Farm Distillery

A Few Whiskies on the Way from Black Fox Farm, Saskatchewan by Jason Hambrey


These days, most folks who start up a distillery have a background in brewing or distilling. However, Black Fox got an interesting start – from grain farmers John Cote and Barb Stefanyshyn-Cote. Many of the original distillers, indeed, were farmers who were able to distill grain to preserve it, make it easier to transport, and at times, make a bigger profit.

The prairies grow a lot of grain, and Saskatchewan is the heart of the prairies – indeed, there is more agricultural area in Saskatchewan than the other prairie provinces of Alberta and Manitoba combined. Based near Saskatoon, the farm distillery is taking a Canadian approach by focusing on single grain whiskies of various bases – wheat, triticale (a wheat/rye hybrid), and oat.

The whiskies, at present, are of age – about 3.4-3.6 years old each. I got sent some samples of a 100% unmalted wheat, 100% unmalted oat (toasted to help fermentability and flavour), and 100% unmalted triticale whisky each matured in new American oak as a preview – a date has not yet been set for their release. Triticale, particularly - is exciting - a hybrid of rye and wheat. The distillery had to go through a variety of different varieties until they found one which was good for flavor and fermentability. All the whiskies use a staged fermentation with multiple yeasts and are put into new oak. They are all coming along very well and they are in the group of higher quality whiskies which are currently on the market from Canadian craft distilleries and small producers. I wrote a few tasting notes below - note that these whiskies are not yet available and I will post proper reviews of the whiskies when they are ready to be released.

See a few notes on how they are progressing below:

Black Fox 100% Wheat Whisky Cask Sample

  • New American oak, filled 11/9/2015, sample drawn 4/03/2019 (3.4 yrs) 48%

The nose has charred oak, cream of wheat, red currants, orange, and a bit of black pepper. Some quite nice fruits to it – like elderberries and black currants. It is quite oaky, with an assortment of wood spices – it is a very nice woodiness. The nose isn’t raw, which is rather impressive at this age even with new oak.  The palate is lightly sweet, full of toasted oak flavours, orange, and light, sweet spice at the end along with freshly baked bread. The sweetness does well to balance out the spice and the oak – it’s lightly sweet, not too much. It has a really nice sweet wheat character to it. The finish has some more dark fruit, more oak, and spice.  The grain characteristics continue for some time, along with a bit more dried fruit.

If this whisky were to be released today, it would be in my “recommended” group.

Black Fox 100% Oat Whisky Cask Sample

  • New American oak, filled 8/22/2015, sample drawn 4/03/2019 (3.6 yrs) 48%

Again, we have some really nice grainy notes here. It smells, indeed, like oats! But there’s also some rich baking spices, a rich spicy woodiness, toasted oak, and even some more exotic wood notes like bamboo. Pear, too. Deep wood – it does a nice trick.

The palate is light, with creamy porridge, vanilla marshmallow, and a great creaminess. Vanilla and spice come in on the end, which is full of sweet creamy grain, light spices, and light charred oak. A bit more dried fruit and spice comes out on the finish. The finish has a set of notes I’d characterize as oats just starting to toast on a skillet. The finish is lightly tangy and sweet – which I quite like! Despite the new oak, the oat spirit is a worthy competitor and isn’t lost. Not as oaky or as sharp as the wheat, and a bit softer.

I recently pulled this out at a Japanese tasting and it was a hit.

If this whisky were to be released today, it would be in my “recommended” group.

Black Fox 100% Triticale Whisky cask sample

  • New American oak, filled 8/10/2015, sample drawn 4/03/2019 (3.6 yrs) 48%

Of the three samples I tried, this one takes the best to the new oak.

Quite different from the other casks. Coconut, pineapple, and a rich set of fruity rye-like spices, dried, fruit, cacao nibs, and vanilla. Lots of oak and toasted oak notes. This reminds me of rye whisky, with all the floral and spicy notes.  Nice caramel too. There is a nice grainy middle, and oaky base, and a spicy-floral intense set of top notes. Prunes, dried apricot, lilac, whole grain bread, whole mixed-grain porridge, toasted oak, and cinnamon.

The palate has a really nice spicy sharpness, lilac, clove, and a sweet grainy finish. There is a really nice set of dried fruit characteristics here which aren’t present in the other Black Fox whiskies. It has a really rich middle with quite good depth to it. The finish has dried stone fruit (prunes, peaches, apricots) but also fresh plums, peaches, and apricots – along with green pear, oak, baking spices, lilac, cream of wheat, and an Irish pot-still like green oily spiciness.

If this whisky were to be released today, it would be in my “recommended” group.

A Visit to Glen Saanich by Jason Hambrey

I quite like Glen Saanich distillery. I first received wind of it during my judging for the Canadian whisky awards last year, when their single malt received a silver (and snuck in doing so, not even being a Canadian whisky at only 1.5 years old – that being said, very impressive to do so well without much age on it). They have since produced a great innovation, Ancient Grains, a whisky spirit (still young) which is based on a 5 grain mashbill of local, organic, heirloom grains matured in quarter casks. It is a very nice spirit, and I wish I could call it a whisky.

Their popularity has lead them to having pre-sold their single malt out for the next two years – remarkable. Their bottles are beautiful, showcasing local art – but, moreover, the Glen Saanich distilley is located on a beautiful farm on Vancouver Island, a bit less than a half hour drive from Victoria. The head distiller, Ken Winchester, apprenticed at Bruichladdich and grew an appreciation there for terrior – consequently, the distillery is located on a farm with a view to use their own grains in whisky production.

Ken Winchester started as a trained winemaker in California for a number of years before turning his attention to distilling. He brought the well-known Victoria gin to market, a brand now produced under a different recipe at a different distillery. The distillery uses 100% local BC grains and uses a still which was found at a bankruptcy sale! The still’s documentation was all in German, and had to be refitted and updated before it could have been used.

Despite my scathing remarks about the nonsense of terrior with whisky – there are a few distilleries, Glen Saanich being one of them, where you can trace the source of the grain, visit the farms, and see the terrior (though whether you can taste it, I'll leave to you...). It is a wonderful experience. The distillery is packed with barrels and mason jars full of infusing spices and botanicals for various experimentation and product development. I tasted through their products – vermouths, rums made from honey, gins made from wine (some of the spiciest gins I’ve tasted), genever (an old world gin with a single malt base), and of course their whisky.

Craft distilling has really come into its own, and this is a distillery that showcases that. I recommend a visit, and maybe get in line for their whisky. It’s still in its infancy, but given the quality thus far, its only up from here...