Craft

Review: Niagara Falls Canadian Whisky by Jason Hambrey

Niagara Falls Canadian Whisky 1.jpg
ABV
40%
Aging
4 years
Recipe
8 grains (see below), brand new American oak
Distiller Niagara Falls Craft Distillers (Niagara Falls, Ontario)

The goals of this whisky are similar to that of Niagara Falls first product, Barreling Annies - but this is markedly different in that it is their own distillate, even if the goals of this whisky are similar to Barreling Annie’s: to be an easy, light and great mixer rather than a connoisseur-style sipper. However, there is quite the mix going in here - 8 grains: Canadian barley, winter wheat, winter rye, toasted rye, flaked rye, and three other internationally-sourced grains.


Review (2019)

  • Batch: N/A

  • Bottling Code: N/A

  • Bottling Date: 2019

The nose is pretty light, with dry oak, vanilla, prunes, clove, nutmeg – it has the light, sweet, and slightly spicy characteristic of many classic Canadian whiskies. The oak really is central. The palate has dried fruit, more light oak, vanilla, sugar caramel, maple, prunes, and even some bean sprouts which I find from time to time in some Canadian whiskies. The finish is clean, with light dried fruit and oaky spice. Slight tannins grow on the finish.

This is more in line with the lighter, traditional Canadian whiskies which are consumed readily the world-over: dry, lightly spicy, lightly sweet, fairly light bodied. It isn’t heavy on new oak influence. It may appeal less to those looking for big or more unique flavour characteristics. It is similar in style to Barreling Annie’s.

Value: Average. Not expensive at $33.


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.


Review: Schramm Organic Canadian Dry Gin by Jason Hambrey

Schramm+Gin.jpg
ABV
44.8%
Aging
None
Recipe
100% Potato Spirit, Organic Herbs & Botanicals
Distillery Pemberton Distillery (Pemberton, BC)

This is a gin made from a base of distilled local potatoes, combined with juniper berries, coriander seed, orange peel, rosemary, angelica root, Ceylon cinnamon, rosehips and hops - all listed clearly on the label. I quite like how the ingredients are listed right on the label. It takes 18 pounds of potato to produce a single bottle of this!

The gin includes a very narrow hearts cut - only across 4 alcohol percentage points off the still - this was the best balance Pemberton could find between the heavier juniper and the lighter fruit notes.


Review (2019)

  • Batch: 45 (Distilled Feb 2019)

  • Bottling Code: N/A

  • Bottling Date: 2019

Rich juniper aromas, and an incredible wild sort of herbal and floral notes. It reminds me of certain blooming meadows, rich in a light mixed floral notes and sharp herbal notes. The hops come through, slightly – and they are awesome giving a real sharp character which contrasts with the cinnamon and dried orange. The juniper is strong, as I like it.  It’s a big gin, with a complex character. In the middle too, there is a flash of sweetness coming from the distillate, which isn’t lost – another big plus, for me, in gin. The finish has the juniper, earthiness, and a nice set of complex spices and woody notes.

I quite like the stuff. There is a light touch of earthiness too, I assume from the potatoes.

Chilled, the sharp vegetable character really shines through, along with the juniper. It is remarkable how strongly the flavours shine through, even chilled. It has a good voice in a cocktail, as I believe spirits should: this mixes well.

Assessment: Highly 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: 100 Bushels Single Malt Rye Whisky (Sperling Silver Distillery) by Jason Hambrey

ABV
40%
Aging
Ex-bourbon barrels
Recipe
100% Malted Rye
Distiller Sperling Silver Distillery (Regina, Saskatchewan)

Here, another malted rye - this time a whisky - from Saskatchewan’s Sperling Silver Distillery.


Review (2019)

  • Batch: N/A

  • Bottling Code: N/A

  • Bottling Date: 2018

Bright, fruity, and sharp – very bright. Apple, pear, beeswax, bubblegum, red twizzlers, and even some rather tropical fruit – think soursop, pineapple, and dragonfruit – and light spices. Tons of fruitiness, and it keeps evolving…the finish and palate explode with fruit, spice, and a gripping texture. Unique, and very intriguing! Very fruity. Grainy notes emerge more with time.

If you want a whisky which is more unique and displays some unique tropical fruit – I recommend. It’s very interesting. But, it’s still “not there yet” – I hope this continues to get a bit more maturity under its belt, then we might get some really interesting stuff! Fairly clean too – perhaps helped by their filtration process.

Recommended (81% of whiskies I’ve reviewed to date get this recommendation or higher). This one presents a rather interesting mix of tropical fruit, oak, and spice. As I spent more and more time with it, I found it continually grew on me.

Value: Average, based on $60.


Review: Golden Stagg Blended Rye Spirit (Sperling Silver Distillery) by Jason Hambrey

ABV
40%
Aging
N/A
Recipe
N/A
Distiller Sperling Silver Distillery (Regina, Saskatchewan)

I haven’t had much whisky from Saskatchewan, beyond Last Mountain’s (very nice) stuff. This is a single malt rye, made from malted rye - it’s not something many small or large producers are doing these days and the character is quite different than unmalted rye - a bit more vegetal without as clean of a grain character. This is a “blended rye spirit - so I assume it is less than three years, but I know very little about it - other than the taste.


