A few favourites from 2021 / by Jason Hambrey

Well, it hasn’t been a huge Canadian whisky start to 2021 – from what I’ve tasted. Since January, I haven’t had too many new Canadian whiskies that really stood apart, but I’ve had a number of other spirits that are worth mentioning. Here are my top 2 in a few categories (all Canadian) that I’ve tasted this year.

Whisky

Well, we might as well start with whisky. My first notable whisky this year is from Two Brewers Batch 25 – they don’t make any whisky that is bad. In my book, Two Brewers and Shelter Point are the only small distillery so far to challenge the best of the large producers from a quality perspective (there are a few others on the cusp). Batch 25 is a peated single malt loaded with tropical fruit notes. While excellent, it’s still below average from them!

The other memorable whisky for me this year comes from the Liberty Distillery in Vancouver. Their Trust Single Grain is made from unmalted barley and has a creamy character with a really nice balance of grain and fruit notes.

I had a few other good whiskies (Scotch/bourbons) but we’re all about Canadian-made on Canada day!

Honey Spirits

The two most exciting discoveries for me this year have been aged honey spirits. They are incredible complex, rich, interesting, and different. I highly recommend trying any that are available to you. Despite all the good whisky I’ve had this year, these have been far more memorable and exciting in the past year.

Burwood make a few different honey spirits, and I recently tried and loved their single hive (rye whisky cask). But, they make others – I’d try any of their aged honey spirits – their “single hive” or their “honey rum” (if you can find it) which is made from the intense caramelized honey stuck on spent beehives.

Wayward Distillery’s Drunken Hive Rum is also excellent, and makes the list too.

Gin

It’s hard to narrow to just two gins here, but two have stood above the rest. The first is St. Laurent’s Gin Citrus, a gin that has captured the essence of fresh citrus more genuinely and intensely than any other gin I’ve had. It’s made with multiple citrus fruits and is vacuum distilled to ensure that the fresh character of the citrus is captured without cooking any of the peels.

The other gin that’s really stood out to me is Confluence Distilling’s Pink Gin. The reason it stood out is because it is so similar to your classic recipes but makes small, and impressive, steps into unknown territory – grapefruit instead of lemon, red chilli peppers instead of black pepper, and chamomile to bring it all together. It holds lots of suprises while remaining true to the gin theme.

Ok, I can’t quite stick with two. Two honorable mentions are well deserved for the woody Stump Coastal Forest Gin from Phillips Fermentorium and the rich character of the colour-changing Gin Royal from compass distillers.

Vodka

Some pandemic-inspired cocktail research has made me discover vodka in some new ways in the past few months. While I don’t appreciate them as “sippers” I do appreciate them. Served in the right ways, they can really be an experience. Two vodkas really impressed me so far this year – the first a very flavourful vodka made from corn, rye, and barley coming from Willibald Distillery. It’s buttery, clean, with some nice berry notes.

The second really impressive vodka comes from Lone Pine Distilling in Edmonton – one of the best vodkas I’ve tasted. Their parkland wheat vodka (review coming soon) has an incredible long, creamy finish while displaying an incredible complex and subtle grain character throughout. It is very impressive.

Other spirits

One of my favourite spirits this year so far has been a Sons of Vancouver Barrel-Aged Amaretto that has been partially aged in Westland whisky casks. It has an incredible fruit character with all the barrel-aged goodness and complexity you could hope for in a spirit.

Dragon Mist Distillery also makes a Baijiu – an aged earthy, grainy white spirit originating and widely consumed in China. I don’t have much experience with Baijiu, but the spirit is just so interesting and deep that I can’t stop talking about it.

And of course, I do love a good aquavit, a Nordic spirit flavoured with fennel, anise, and/or caraway. Confluence makes a flavourful, balanced, and powerful one that I love (Vinland Aquavit). It certainly belongs on this list.

My Top Two

Of all these, my top two spirits are Burwood’s Single Hive and the Sons of Vancouver barrel aged amaretto, although the St. Laurent Gin Citrus and Confluence’s Pink Gin made me pause. They aren’t whiskies, but fall is really the time for whisky (and things would be different if we had a stronger Two Brewers release).