Canadian Spirits

Review: Sivo Rebel Le Moonshine Du Rye by Jason Hambrey

Sivo+Rebel+Moonshine.jpg
ABV
42%
Aging
None
Recipe
2/3 Quebec Rye, 1/3 Malted Barley
Distiller Maison Sivo (Montérégie, Quebec)

Janos Sivo, the founder of Maison Sivo comes originally from Hungary where Palinka - clear white brandy - rules as the national drink. He told me that he has been incredibly impressed with rye as he has worked with it, even right off the still before it enters into a barrel. As a result, he releases his unaged rye spirit - a mixture of rye and single malt new make - to show off the spirit. It is available at the SAQ in Quebec.


Review (2019)

  • Batch: N/A

  • Bottling Code: N/A

  • Bottling Date: ~2018

The nose is grainy, spicy, and sweet. It’s very fruity, with touches of floral notes too. Lots of berries! The complexity of rye is on full display. The palate is light, quite herbal, and spicy. The sweet grain character of the spirit rises towards a lightly hot finish with a light roughness and dryness.

Very characteristic of Sivo. Fairly clean overall. It’s not one I’d reach for to sip, but I find new makes so interesting in understanding what maturation does to a whisky. If you are curious to try new make whisky spirit, and haven’t, this one is decently priced at $25/500 ml.

With ice, it has a soft grainy front and is fairly sweet.


Review: Pemberton Apple Brandy by Jason Hambrey

Pemberton+Apple+Brandy+2.jpg
ABV
44%
Aging
Depends on Cask
Recipe
100% Whole BC Apples
Distillery Pemberton Distillery (Pemberton, BC)

Apples have been used to make spirits since at least the 16th century in France. In Europe, Apple Brandy is still commonly made, in both aged and aged forms - most notably in the region of Calvados which is famous for its aged apple brandies. Pemberton Distillery uses whole BC apples, distilling them and aging them in oak casks.

This is made in a very similar process to a Calvados, distilling the apples whole rather than just using part. As a part of the Calvados regulations, up to 30% of the base can be pears - in Pemberton’s case, they use 10% pears. Where possible, Pemberton tries to get as much diversity as possible from the apples and pears, using 8 varieties of apples and 3 types of pears. The cask type is different between the batches, from French oak, new American oak, ex-bourbon, and Canadian oak but the distillery is settling on using Canadian oak for the initial aging and ex-bourbon casks to finish. This batch is made completely from Canadian oak.


Review (2019)

  • Batch: 2017 Harvest, Aged 14 Months

  • Bottling Code: N/A

  • Bottling Date: 2019

This reminds me quite heavily of Pemberton’s single malt, interestingly enough (not very surprising, though - most distilleries have a style between the stills, barrels, and yeasts). However, it is very different from Pemberton’s whisky.

The nose is rich in apple aromas, with applesauce, apple seeds, apple skins – but also hazlenuts, green pear, white pepper, vanilla, and even light over-ripe berry notes. I quite like the combination of the nuttiness with the apples. The palate is dry, full of apple sauce and light tannin, a touch of acidity, and more nuttiness but on the softer side like macadamias and almonds. There is a light bitterness which I quite like on the palate. The finish is slightly sweet, with vanilla, light oak, and more apple sauce. The hazlenuts are back on the finish. Baking spices come through on the finish, which is very complex especially as the spices make their way in. There’s even a nice herbaceous character subtly present throughout - but especially in the finish.

This is quite different than any other Apple Brandies I’ve had (which isn’t many). It is much heavier-bodied and nuttier and spicier, with more bitterness. If you read much of my reviews, I favour the unique and interesting – this is like that, for the spirits enthusiast. At first I didn’t know what I thought of the bitterness in the middle, but as I drink more of it and it combines with the spices and tannins, I love it.

Assessment: Recommended.


I'd like that with a twist: highlighting two unique Canadian vodkas by Jason Hambrey

A flyer from the Dairy Distillery in Almonte, ON.

A flyer from the Dairy Distillery in Almonte, ON.

