01/14/2015 05:53 EST | Updated 03/16/2015 05:59 EDT

Victoria Whisky Festival samples local spirits

Locally distilled craft whisky is gaining momentum in Victoria, but it's been slow to hit the shelves.

Mike Nicholson, who spent almost 40 years in Scotland working and managing in various distilleries, said Vancouver Island's is just starting to get whisky to market, because of the time it takes to age the product.

"If you include malting the barley it takes about two weeks to make spirit from grain. Where the patience comes in is in how that liquid grows up — how it matures. That takes a considerable length of time. Three years is the absolute minimum," he told On The Island's Gregor Craigie.

That patience is starting to pay off.

Victoria Spirits will be sampling its new Craigdarroch Whisky at the Victoria Whisky Festival this weekend, with bottles hitting store shelves mid-February.

In December, Merridale Cidery in Cobble Hill, B.C. released its  Whisky Jack's. 

Further up island, in Black Creek, B.C., Shelter Point Distillery has a single malt whisky that is still in barrels.

The distillery will decide this summer whether it's ready to be released, or whether it needs to age longer.

"Technically they've come within the three-year minimum requirement, but they're choosing not to release it at that point because the liquids are continuing to improve, so they're going to keep it longer," said Nicholson, who worked as a consultant to the distillery.

He said deciding when a whisky is ready to be bottled all comes down to the smell.

"Most whisky analysis is done by nose. Final last taste may involve sampling."

Labelling the whisky is also a very technical undertaking with lots of rules. 

A whisky has to be made from 100 per cent malt barley to be labelled as malt whisky, but if it wasn't made in Scotland, it isn't Scotch.

"Is it Canadian malt whisky? Or Vancouver Island malt whisky perhaps? I like the ring of that," he said.

"The thirst for alcoholic beverages that are not mainstream is growing and will get a lot bigger, I think, and often people are looking for "terroir" — which is does it taste from the region it comes from."

The 10th annual Victoria Whisky Festival takes place from Jan. 15 to 18 at the Hotel Grand Pacific.

To hear more about what it takes to distill and age whisky, click the audio labelled: Vancouver Island whisky hits shelves.