Vodka

Review: River's End Gin (Wolfhead Distillery) by Jason Hambrey

Image courtesy of wolfhead distillery.

Image courtesy of wolfhead distillery.

ABV
43%
Aging
None
Recipe
N/A
Distiller Wolfhead (Amherstburg, Ontario)

This gin is made using a wheat spirit base. A number of botanicals are incorporated through vapour distillation with the spirit being distilled through a botanical basket that includes Italian juniper, coriander (from Canada and India), Moroccan orris root and grains of paradise, California grapefruit peel, Egyptian hibiscus, Haitian bitter orange peel, Chilean rose hips, Vietnamese star anise, Indonesian cinnamon, and Guatemalan cardamom. Now that’s a world tour!


Review (2021)

  • Batch: N/A

  • Bottling Date: ~2021

  • Bottling Code: N/A

Immediately, you get the three classic pillars of gin – juniper, citrus, and spice – in full complement and playing off one another brilliantly. Underneath, there is a really nice berry character and the richness of the juniper is terrific. The brightness of the lemon has been captured really well, and the spice pops on the palate more than the nose – making this a perfect cocktail gin. It’s very clean throughout with a nice long bright, spicy finish. Anyone who reads my gin reviews knows that I really like juniper – so this one plays right up to my style.

The gin is quite scrumptious – it has a nice balance and an underlying sweetness that really plays well off the spice, citrus, and wood. It makes it very easy to sip….

Highly recommended.


Review: Wolfhead Vodka by Jason Hambrey

Image courtesy of wolfhead distillery.

Image courtesy of wolfhead distillery.

ABV
40%
Aging
None
Recipe
100% wheat
Distiller Wolfhead (Amherstburg, Ontario)

Wolfhead distillery makes this vodka from wheat, which tends to give vodkas a good mixture of sweetness and texture with a bit of a grainy bite. Once the wheat mash is fermented, it is distilled seven times to get a pure product.

I’ve done a lot of vodkas recently, which may surprise some - but, it’s mainly because I’ve had a pandemic discovery - I quite enjoy both vodka martinis and gin martinis if there is a good dry vermouth to use. And, pretty well, the better the vodka, the better the martini.


Review (2021)

  • Batch: N/A

  • Bottling Date: ~2021

  • Bottling Code: N/A

Very clean and slightly creamy with very subtle light blueberry, white pepper, almond, and a slight note of plaintain chips. There is a slight perception of sweetness on the nose. It is clean, light, and very smooth on the palate. The finish is clean, creamy, and maintains that slight perception of sweetness. Once the initial finish fades, everything brightens up slightly with some bean sprout notes.

Highly recommended.


Review: Field Corn Vodka (Lone Pine Distilling) by Jason Hambrey

Image courtesy of lone pine distilling.

Image courtesy of lone pine distilling.

ABV
40%
Aging
None
Recipe
100% Alberta Corn
Distiller Lone Pine Distilling (Edmonton, AB)

This vodka is made from Alberta corn, and made quite intensively - it is distilling twenty times and carbon filtered before bottling. Lone Pine makes two different vodkas - one from corn, one from wheat. If anyone thinks vodkas from different grains taste the same, or that all vodkas taste alike, these are two perfect examples of why that isn’t true. Corn tends to give vodkas with good body and an underlying sweetness.


Review (2021)

  • Batch: N/A

  • Bottling Date: ~2021

  • Bottling Code: N/A

The nose here is quite sweet for a vodka- slight vanilla, nutty chocolate notes (like Ferrero Rocher), citrus zest, and some light earthiness. It’s thick on the palate, slightly sweet, with a background of earthy notes and a big flourish of spice on the finish especially white pepper.

Very clean, very easy, but still sharp and spicy. It’ll shine however you drink your vodka (and for me, especially in vodka forward cocktails).

Highly recommended.


Review: Parkland Wheat Vodka (Lone Pine Distilling) by Jason Hambrey

Image courtesy of lone pine distilling.

Image courtesy of lone pine distilling.

ABV
40%
Aging
None
Recipe
100% Hard White Alberta Wheat
Distiller Lone Pine Distilling (Edmonton, AB)

The parkland area of Alberta includes the metropolitan areas of Calgary, Edmonton, and Red Deer but it still has 2/3 of its area dedicated to agriculture. This vodka is made from wheat sourced from around the Parkland region in Alberta, and distilled twenty times through the 18 foot-high twin distillation columns at Lone Pine Distilling and then carbon-filtered to give a very clean spirit.

Bryan Anderson, the president of Lone Pine Distilling, talks of the character of the grain: “in our view, the wheat tasting profile is reflective of the base wheat used - hard white.” You don’t often see hard white wheat in spirits - typically, distillers go after soft red winter wheat that is found in all the full/part wheat whiskies I know of.


Review (2021)

  • Batch: N/A

  • Bottling Date: ~2021

  • Bottling Code: N/A

The nose on this vodka is awesome – very grainy, rich, and slightly spicy – not unlike an extremely clean, light, and very refined whisky new make with the grain and spice notes. There are light orange and toffee notes too. The palate is slightly sweet, with a light orange and wheat character and a long, creamy finish with some white pepper, vanilla, and hazelnut. Maybe the best finish I’ve ever had on a vodka. Despite those flavours, don’t interpret them to say that this has big flavour – it’s very light, very subtle. And very good.

Very highly recommended. One of the best vodkas I’ve had this year.


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).