I don’t write much about vodka, largely because I don’t value the style much. If the goal is to distill most, or all, of the flavour out of a distillate then there is no need for careful flavour development before distillation - perhaps my favourite part of spirits. Plus, as a mixer, I don’t value much a spirit which gets lost completely, other than the alcoholic hit, when mixed.

However, this is a post about vodka - two in fact, which i find interesting. The interest is mostly not the flavour - it is related to the story and impact of the production. The first is an earthy vodka made from potatoes in the only protected potato growing region in North America (the Pemberton Valley in British Columbia) and a the second buttery vodka is made from unusable milk by-products in the small and lovable town of Almonte, Ontario.

Tyler Schramm, the head distiller at Pemberton Distillery in British Columbia is a bit of an anomaly. He is passionate about distilling...potatoes! He became interested in distilling these once his brother bought a potato farm twenty years ago. He got his masters degree in potato distillation at Heriott-Watt university in Edinburgh. Can you imagine being a student interested in making potato vodka at the education epicentre of Scotch distillation?

Schramm completed his degree and returned to Pemberton valley, an area that is agriculturally protected so that “Pemberton Potatoes” can be preserved. Most potatoes grown in Pemberton are “seed potatoes” which are cut up and sent all over north america to grow into table potatoes. Each strain of potato grown there (standard ones like yukon gold, russet, german butter) has to be checked every few years to make sure it remains a pure strain and hasn’t hybridized: it is important that each strain remain pure. Unlike many agricultural products which have increased in value, potatoes haven’t. Schramm wanted to highlight the Pemberton Potato. Inspired by the Polish potato vodkas, Pemberton Distillery started distilling vodka from potatoes - from potatoes which can’t be sold from the farmer they source from. At first it was a heavier, double-distilled product with a big earthy character but, given that customers craved something lighter, the vodka is now triple distilled to provide a lighter character but one which still has good character and earthiness. Some heavier vodka drinkers loved the original stuff, so it is released at times in small batches. As the palate is growing largely towards bigger flavours, more people are becoming interested in the original style - perhaps Pemberton was ahead of its time with its original style.

Distilling potatoes is not as easy as distilling grain. They don’t store very well (compared to grain) and change as they are stored as the starches degrade to sugars. They are about 90 percent water, with only 10 percent starch to ferment to alcohol. Schramm learned that distilling a combination of varieties results in a more balanced production process, so currently four types are used. The process is similar to making a whisky - you need to cook the potatoes (as with corn), add an enzyme, and ferment away. Each bottle of Schramm Vodka takes 15 pounds of potatoes to make. The potato gin made at Pemberton takes 18 pounds of potatoes per bottle!

The gin is good, and the vodka has nice earthy undertones that come out nicely in cocktails. But the best part here the most is the story - a distillery nodding to their environment and making something unique. Also, they are peating their own whisky with Pemberton malt and a home-made malter. As far as i know, they were the first distillery in Canada to use Canadian peat (2014).

Speaking of unique, the Dairy Distillery has it. Located in a small Ontario town, the distillery makes “Vodkow” out of milk permeate. Milk permeate is a milk by-product, essentially lactose and water once all the cream, cheese, and other milk products have been extracted. This milk permeate is not the same product as whey, as all the proteins contained in whey have been extracted. It’s a useless product to the dairy industry and is difficult to dispose - it cannot be dumped into the drain because it is full of sugar (lactose). So, usually the milk permeate is put into lagoons where the liquid cam evaporate off.

Omid McDonald had a brilliant idea - why not ferment the permeate and distill all the flavour out to make a “vodka”? It isn’t technically a vodka as it isn’t made from grain or potatoes, but it tastes like one. (Note that Canada is currently revisiting Vodka regulations). The Dairy Distillery, opened this year, gets permeate pumped directly from delivery trucks into fermenters where a special strain of yeast is used which can directly break down lactose into alcohol. In that way, it’s a very different process from grain which needs to be milled and mashed with solid by-products. Part of the production is done in partnership with the university of ottawa which helps manage the fermentation. Once it is double distilled to 96 percent ABV, and diluted to the bottling strength of 40 percent it is a clean, creamy vodka which isn’t reminiscent of milk at all. The liquid which doesn’t make it through the still is now safe to dispose of and can be dumped down the drain. The vodka goes into a milk bottle to be sold (soon to be at the LCBO). What a great idea to make a good product out of a waste by-product!