Review (2019)

  • Batch: N/A

  • Bottling Code: N/A

  • Bottling Date: 2018

Light spice, rich rye, orange, and pine in the mix. Floral, earthy, oaky, fruity – there is a broad array of flavour here. This is loaded with juniper and light coriander - almost as if someone used a gin barrel to mature the spirit! To be a bit more cohesive – the nose has vanilla and oak combined with a light floral, spicy edge and a light roughness. The rye-like character reminds me a bit of MGP rye, in fact. The palate is light, slightly spicy – with lots of vanilla offset by light spice and slight oak tannin. And a bit of patchouli, and with slight tropical fruit character. The finish is sweet, spicy, and fruity – more on the side of berries than orchard fruit.

Quite decent, and clean, with a complexity which is quite decent – but it’s still a bit rough and young. It is also a bit sweet for my liking – I would like this a bit more if it were dryer. I like 100 bushels a bit more, I think, which has some similar characteristics.

Value: High. This is good stuff for $25!


Review: Rocking R 100% Rye Whisky (Rig Hand Distillery) by Jason Hambrey

Image courtesy and copyright of Rig Hand distillery.

Image courtesy and copyright of Rig Hand distillery.

ABV
40%
Aging
3 years; ex-wheat whisky, ex-bourbon, and ex-sherry barrels
Recipe
100% Alberta Rye
Distiller Rig Hand (Nisku, AB)

Rig Hand’s first rye has come online! The whisky has the same maturation process as their single malt: 8 months in 10-gallon ex-wheat whisky barrels, 9-months in 25 gallon used bourbon barrels from Ohio, 18 months in ex-bourbon barrels from Kentucky, and finished in 55-gallon used sherry casks. There are many more barrels stashed away, and the distillery is planning to increase the age of the product with time.

They also have some bourbon-style whisky on the way.


Review (2019)

  • Batch: N/A

  • Bottling Code: N/A

  • Bottling Date: 2018

The nose has a nice set of floral notes, with a rich spiciness – which I quite like. Lilacs, clove, hibiscus, light oak, rose hip, and vanilla are involved. The palate is soft, full of fruit - dried and fresh, baking spice and a touch of dusty minerality as well. There are also quite nice pepper notes in this whisky. The finish is light, with light spice and floral notes, and a bit of white pepper. The tannins rise slightly at the finish.

This shows great promise, and has a very clean and refined sense of big rye. It’s one of the cleaner ryes I’ve had from a small distillery (at least of the ones which have big rye flavor). I’d love to see this with a few more years on it and at a bit higher ABV, but this is doing quite well as it is!

Recommended (81% of whiskies I’ve reviewed to date get this recommendation or higher).

Value: Against the overall whisky market, this is in the average value camp, at $89.


Review: Diamond S Single Malt Canadian Whisky by Jason Hambrey

Image courtesy and copyright of Rig Hand Distillery.

Image courtesy and copyright of Rig Hand Distillery.

ABV
45%
Aging
3 yrs; ex-wheat whisky, ex-bourbon, and ex-sherry barrels
Recipe
100% Single Malt
Distiller Rig Hand (Nisku, AB)

Rig Hand’s first single malt came of age in December of 2018, and was released to the market. The whisky is made with Rahr Malting’s 2-row malted barley, and starts in a 10-gallon ex-wheat whisky barrel for 8 months, followed by 9 months in a 25 gallon ex-bourbon barrels from Ohio, followed by 18 months in 53 gallon ex-bourbon barrels from Kentucky and finished in 55 gallon sherry casks. This is the first batch, but Rig Hand is sitting on the rest of their barrels for a longer period to encourage further maturation. Particularly with single malts, time greatly improves the product - so I would expect the product to improve in the coming years.

Also, rig hand has put away some single malt smoked with Alberta peat (!!!).


Review (2019)

  • Batch: 001

  • Bottling Code: N/A

  • Bottling Date: 2018

Fruity, buttery, and spicy – with a nice nutty characteristic to it and some oak and vanilla. There is toffee, mixed grain, green pear, baking bread, biscuit, caramel, and macadamia nuts. It’s spicy on the nose, too. It’s still a bit rough, but it has a really nice rich farm characteristic to it – in a very good way – like the great earthy smell of rich earth and agriculture.  The palate has lots of dried fruit a really nice malty kick at the end. The finish is slightly sour and spicy. The finish is big and farmy, with a nice malt characteristic at the end!

I really like the rich earthiness, and it has a great core which will improve with time it the cask. Also, it’s a spirit that will get better as it sits in the bottle, I expect.

Value: Low, based on $115. In large part, young micro-distilled single malts can’t compete on a price level with the whisky market at large dollar for dollar.