Canadian Spirits

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.


Review: Black Fox Dry Gin #3 by Jason Hambrey

Black+Fox+Dry+Gin.jpg
ABV
42%
Aging
Not Aged
Recipe
100% triticale with botanicals
Distiller Black Fox (Saskatoon, Saskatchewan)

This gin is the basic dry gin from Black Fox, designed as a martini gin - and it certainly works very well in a Martini (as in a honey gimlet). It is made with 15 different botanicals including Calendula flowers and rhubarb from the Black Fox farm. Also, an amazing bottle - they use the glass stoppers like Shelter Point does. The base for the spirit is Black Fox’s tasty triticale spirit which is spicy and fruity, and gives the gin good depth.


Review (2019)

  • Batch:

  • Bottling Date: 2019

  • Bottling Code: N/A

The nose is deep, with a nice contrast of flavours to it – slightly sweet, slightly floral, slightly spicy.  The bottle, also, is beautiful. Orange and rhubarb play off a slightly tangy sweetness (similar to yoghurt – this doesn’t smell like yoghurt; but the tangy/sweet characteristic is analogous to it), with a rich spice backbone that is quite woody like cloves and cinnamon. The palate is big, rich with floral notes (violet and chamomile) again contrasting woody spices. This is held together by a clean, slightly sweet spirit which isn’t lost either – quite excellent! The finish is sweet, spicy, and lightly tannic. The notes start with citrus and floral characteristics, but fade slowly to lightly grainy, woody, and sharp spice notes. Awesome!

When chilled, this retains the sweetness and the spice, which makes it for a kick-ass martini gin (as advertised). I do love the woodiness of the spices – these are not lost amidst being chilled. Similarly, in a pink gin or a gin & soda, this has a great character – so this is a premium mixer, too.

Assessment: Very Highly Recommended.


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

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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.