My reviews are posted separately.

Review: Schramm Organic Potato Vodka (Pemberton Distillery) by Jason Hambrey

Schramm+Vodka.jpg
ABV
40%
Aging
None
Recipe
100% Potato Spirit
Distillery Pemberton Distillery (Pemberton, BC)

Oddly enough, though I had tasted Pemberton single malt,, which is coming along - I didn’t really take a second glance at the distillery until I happened upon a small blurb on them in the wonderful book, The Drunken Botanist by Amy Stewart, which delves into the plants, herbs, spices, flowers, and grains that are used to produce alcohol. In Pemberton Valley in British Columbia, lots of potatoes are grown - and this product is a result of that. But, much care here is taken.

Tyler Schramm, the head distiller, has a master’s degree in distilling potatoes. He tried a variety of single-varietal distillations, before finally landing on a blend of five different types of potatoes. This has less to do with the differences in flavor between the varietals (which he says are insignificant) and more to do with starch content and environmental stewardship: embracing the distiller’s traditional role of using food scraps not usable for consumption to use. Each bottle of vodka requires fifteen pounds of potatoes, and these potatoes are misshapen or oddly sized that the farmer would not be able to sell.


Review (2019)

  • Batch: N/A

  • Bottling Code: N/A

  • Bottling Date: 2019

The nose is very clean, slightly sweet, and lightly earthy. Damp, rooty earth, light pepper, and dried figs. The palate is slightly sweet, viscous, with a very clean flavour and a touch of zestiness and white pepper. On the finish, the earthiness remains, which is what I like about this vodka. A nice sweetness in the middle, too.

Once chilled, the viscosity increases, the sharpness disappears, the sweetness is slightly diminished but the earthiness remains. I am glad for this – this is the (good) signature of the vodka and I am glad it doesn’t fade with a drop in temperature. This is fantastic for cocktails! I think any vodka cocktails which could use a bit of earthiness (think vegetable cocktails) or ones which need a bit of heaviness to balance out the drink will get a nice contribution from this.

The character is light (as it should be for a vodka), but this is a vodka with character which I like. Some may like to sip this - it is a bit of a heavier vodka, but I think all the subtleties lead to a rather intriguing mixer. Time to open up the cocktail book!

Assessment: Recommended.


Review: Vodkow by Jason Hambrey

Vodkow.jpg
ABV
40%
Aging
None
Recipe
100% Milk Permeate
Distillery Dairy Distillery (Almonte, ON)

This “vodka” is made from milk permeate, a dairy by-product which is left over once the cream and milk products have all been extracted. This milk permeate is essentially just lactose and water, it doesn’t even contain the proteins found in whey. The dairy industry cannot easily dispose of it, since sugar (lactose) cannot just be flushed down the drain. However, the Dairy Distillery puts it to good use - fermenting away the lactose with specialized yeast, distilling all the flavor away to get a clean product. The remaining byproduct left in the still can be then just dumped down the drain, safe for the environment. Terrific!


Review (2019)

  • Batch: N/A

  • Bottling Code: N/A

  • Bottling Date: 2019

A very clean, slightly sweet nose with a touch of clove. The palate is viscous, with a sweet middle and a slight drying spiciness on the end. The finish is pleasantly sweet and buttery. It doesn’t remind me of milk at all, other than perhaps the buttery characteristic of the spirit. What a great endeavor!

Chilled, it has a light and buttery, creamy character.

Assessment: Recommended. Worth a try, for the story at least!


Review: Willibald Gin by Jason Hambrey

Willibald+1.jpg
ABV
43%
Aging
6-8 Months; Virgin American Oak Char #4
Recipe
Triple distilled corn, rye, and barley with 6 botanicals
Distiller Willibald (Ayr, Ontario)

This gin stands out to me for a few reasons. First, it’s the flagship gin of the distillery and it’s aged - they don’t even have a white version. Most distilleries focus on a clear, unaged version and then age it or create variations - not so here. It’s different to craft a gin to be aged in a barrel rather than bottled as a white spirit. Second, it’s made from three different grains - corn, rye, and barley - rather than a simple grain spirit. Third, they are using new oak, not used oak - not something that I’ve ever seen in Canadian gin yet - it brings in an intensity to the gin and not simply a complex subtlety. Fourth - it’s big and bold, which lets it remain a gin but compete a bit more fully in other cocktails.

