Review: Single Hive Rye Cask (Burwood Distillery) / by Jason Hambrey

Image Courtesy of Burwood Distillery.

Image Courtesy of Burwood Distillery.

Ex-rye whisky cask
100% Alberta honey
Distiller Burwood Distillery (Calgary, Alberta)

Jordan Ramey left his postdoctoral studies in California, where he was studying the use of anthrax to combat cancer, in order to move to Calgary. Now, he needed something new to do. Given his background in microbiology, fermentation was a natural obsession . He began consulting for home brewers. Soon enough, he was busy founding Olds college’s brewmaster & brewery operations management program in 2013.

Given his success in the program, it’s only natural that Ramey was consistently sought out as a partner for entrepeneurs trying to get into the distillation business. None of the offers had the right pieces in place. Getting into the distillation business would come through a different route.

Ramey struck up a relationship with a fellow spirits enthusiast - his real estate agent, Ivan Cilic. Soon enough, Ramey’s brewing and distilling knowledge was paired with Ivan’s experience in sales and they set out to purchase property for a new distillery, Burwood.

One of Alberta’s main crops is barley, a natural choice as a local ingredient to use in spirits production. However, the distillery also decided to focus on another major Alberta export, the by-product of Alberta’s canola and clover farming: honey. Burwood sourced this as locally as one can – the family business. Ivan’s brother, Marko, operates a honey farm that now supplies the sizeable needs of the distillery.

Burwood uses raw honey to create multiple honey spirits. The award-winning Medica liqueur is inspired by the honey liqueurs from Ivan and Marko Cilic’s Croation roots. It is made with barley and honey. The distillery also makes a clean, clear honey eau-de-vie, a “single hive” which is a barrel-aged honey spirit, and a honey “rum” made from “honey tar” that is found in spent beehives. This “tar” is honey that is naturally caramelized into old beehive frames as the bees heat the honey as they use the hive year over year. It cannot be sold by honey producers. However, it can be extracted from the spent hives and distilled. Ramey describes the character as noticeably different – the top of the fermenting tar is green rather than the usual honey yellow. It comes out from the fermentation vessel with a deep gold colour.

It is challenging to make money as a small distiller with even the cheapest of ingredients. So why even bother with honey, which costs about 4 times more than grain? The answer is actually quite simple - go seek out a bottle of single hive or Burwood’s honey rum, and you’ll see.

Review (2021)

  • Batch: Cask 005

  • Bottling Code: N/A

  • Bottling Date: ~2021

The nose here is gorgeous – bright berry notes, wintergreen, vanilla, light baking spices, a slight waxy character, prunes, raisins, red currants, almond, and honey graham crackers. This doesn’t smell like a rum, but it has some characteristics which are similar – some of the dried fruit, spices, and the way that the oak is integrated. The palate follows from the nose, but with a bigger dose of vanilla, oaky spices, and a bit more candied citrus. It is delicious! There is a light acidity on the palate which is terrific. The finish is slightly drying, with lots of dried fruit, citrus, wet and old oak, and rich, wet earth.

I had another honey “rum” from Wayward earlier in the year that is one of my favourite spirits of this year. This one from Burwood also makes that list, but it is very different – spicier, oakier, not as sweet or fruity or rich – but much more subtle and deep with layers upon layers that you can peel back.

One of my favourite spirits so far this year.

Very Highly Recommended.