When I accepted the invitation from Ardbeg Whiskey to travel to Lac Sacacomie in the Mauricie region of Quebec, I couldn’t have imagined the impact it would have on me. I’ve done press trips before but nothing could have prepared me for what I saw, what I felt and what I learned over two days in one of the most beautiful areas in the province. Our Ardbeg Ardventure pushed me out of my comfort zone and left a lasting impact that I won’t soon forget.
When it comes to learning a little more about a brand, Ardbeg Whiskey likes to do things differently. Their Ardbeg Ardventures have taken people like myself to the most remote regions of our country to explore our landscape and the lasting connection we have as Canadians descended from Scotland and other countries. The rich history of the brand is rooted in the land where it has been distilled since 1798 and we learned about Ardbeg while exploring a little history of our own.
Lac Sacacomie is breathtaking. Two hours after escaping the construction zone obstacle course that Montreal has become, we arrived at Hotel Sacacomie. The log-cabin-inspired hotel overlooks the lake, the rolling hills and forested mountains that have yet to be touched by human hands. For city slickers like ourselves, the silence was deafening but we quickly adjusted to the serene sounds of nature. After our arrival, we freshened up in our rooms before gathering in the Maurice Salon, a private room adjacent to the restaurant for an Ardbeg inspired pre-dinner cocktail. We sipped on Ardbeg Caesars on the the terrasse that overlooked the lake at sunset. I’ve rarely seen such a wonderful sight and I soaked it up for as long as I could.
After the cocktail we took our seats around the dinner table and settled in for our meal. Ruaraidh MacIntyre, the rep for Ardbeg and native from the Scottish isle of Islay, where the whiskey is distilled, spoke a little about the brand, it’s history and how it connects to what we would be experiencing. The Scottish, like the French, the English and the Irish, were among the first settlers here in Quebec. They arrived as hunters, trappers and fishermen looking to make a fresh start in a new land. While our ancestors worked the land in Canada, they remained true to their roots and today our countries remain as connected as ever. After a delicious meal the fatigue of the day started to take hold and we returned to our rooms to get the rest we would need for the next day.
I woke up early the next morning and snuck outside to breath in the early morning air. The sun was barely up and the air was still cool and crisp. There was about 10 of us in total on the trip and one by one we all trickled out of our rooms for breakfast. The fireplace crackled as we sipped on our coffee and chatted about our day to come. After breakfast we snaked through the woods on a wooden path all the way to the lake where our Rabaska sat in the water waiting. The large canoe with each end pointed up out of the water had enough space to fit us all. I nervously walked along the floating dock, praying that I’d survive canoeing on a lake. I’m not a fan of being in murky water that goes above my head but I was here to prove to myself that I could overcome that fear. One by one we stepped into the Rabaska and as much as I was trying to hide my nervousness, my friend Veronique (the famous La Journaliste) could feel it. Behind us were Lolita and Jonathan from Fashion Is Everywhere and being surrounded by friends gave me a sense of security.
We pulled away from the dock and within 15 minutes the GoPro that the guys from Marcus Troy had attached to the Rabaska fell into the water. In an effort to reach for it, the vessel rocked slightly and I froze. We quickly righted ourselves but the GoPro, like the diamond from Titanic, was never to be seen again. Rowing across the lake became suddenly cathartic. The motion of the water lapping against the boat put me at peace. Though I doubt we would have won an Olympic medal for rowing, we did a great job getting around a small island before rowing back towards the dock. We we returned I felt a sense of pride in having accomplished not dying in a canoe.
We didn’t have time to rest before the next activity started. From overhead we heard the roar of a single engine float plane that circled the lake and landed on the water we had just left. It pulled up to the dock and five of us jumped aboard for a aerial tour of the land surrounding the hotel. I had never taken a plane off the water before and it was exhilarating. The air currents were friendly enough as we took off but in the air we were left to the mercy of the winds. The flight lasted only twenty minutes but the sun was shining and the sights were spectacular. Our pilot expertly handled the de Havilland Canada DCH-2 Beaver float plane and landed us safely back on the water. I was expecting the landing to be much harder than it actually was.
After a beef stew lunch in the woods with Daniel, our colourful Rabaska guide, we began our afternoon activities. Tying into the history of Ardbeg and the Scots who had come to Canada to hunt and trap, we kicked off the afternoon with tour of different traps used to capture the animals used for their fur. From Bear, beavers and otters, the different traps used might seem archaic and cruel but Daniel described the time he had spent with his grandfather who trapped for a living and you couldn’t help but understand the pride that comes with living off the land and contributing to it’s sustainability. Daniel and his grandfather understood that they didn’t own these woods but they shared it with animals that call it home.
With the trapping run out of the way, we went axe throwing. The activity is harder than it looks but is a great way to blow off steam. Each of us had a run at throwing axes at a target nailed to a tree. Stepping up in front of everyone to do this, I hoped I wouldn’t accidentally kill myself (or anyone else) but I had nothing to worry about. I didn’t hit anyone else and I barely hit the target. One or two out the five axes I threw landed near the target. The rest flew gracefully past the trees and landed in the brush covered ground. Because nothing is good without a competition, we broke into teams and competed for the most axes to hit the target. Veronique knocked it out of the park while I went with the guy who had beginners luck. We lost tremendously but in the end it isn’t about winning. Right?