It might not surprise you to know that the distillery is heavily influenced by American straight ryes and bourbons.


Review (2019)

  • Batch:

  • Bottling Date: 2019

  • Bottling Code: N/A

The nose is very deep for a gin, perhaps due to the age of the stuff. There is a nice matching of oak to juniper, of sharp spice like fennel and earthy coriander to the bright citrus. I must say, it’s a rather impressive nose. The palate is rich in its woodiness – but the remarkable feat is that the woodiness balances all the botanicals, adds great grip, and great tannins. There is a nice bit of vanilla and sharp woody spices, earl grey, clove, and licorice at the end, and something like anise. Really nice finish, intense, and smooth – and very easy to drink!

 A bit elegant, almost some earl grey in there at the end. I really like to sip this one – it is very moreish. I like to sip gins, but this one is unique – it’s one I’m often in the mood for unlike many gins, which are much more occasional. Makes a great pink gin, too.

A highlight in my exploration of Canadian gins. It’s an aged gin that reveals that these aged gins have some great potential.

Assessment: Very highly recommended.

Value: High. I have no problem laying down $45 for this, as someone who isn’t eager to spend too much on spirits - in fact, it will likely become a regular occurence.


Review: Parlour Gin (Eau Claire Distillery) by Jason Hambrey

Parlour+Gin+2.jpg
ABV
40%
Aging
N/A
Recipe
N/A
Distiller Eau Claire (Turner Valley, Alberta)

This gin is made from Alberta grain and a mix of botanicals that include juniper, coriander, lemon, mint, rosehip, and saskatoon berries. The spirit base itself is the exact same as the single malt, which lends a rich grain character to the spirit - as the base is a malted barley whisky new make. I have a personal preference for gins with a grain characteristic, so this has me! The new make is macerated with the botanicals to impart flavour, and then re-distilled to lighten the spirit and bring out the desired flavour profile.

The gin uses saskatoon berries, a berry native to the prairies as a key flavouring components. Other botanicals include coriander, rosehip, coriander, lemon, orange, and mint.

The gin won the best London Dry Style of gin in Canada last year, and for good reason!


Review (2019)

  • Batch: 1821

  • Bottling Date: 2019

  • Bottling Code: N/A

The nose is spicy with coriander, rose, fresh fennel, and a green set of spicy flavours – but also juniper and sharp, almost bitter baking spices. There is sharp lemon peel on the nose, too.  It has a really nice sweet grainy character to it which I quite like – I like gins which display a bit of the grain character underneath them. The finish is lightly spicy and sweet, with a terrific finish which is complex and holds floral, citrus, and spice characteristics in great balance – even a touch of toffee and the mint comes out nicely. A really complex, well balanced gin.

If you want to analyse this, I suggest that you do so first on its own and then compare it to some other gins in a flight, especially some lighter gins – it highlights the incredibly rich, farm character of the grain spirit behind the gin. Most excellent.

Assessment: Very Highly Recommended. Very complex, very well balanced, and it has a nice bite to it. Another outstanding Canadian gin.


Review: Gunpowder & Rose Rum (Newfoundland Distillery) by Jason Hambrey

Image copyright by North of 7 Distillery. Used with Permission.

Image copyright by North of 7 Distillery. Used with Permission.

ABV
40%
Aging
N/A
Recipe
Jamaican Rum with Distilled and Infused Botanicals
Distiller Newfoundland Distillery (Clark's Beach, Newfoundland)

In the old days, rum was a part of the sailors daily ration and quartermasters, at times, might consume the rum themselves and give the sailors a watered down version - infuriating for sure. To prove that the rum was of sufficient strength, it would be poured over gunpowder and ignited. If it was above 50%, the wet gunpowder would ignite and it would be “at proof”, which is where the “proof” language comes from in discussing ABV.

