Canadian Spirits

Review: Newfoundland Seaweed Gin by Jason Hambrey

ABV
40%
Aging
None
Recipe
Spirit, Dulse Seaweed, Juniper, and Savoury
Distiller Newfoundland Distillery (Clarke's Beach, Newfoundland)

Newfoundland Distillery produces two gins, one focused on cloudberry (an inland flavor) and this one, focused on dulse seaweed (a maritime flavor) with some savoury and juniper as well. You often see gin loaded with multiple ingredients, but this is just about three simple and deep flavours.


Review (2019)

  • Batch: N/A

  • Bottling Code: N/A

  • Bottling Date: 2019

This is fairly marine in character, with sea-spray, sweet and oily grain spirit, and some juniper in the background. It’s probably the gin with the most seaside character that I’ve ever tasted – quite remarkable. It’s slightly sweet on the palate, and has a nice honeycomb character as well as a nice, delicate woodiness. The savoury is perfect, here. Spices come through quite richly at the end – slightly bitter spices like clove, with a light drying nature. It works a nice trick! Caramel comes through at the end too.

Works really well in cocktails, especially lighter gin cocktails where the marine character really pops (like, for instance, a cocktail made with basil, elderflower, soda, and a bit of lime).

Assessment: Highly recommended.

Value: High, if you like premium gins. $35 isn’t bad for that.


Review: Newfoundland Cloudberry Gin by Jason Hambrey

ABV
40%
Aging
None
Recipe
Spirit, Cloudberry, Juniper, and Savoury
Distiller Newfoundland Distillery (Clarke's Beach, Newfoundland)

If you notice, most of Newfoundland’s products are centred around three ingredients, often with one local and unique ingredient - roses and kelp (their Rose & Gunpower rum), chaga mushrooms (their Chaga rum), dulse seaweed (their seaweed gin), or - in this case - cloudberries. Cloudberries grow in Newfoundland, and taste (I’m told) similar to a blackberry or raspberry and are a big delicacy in Scandinavia and fetch high prices. However, they aren’t widely cultivated. This gin is made with just three botanicals - juniper, savoury, and cloudberry. It’s rare to see a “bridge” in gin between the juniper and the brighter fruit character other than coriander, but savoury plays a really nice trick and it’s a very different play on traditional gin.


Review (2019)

  • Batch: N/A

  • Bottling Code: N/A

  • Bottling Date: 2019

There is a real woody-juniper nature to this one, reminding me more of juniper wood than the berries themselves. Big herbal characters blend into woody juniper and dense, dried mixed berry notes. Simple, clean, balanced, and elegant. Very well put together, and I like how the grain character comes through but it’s still a very clean spirit and I like the centrality of the herbal notes here – many gins are focused on citrus, spice, or juniper and not many venture this far into the herbal side of things. Savoury, also, is one of my favourite herbs…

The finish carries the herbal notes quite nicely, along with a bit more intense wood.rit.

Assessment: Highly recommended.

Value: High, if you like premium gins. $35 isn’t bad for that.


Review: Newfoundland Aquavit by Jason Hambrey

ABV
40%
Aging
None
Recipe
Barley Spirit, Peat-smoked juniper, and honey
Distiller Newfoundland Distillery (Clarke's Beach, Newfoundland)

I don’t often go after unaged spirits, but this one caught my eye on a beer coaster which was advertising this product - it is made with peat-smoked juniper, barley spirit, and honey. I’ve tried some other Aquavits I quite liked this year, and it’s a category I think which could be explored more. Peat-smoked juniper? Yes, I want to try that.

This, notably, was the first spirit produced in Newfoundland which has been fully grown and legally distilled in the province.