From axe throwing we went to the bow and arrow. I hadn’t shot an arrow since I was in high school and I can confirm that my aim is as good now as it was then. I let a bunch of people go ahead of me before I took a bow in my hands. There were four or five decoy animals set up in the woods. Each of the animals had seen better days but that didn’t really matter. I chose the fox that was looking at me funny. I pulled back on the bow with all my might and fired the arrow in the general direction of the fox. I hit the moss right behind the fox the first time but the second arrow landed on his tail. It was good enough for me but felt bad for the poor old wooden fox.
The days activities came to an end when we returned to the site where we had eaten lunch. We gathered and ate some wilderness bread that Daniel made and we washed it down with winter mint tea. The leaves grow wild in the woods and it was delicious. As we headed back to the hotel, I jumped back onto the wooden path but missed my step and landed on my shins. I was a little more tired than I expected. It was also probably karma getting back at me for laugh at Lolita. She had somehow slipped off the path at the beginning of the afternoon and landed in the waterlogged marsh. I’ve never heard her swear before but that’s changed now. Jonathan had come back to us laughing about it with Lolita following him out of the marsh. I guess I deserved the pain but I was glad she was ok.
Returning to home base we had some free time to relax in our rooms and get ready for dinner with Ardbeg in the hotel’s presidential suite. I took a well deserved nap and woke up sore, a little disoriented but fully refreshed. We gathered in the magnificent suite which had vaulted ceilings and its own private terrasse. We mingled outside for a few minutes, chatting about what we had experienced during the day. Returning indoors we took our places at the table where five tasting glasses of Ardbeg waited to be sampled.
Ruaraidh took his place at the head of the table and started going through the history of Ardbeg whiskey and the notes that made up the character of each type produced. Ardbeg produces some of the smokiest whiskies come out of Scotland. The flavours comes from the peat that surrounds the community that the distillery has called home for centuries. The malted barley is harvested then dried and smoked over smouldering peat. An elaborate maturation process takes the whiskey from its earliest incarnation all the way to the refined product that’s bottled and sold around the world. My favourite was the the Ten Years Old that may have been the smokiest of the five we tried. The Ten Years Old has a sweet, smokey aroma that when tasted crackles on your tongue releasing a burst of flavourful lemon, lime and black pepper that warms into an espresso and aniseed finish.
The whiskey tasting was a delightful learning experience. We learned to create condensation by heating the whiskey glass in our hands before opening the glass and slowly smelling the vapour. We also learned that we can sample the whiskey by taking a drop on our hands and rubbing them together to enhance the flavours. After the tasting we popped some Chandon and the meal got underway. Focusing on the fish and game native to the area, we started with a lobster bisque cappuccino that was followed by a wonderful smoked trout salad. For the main course we had deer served with seasonal vegetables and then capped the meal off with dessert and coffee. After dinner we continued chatting and when a crib board hit the table I couldn’t resist losing to Ruaraidh. Chandon and wine flowed through the night and after dinner I could barely keep my eyes open. When I went back to my room, I hit the pillow and was out like a light.
I gave myself some well deserved extra minutes of sleep then next morning but we still had a full day ahead of us. After another breakfast in the restaurant dining room we trekked over to another lodge on the property where we piled into an adapted ATV and headed towards another lake for a morning of fishing. Much like my experience with the canoe, I was a little nervous about being on the water. Veronique, Lolita, Jonathan and I took a boat together and set out onto the lake. As a child I often fished in the brooks and rivers that flowed in the woods near where I grew up so I didn’t think that putting a worm on a hook was going to be a big deal. In a strange turn of events trying to get the worm to stop moving was tougher than I remembered and it almost turned my guts.
Veronique was the expert so I gave her my hook and the bloodied worm that I had burst in two and told her that if she didn’t do it, I wouldn’t be fishing. She scolded me but did it anyway. She now has something new to laugh at for the weeks to come. Fishing on the lake was a wonderful experience. The sun was shining down on us and the almost silent outboard motor didn’t distract from the serenity. On a couple of occasions we got a little too close to shore for my liking (which was nervously vocal about) and when Jonathan stripped to his underwear and jumped into the lake for a swim, I thought that there was no way he was going to get back in without tipping us over. We managed and we survived but I’m sure I left hand prints in the metal hull of the boat. After three hours on the water the only thing the four of us caught was the motor. Lolita’s line got tangled in the motor and once we were free we headed back to the dock for lunch. The hotel had packed us a hearty lunch that we ate at a picnic table overlooking the lake. There’s a moment during trips like these where we’ve spend so much time together in such a short amount of time that it almost feels like a family reunion. Our guide for the day was another colourful character who drove us back to the hotel at a lightening pace.
We had already checked out of our rooms before we left for our fishing trip. After a short time the shuttle that we arrived in returned to take us home. Leaving the chalet, we were all tired, worn out from two intense days of activity. I smiled when I saw Montreal’s skyline rise out of the hills and forests of the south shore. Our Ardbeg Ardventure had come to an end but it was a trip I won’t soon forget.
I wish to thank Ardbeg for a wonderful two days in the woods at Lac Sacacomie. It was an extraordinary experience.
To learn a little more about Ardbeg, visit their website here.
To learn more about Hotel Sacacomie and the region, visit their website here.