Longtime readers may recall that I have been waxing poetic about the endless stream of new craft breweries popping up in our fair province.
For those who are partial to spirits, the number of craft distilleries has also been growing by leaps and bounds.
It all started back in 2013, when the provincial government eliminated minimum production capacity requirements, which was a high barrier to entry for all but the largest industrial distillers.
Since the minimum production requirements were eliminated, there have been several craft breweries that run a bit of distilling on the side, as well as a long list of small-batch craft distillers appearing on the Alberta scene.
We are a little late to the distilling party, especially when compared to our neighbouring province of BC, which boasts 60 craft distillers, with more opening every month.
The famed Eau Claire Distillery in Turner Valley has just celebrated its third birthday, which also marked the date that they were finally able to release the first batch of single malt whiskey that they started patiently aging in oak barrels three long years ago. Unsurprisingly, the initial batch of 1000 bottles sold out almost immediately, but you can still sample a wee dram at their tasting room if you hurry!
If you missed out on the first whiskey release from the Eau Claire distillery, never fear, as a batch of blended Rye Whiskey will be appearing in about six months time, followed by the next batch of single malt closer to the end of 2018.
A little bit west in the big city, Burwood Distillers opened their doors in Calgary this summer, and produce a clean and smooth small-batch vodka from locally grown ingredients.
As an homage to the European heritage of two of the founders, Burwood Distillers also produces a honey liqueur made in the style of Croatian Medica, which uses locally grown Alberta barley and pure Alberta honey for a sipping liqueur that makes for the perfect after-dinner digestif.
Realizing the quality of Alberta honey, there is also a full-strength Eau de Vie spirit made from water and honey, bursting with spice and botanical flavours. For those not familiar with Eau de Vie (water of life), it is a distilled spirit that has traditionally been made from fruits such as pears or plums, but a new generation of adventurous distilleries and meaderies have been branching out and using honey as the base for a distilled spirit. Unlike the lower-strength honey liqueur, this distilled spirit has just a hint of sweetness, but plenty of complexity on the nose and palate. Sip it on the rocks, or mix it in cocktails as a substitute for gin.
Looking north on the QE2 highway, Edmonton’s first craft distillery opened their doors to the public just last month, in the heart of the hip Old Strathcona district, just off Whyte Avenue.
The aptly named Strathcona Spirits had been distilling for nearly a year, but regulatory hurdles prevented them from operating a retail tasting room out of the tiny distillery, which measures only 800 square feet.
Fortunately, the red tape finally got cleared away last month, so the good people of Edmonton can now sample the goods directly at the tasting room, in addition to finding their wares at well-stocked booze merchants across our fair province.
Strathcona Spirits produce a smooth vodka made from locally produced red hard wheat, and an incredibly flavourful gin made with juniper that grows wild near Drumheller, and locally foraged Sea Buckthorn berries that are handpicked from the ravines and riverbanks near the distillery in Edmonton.
Despite its name, Sea Buckthorn berries grow wild in many parts of Canada, and are also known as Seaberry or Sandberry, a hardy plant with a long history of medicinal uses, and very popular with the jam and jelly preserves crowd. When used as a botanical infusion, these berries add a tangy finish that nicely balances the signature juniper flavours.
So, the next time you think about reaching for a boring old Smirnoff Vodka or Tanqueray Gin, think of the hardworking Alberta distillers using local ingredients and small-batch processes to bring you an artisanal product instead of an industrially produced hooch like the megadistilleries.
Just ask at your friendly neighbourhood booze merchant for some local spirits, or better yet, visit an Alberta craft distiller near you today!