Review (2019)

  • Batch: N/A

  • Bottling Code: N/A

  • Bottling Date: 2019

The nose has a rich grain character, smoke, juniper, lemons, and a light mineral essence. I like the grain-forward nature of the spirit. I really haven’t had a spirit quite like this before – it is perhaps like some smoky whisky new makes that are quite smooth, but it’s quite different as well. It has a really nice savouriness to it, almost like roasted tomatoes. Or, perhaps – smoked tomatoes (you can buy these, but they aren’t easy to find…). The smoke really comes through on the palate, at the end – a bit like a meat smoker with cherry wood.

This is a complex, interesting, and unique spirit – it has endless application in cocktails. I can just imagine great pairings with tomato, dried apricot, fresh stone fruits, or honey and soda.

This aquavit and Sheringham’s are both terrific – I think more distilleries should pursue this type of spirit.

Assessment: Highly recommended.

Value: High, if you like smoke and unique spirits. $35 isn’t bad for that.


Review: Chaga Rum (Newfoundland Distillery) by Jason Hambrey

Chaga Rum.jpg
ABV
40%
Aging
5 Years
Recipe
Demerera Rum with Infused Botanicals
Distiller Newfoundland Distillery (Clarke's Beach, Newfoundland)

I really liked Newfoundland Distillery’s Gunpowder & Rose rum, so I’ve been very curious to try this one - a rum infused with Chaga mushrooms! Honey is added to the infusion, to round everything out. The 5 year old rum is sourced from Guyana, but the infusion happens in Newfoundland.

I’m evidently not the only one who liked this, as it also won best Canadian spiced rum at the World Rum Awards.


Review (2019)

  • Batch: N/A

  • Bottling Code: N/A

  • Bottling Date: 2019

A terrific rich rum character, with a really nice earthiness which comes not only from oak but also from a subtle deep-forest mushroom earthiness. It has a real richness to it, much like the El Dorado rums. Orange peel, rich oak, mixed roasted nuts, dried cranberries, cacao, manuka honey, prunes, and brown sugar. The palate follows the nose, but the earthiness is amped up – dense, rich, dark earth. The finish, in particular is wonderful – there is a rich molasses character and a rich, roasted earthy character that is both sharp and deep. There is a light smokiness at the end, reminiscent a bit of chipotles.

How does this compare to Gunpowder & Rose Rum? They are both terrific. The Gunpowder & Rose is extremely floral and a bit more unique, but this one is dark and rich, and amps up the rich rum character with even more richness and earthiness. It makes me appreciate the gunpowder & rose rum more, perhaps – it is extremely innovative (rose & rum!) but works really well.

If you like aged rum, and have access to this – buy it. It would be even better at 45% or 46%.

Assessment: Very highly recommended.

Value: High. $40 is very good for this.


Review: Shelter Point Hand Foraged Botanical Gin by Jason Hambrey

Shelter+Point+Gin+1.jpg
ABV
46%
Aging
None
Recipe
100% Canadian Malted Barley
Distiller Shelter Point (Vancouver Island, British Columbia)

Typically, distilleries release gins and vodkas before their whiskies - as they wait for the products to mature. Shelter Point did the opposite, only recently releasing their vodkas and gins even after their whiskies have been on the market for around 4 years. Shelter Point has been releasing terrific stuff of late, so I had high expectations for their gin.


Review (2019)

  • Batch: N/A

  • Bottling Code: N/A

  • Bottling Date: 2019

Immediately, this is quite nice! It has notes of nice bright and sharp notes- pine, honey, sharp coriander, a spicy wood character, and a bit of grain character. Other, complex notes too – like vanilla yoghurt, meyer lemon peel, mixed fresh herbs like thyme and marjoram, and freshly peeled oranges. The palate is full of spice and citrus – as one might expect – with a drying spicy character growing towards the finish.

I really like the mix of spices, citrus, and sharp distillate characteristic here. The grain character is big enough that it might be mistaken for a genever, which is a great thing in my books. It doesn’t reveal it’s full hand at once, but one card at a time as you nose and taste, with different cards coming on successive sips. Very well done. There is a real richness to it.