Inspired by the tradition, Newfoundland distillery wanted to actually create a rum with real gunpowder - but Health Canada wasn’t very impressed. So the distillery instead wanted to recreate the flavour profile with kelp for sulphur, charred birch for a charcoal component, and sea salt for the “salt petre” of gunpowder. And, to create contrast and uniqueness, wild newfoundland roses were added to the mix to add a floral, ethereal component. Talk about unique!

I was first made aware of Newfoundland Distillery because of their seaweed gins, which has one of the richest maritime characters of any gin I’ve tasted. It really gives a good sense of terroir.


Review (2019)

  • Batch: N/A

  • Bottling Code: N/A

  • Bottling Date: 2017

The nose is sweet, lightly sulphury, and floral. The sulphur gives a nice edge here – it’s not like the rough sulphur often found in whisky. It’s accompanied here by a rich brown sugar and marine character, not to mention the top notes of roses. It’s not characteristic of a “pure” rum (i.e. only from molasses), but it doesn’t have any of the rather artificial characteristics of most commercial spiced rums. The palate is lightly sweet and full of rich brown sugar, blueberries, light wood notes, and a seafood-type umami. The finish has roses, a touch of sharp pine-like woodiness like juniper, and a rich fruitiness like fresh raspberry. Very interesting, rich, and easy to drink. It is remarkably balanced given all the contrasts in flavour.

Also, great to mix and some rather creative cocktails can be created from this stuff.

Assessment: Highly Recommended.

Value: High. $35 is very good for this.


Review: Sheringham Akvavit by Jason Hambrey

Sheringham+Akvavit+1.jpg
ABV
42%
Aging
None
Recipe
Spirit made with caraway, dill, angelica, star anise, lemon, and orris root
Distiller Sheringham Distillery (Sooke, British Columbia)

I hadn’t had much akvavit before, but I was rather curious after this took home the Canadian Artisinal Spirits Competition’s “Canadian Artisan Spirit of the Year”. Akvavit is a grain spirit flavoured of dill or caraway, in this case both, but with a dose of kelp as well to give it a sense of belonging to Vancouver Island. Akvavit hails from Scandinavia, where it has been produced since the 15th century - and caraway is a magnificent spice, even if it isn’t used much in North America. I am rather fond of it, so it’s no suprise that I like this.


Review (2019)

  • Batch: 1347

  • Bottling Code: N/A

  • Bottling Date: 2019

Brilliant herbal aromas full of caraway, dried dill, and sea salt but with an incredibly rich and buttery grain spirit behind. Caraway is in the centre of this, through and through – but there are other spices all around it. The palate is still full of caraway, but with a rich grainy character which carries the spice and provides a nice bite. There is a nice, soft, marine character throughout. The finish is slightly citrusy, with caraway, dried dill, and light baking spices. The best part, perhaps, is that the grain spirit characteristic is not lost on this.

This is just a terrific spirit – I haven’t had many akvavits (they are hard to find) but I’ll be on the lookout for more, although this one is really dialed in so I think it’s a pretty high benchmark. It isn’t as broadly complex as some spirits, but there is a real depth here.

Also, terrific for cocktails.

Assessment: Very Highly Recommended.


Review: Sheringham Kazuki Gin by Jason Hambrey

Sheringham+Kazuki+1.jpg
ABV
43%
Aging
None
Recipe
Gin made with local and Japanese botanicals
Distiller Sheringham Distillery (Sooke, British Columbia)

Out in western Canada it seems these Japanese style gins are increasingly popular - this one made with cherry blossoms, green tea, and yuzu.


Review (2019)

  • Batch: 1308

  • Bottling Code: N/A

  • Bottling Date: 2019

The nose is pretty heavy, with deep citrus notes, citrusy spice (like coriander), green tea, cherries, and a heavy floral character. Despite all the floral characteristics, the nose is still a bit heavy with thick citrus notes, like the heavier side of lemon peel rather than the floral side. The palate is rich, with a light grain character, limestone, and a spicy and citrus-laden finish. There is a reasonable amount of grip on the palate, and the finish is biting and enduring. There is a really nice spicy finish which builds towards the end. It is very well balanced, through and through.

This plays out really well in cocktails with the central citrus character and balance - but especially those with an Asian influence.

Assessment: Recommended.