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Mountain Pass Whisky recently released three premium whisky products, which are collectively known as Mountain Pass Summit. There are less than 1,500 bottles available for purchase, including 300 bottles of the Barrel Select batch, made in collaboration with SNDL Inc.’s Ryan Engen and available exclusively at Wine and Beyond locations across Alberta. Each batch is unique, but there is one thing that all three have in common – they were developed by one of the very few Asian-Canadian women distillers: Julia Le.

Le graduated from the University of Alberta in 2019 and has a bachelor of science degree with a double major in both chemistry and biology. Having seen her remarkable lab skills, an academic mentor encouraged her to pursue a career that had a significant amount of hands-on work. Le was travelling in Vietnam when she saw a job posting from The Fort Distillery for a new distiller.

“Brewing is all about chemistry, and I dabbled a lot in home brewing. I had made mead, beer, even wine at home, and I had confidence that I could combine my creativity and passion for spirits with my skills in chemistry and experimentation,” said Le. “I applied for the job right then and there on my trip, and I have been with The Fort Distillery for just under five years now.”

Dog standing beside bottle of Mountain Pass whisky
Photo courtesy of Julia Le

Mountain Pass Whisky is the newest addition to The Fort Distillery’s lineup of brands. Whisky is still young in Alberta – the first craft whisky was only released in 2016. Alberta’s Rocky Mountains produce very pure water and approximately 50 per cent of Canada’s barley is grown in the province as well. These are two of the most important ingredients in whisky, and in other spirits as well, which makes Alberta a unique place to grow this industry. According to Travel Alberta, the industry is worth about $1.5 billion per year, and is a primary attraction for many U.S. visitors.

The Fort Distillery opened in 2018 and Le joined as head distiller a year later. Under her creative leadership, The Fort Distillery has released several award-winning products. Two Bean Brew, Le’s first creation under The Fort Distillery brand, won gold in the Canadian Artisan Spirits Awards, as well as several regional awards, and each of the cocktails in the Tumbler & Rocks ready-to-serve collection have won regional and national awards, as well as awards from the San Francisco World Spirits Competition, Denver International Spirits Competition and the New York International Spirits Competition. Although the company and the industry have grown tremendously since she started, the representation for women – especially intersectional representation – has not kept pace.

“When I first started at The Fort Distillery in 2019 there were three women distillers in Alberta. Today, there are still only just over 10,” said Le. “And there are even fewer non-white women, especially in whisky. Through our company, I’m trying to create a place where women can join the industry, improve their skills and grow into leaders across different disciplines of the spirits world. Over 50 per cent of my staff are female and they have always stepped up to any challenge we’ve given them.

We also have strong company values related to fun, integrity and growth. We live by those values in our distillery, including having a zero-tolerance policy for harassment. The fact that we have never had to exercise that policy shows me we’re creating a place where people all feel valued, and they align with our values. I wish that were true within the industry at large, but there is still a lot of work to be done. I am confident we’ll get there though, and I intend to take my role in that seriously.”

The Mountain Pass Whisky Summit Collection is available online for shipping across Canada and in stores across Alberta.

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