Assessment: Very Highly Recommended.

Value: Very good at $30.


Review: Park Distillery Glacier Rye by Jason Hambrey

Park Unaged Rye 1.jpg
ABV
40%
Aging
None
Recipe
100% Alberta Rye
Distiller Park Distillery (Banff, Alberta)

Park Distillery is located in the beautiful town of Banff, alongside a restaurant. They are relatively new, so the whisky isn’t of age yet - but we get a preview in this unaged grain spirit.


Review (2019)

  • Batch: N/A

  • Bottling Code: N/A

  • Bottling Date: ~2019

The nose has toffee, pine, rich spices, and an oily richness. There is a really nice grassiness and a bit of banana candy and vanilla. It’s a new make and is thus a bit rough, but not as rough as some. I think the underlying grassiness, woodiness, and spices might play out well as it sits in the barrel. The palate is sweet, with some dried floral notes and an oily grain character. The finish is a touch sour, with more pine notes, toffee, and hibiscus.

Interesting, with a nice complex base – but it’s not one I enjoy as is. But, I’m interested to see what some time in the barrel will do.


Review: Willibald Pink Gin by Jason Hambrey

Willibald+Pink+Gin+2.jpg
ABV
38.3%
Aging
Merlot and Pinot Noir Wine Casks; 1 year
Recipe
Triple distilled corn, rye, and barley with 6 botanicals
Distiller Willibald (Ayr, Ontario)

Another aged gin from Willibald, but with a bit of a different take than their big, oaky, and spicy new-oak aged gin. This is a slightly different formulation, with a bit less caraway and cardamom so that the fruit and floral notes from the wine cask wouldn’t get lost. The wine casks are sourced mainly from Palantine Hills - the gin also has a bit of honey (from the Willibald farm) added to it to round out the drink and give a slight sweetness.


Review (2019)

  • Batch: N/A

  • Bottling Date: 2019

  • Bottling Code: N/A

Awesome! Nice licorice notes, intense juniper, baked arugula, berries, wildflower honey, and light oxidized wine. Not as oaky or quite as big as Willibald’s typical gin, but it still has the big spicy richness. The wine character is there, but it’s light. Slightly sweet on the palate, resulting in a bit of a different experience – and perhaps one which makes it even more drinkable: it is relatively soft, complex, and lightly sweet with more subtlety rather than big and bold, like the usual Willibald gin which is big, oaky, spicy, and rich. It is very much in the Willibald “family” (which I always appreciate from a brand) but it is a very different take, and a very good one. Worth a try, especially if you like bigger gins. Great on ice, too.

It isn’t as versatile as some gins in cocktails due to its bold character, which is fine because I think this is best drunk neat or a little chilled. Interestingly enough, if it’s too chilled I find the wine character dominates. Both Willibald gins have some of the best reception of any gins that I pour during whisky tastings to whisky enthusiasts and connoisseurs.

Assessment: Very highly recommended.

Value: High. I have no problem laying down $40 for this, as someone who isn’t eager to spend too much on spirits - in fact, it will likely become a regular occurrence.


Review: Last Straw Distillery Golden Gin by Jason Hambrey

Image copyright by Last Straw Distillery Corp. Used with Permission.

Image copyright by Last Straw Distillery Corp. Used with Permission.

ABV
44%
Aging
Charred Oak Casks
Recipe
N/A
Distiller Last Straw (Vaughan, Ontario)

A limited edition aged gin from Last straw, who also produce a standard Gin twenty-one, reviewed here.


Review (2019)

  • Batch: N/A

  • Bottling Code: N/A

  • Bottling Date: 2019

There is some real nice caramel to this, and some dense toasted oak, juniper, and loads of spice notes like coriander and toasted cumin. It really is quite nice as a sipper – I like this more than the standard gin, but it isn’t too oaky to fit into most gin or brandy cocktails. The oak character is nice and big, but not overpowering – and it has retained a nice lightness. It is another aged gin which has quite nicely bridged gin with a decently big oaky character, which is hard to find. Although, perhaps it should not be surprising coming from distilleries with a big passion for whisky. If it isn’t obvious from the review above, the woodiness here fits in very well with the juniper and the spices.

