On the ice to over ice—Ed Belfour has segued from a celebrated hockey career into the world of distilling with seamless ease. A native Canuck, the NHL Hall of Famer (known as Eddie the Eagle) and Stanley Cup winner has spent the past few years reinventing himself as President and CEO of Belfour Spirits, bringing his son, Dayn, and daughter, Reaghan, along for the ride.
We caught up with Ed by phone at his Texas ranch to learn more.
What inspired you to launch your distillery?
About six years ago, Dayn and I visited Woodford Reserve, Jim Beam, Heaven Hill, and some other Kentucky distilleries and we just fell in love with the industry, especially the tourism aspects. Our goal from then on was to open our own distillery, a good-sized place where we could host visitors from all over the world.
What on-ice lessons have translated to what you’re doing now?
Attention to detail and commitment. My son and I are both self-taught goalies who are very passionate about what we do. We put our hearts and souls into everything. It’s how we played hockey, and it’s how we approach distilling.
We did look into vodka. Whiskey is more exciting to me. It’s complex and creative with a lot of nuance.
What’s the most surprising thing you’ve learned in your whiskey education?
Even if you use the same mash bill and the same yeast, you can put it into different barrels with different chars and toasts and each will come out with a totally unique flavor profile. And also, just how good you can make whiskey taste.
What was the biggest challenge in getting your distillery up and running?
Finding a location. Our original plan was to be in Texas, but we ran into so many roadblocks. Some of our consultants suggested Kentucky because it’s the true birthplace of bourbon. I played hockey on two of the original six teams in cities where everyone loves the sport, supports it, and is passionate about it. Kentucky feels the same way about bourbon.
What can you tell us about your distillery/tasting room to come?
We’re not ready to announce where we’ll be in Kentucky just yet, but we’re hoping to open in 2022. The visitor center will allow customers to walk into a retail store with a nice chef-driven restaurant/lounge to the right and a casual-dining coffee shop to the left. The distillery in the back will produce our bourbon and rye, likely using an 18-inch column still to turn out somewhere around 15,000 barrels a year. There’ll be a speakeasy-style tasting room that will pivot into a nightclub/bar after hours. We’ll offer tours three or four days a week, and we’ll have a separate property for our rick houses.
Your 92-proof bourbon is aged with Texas pecan staves for notes of vanilla, coffee and campfire-toasted marshmallow. How did this addition come about?
We had a huge pecan tree on our Texas ranch; this thing must be at least 500 years old. I asked our barrel supplier what he thought about using pecan wood to finish our bourbon and he helped us figure out how to do it. It took us some trial and error to get the right flavor profile, but we finally nailed it. Some purists may turn up their noses a little bit. We love it.
What can you tell us about your rye?
It’s not a traditional mash bill (70% rye, 20% corn and 10% malted barley), not overly spicy and very easy-drinking. Some people have actually mistaken it for bourbon. Dayn created our limited-edition rye in Colorado using the same mash bill, but different yeast. For Scotch drinkers, it’s a nice transition.
The stippled bottles are gorgeous.
We wanted something that would stand out on a shelf to give our product presence—a Gatsby/Art Deco style. Peggy Noe Stevens helped us as a consultant and gave us some good inspiration. The eagle logo was designed by my close friend Jeff Friesen’s daughter, Abby.
What’s next ?
We’ve got an American Whiskey coming out later this year, and we’ll be going on a North American tour in an Airstream to talk to people and introduce them to our products.
What’s your preferred way to drink whiskey?
Neat. I want to create whiskeys that don’t need any embellishment to taste good.