Maison Sivo’s Janos Sivo: pioneer of Quebec whisky
In a province filled with wine lovers, two new home-grown whiskies are turning heads. Le Rye and Le Single Malt whiskies from Maison Sivo, which hit shelves earlier this year, are produced in Montérégie, Quebec.
Janos Sivo, Master Distiller, originally founded the micro-distillery after retiring from a long career in the telecommunications industry. “I was looking for a new phase in life,” he shared. “I wanted to create something different in an environment that I would enjoy living in.”
Likely inspired by his family (who created remarkable fruit brandies in Hungary while he was growing up), Sivo purchased his farm where he went on to build his distillery and cultivate plants for the fruits used in his liqueurs and eau-de-vies, before trying his hand at whisky.
Sivo spoke with us about the exciting and heartbreaking world of micro-distilling.
Why did you decide to open your distillery in Quebec?
JS: I realized that Quebec has everything one needs to produce great whisky: high-quality grain, pure water in abundance, appropriate climate and clean air that is important for ageing. And still, there was no whisky produced in Quebec. The main reasons, I thought, were legislation and a population more oriented towards wine than spirits. Both of these factors appear to change rather rapidly. I intended to pioneer this evolution.
How do you incorporate your Hungarian background into your new whiskies?
JS: Has the Hungarian pálinka tradition played a role? Probably yes; I have visited countless distilleries (small and large) in Hungary and have some friends and even family in the craft.
Tell us about your Maison Sivo whiskies recently launched in Canada.
JS: They are over three years old, were aged in the attic of the distillery where the temperature changes rather frequently naturally accelerating the aging process. They have followed Rebel, Le Moonshine du Rye.
What makes your whiskies unique?
JS: We do everything to produce a whisky of the highest quality. We purchase Quebec malted barley and rye. Exceptionally we add some peated, smoked, caramel or crystal malt. Our artesian water at the foothills of the Adirondacks is the envy of bottled water manufacturers. We worked out our distilling process using a German made (Müller) still in close co-operation with my friend and mentor, Frank Deiter, the founder of Okanagan Spirits. Even very small changes in the process may make a meaningful difference in whisky’s the taste profile.
How important are the barrels you use?
JS: The choice of barrels is an essential factor in aging. All our whiskies pass more than one barrel. We use principally Sauternes barrels for finishing our Single Malt and Port barrels for finishing our Rye whisky. We also use some Quebec ice cider barrels, IPA beer barrels, and sherry butts. The final assembly (blending) is the art and craft where nothing can replace the taste buds and the experience of the master blender and of his (or her) team. For whisky enthusiasts we have organized blending workshops including friendly competitions. Participants can experience the difference that just 1 or 2 % of change in the blend can make to the taste.
What do they taste like?
Le Rye has spice and pepper notes and is rich in flavour, with a hint of fruity perfume. Le Single Malt brings a powerful whisky taste to the palate, finished with a rounded softness and subtle hints of candied fruit and pastry.
Le Single Malt follows their L’Essence du Single Malt, which was a nine-month-old product. It couldn’t be legally called a whisky due to the strict rules of the SAQ (Société des alcools du Québec) which requires whisky to be aged for a minimum of three years. However, L’Essence du Single Malt did receive a hearty reception, as did their Rebel, Le Moonshine du Rye, which earned bronze medals at both the New York International Spirits Competition and at the San Francisco World Spirits Competition in 2017. Moving ahead with Le Single Malt and Le Rye just made sense for founder Janos Sivo.