanted to cover additional?
SM - No, it's an honor for you to take your time out to be with us and thank you very much, we appreciate it.
EB - Yeah, thanks Sean and Mark for having me, it’s my pleasure and just really enjoyed the opportunity.
There is no doubt that Ed Belfour will be remembered for the great achievements in his hockey career. This alone places him in elite company. However, his drive to succeed has led him down a new path: whiskey.
His family is already well on their way to add another great reason to remember the Belfour family name. Clearly, they were Born for Glory.
At the Whiskey Network, we will continue to stay in close contact with Belfour Spirits and be sure to communicate the many anticipated milestones coming for them.
Be sure to check out our reviews of Belfour Bourbon HERE!