Whisky is my favourite spirit, and gin is probably second (some rums beat out gins, but on average, gins beat out rums for me). I wonder if gin “purists” would like this as much as me, given my liking of wood influence in aging.

I actually really like this in a gin and soda (a favourite cocktail of mine due to simplicity, lack of sweetness, and the refreshing character). The wood character works really well, and there is tons of subtle complexity. It’s really good just over ice, too.

Assessment: Highly Recommended.

$45 at Last Straw Distillery or on their online shop.


Review: Black Fox Oaked Gin by Jason Hambrey

Black+Fox+Oaked+Gin.jpg
ABV
42%
Aging
6-8 months, American oak
Recipe
100% triticale spirit with botanicals
Distiller Black Fox (Saskatoon, Saskatchewan)

This aged gin is sold as a single barrel product. The gin has a bit of a bigger profile, particularly with more anise, than the other Black Fox gins - this gives it a bit more body to balance out the oak. The distillery releases about 20 casks of this per year.


Review (2019)

  • Batch:

  • Bottling Date: 2019

  • Bottling Code: N/A

The wood comes off initially – vanilla, caramel, dry white oak – but behind it we have spice, cucumber, sawdust, juniper, leather, and cinnamon. The palate has nice sharp spice, citrus, and floral characteristics embraced by sweet woody notes, vanilla, and structured with light wood tannins. Very nice! The finish has a bit more cucumber, caraway, dried floral notes, and almost a marshmallow-type wood characteristic.

For whisky enthusiasts, you might notice characteristics of a nicely toasted cask here – specifically the toasted, not charred wood characteristics. Excellent!

A very nice aged gin. It’s one that I like to sip neat. It’s good chilled – some of the complexity is lost and the woody notes come out at the core. Still quite good chilled, but I’d take this neat so as not to lost all the complexity and balance.

Assessment: Very Highly Recommended.


Review: Black Fox Cucumber Gin #7 by Jason Hambrey

Black+Fox+Cucumber+Gin.jpg
ABV
42%
Aging
Not Aged
Recipe
100% Triticale Whisky with botanicals and cucumbers
Distiller Black Fox (Saskatoon, Saskatchewan)

Whole cucumbers are added to the gin after it is finished to macerate in flavor and colour. Once the gin is finished, the used cucumbers are used in the production of the next batch of gin. The recipe is distinct from their dry gin and aged gin, to appropriately surround the cucumber notes.


Review (2019)

  • Batch:

  • Bottling Date: 2019

  • Bottling Code: N/A

The nose is very rich in cucumber – it takes me to peeling field cucumbers. It reminds me particularly of sharp, slightly bitter cucumber peel rather than cucumber flesh. The palate is spicy, with cucumber at the centre and coriander spice surrounding it, alongside white pepper and a slight drying nature. There is a touch of cucumber peel bitterness in the palate which I actually really like. Caraway, quite brilliantly, comes out in the big finish. It’s a bit soapy – perhaps a combination of the cucumber and coriander, reminding me of some natural soap shops (not a bad thing). The cucumber on the finish is enduring.

I find the herbal notes are quite prominent, and at times too much – this sometimes smells a bit like the crisper section of my fridge when herbs have been in there a bit too long. This is not always to my liking, when sipped neat. But, chilled or in a cocktail these notes are lost and the freshness of the gin really shines through. I tested this with friends and many of them didn’t make any such association, so it might be a fairly personal preference. When chilled, the cucumber notes really come out, so it does exactly what you would want in a cocktail. This is a cocktail gin for me, not a sipping gin (as most gins are). As suggested, it works great in a gin & tonic or with ginger ale.