Alberta is known for the Rockies, blue skies and rolling grain fields. In the past few years craft beer has become part of the Alberta Advantage. Did you know Alberta is also home to a growing number of distilleries, which use local ingredients to make creative and innovative spirits? Five of these are in the Edmonton area, it is these distilleries which I will explore today.
The first small batch distillery to open in Alberta was Rig Hand Distillery in Nisku. Geoff and Mike are best known for their Garlic Vodka which uses hand cut locally grown garlic in every bottle (nothing artificial) and Double Double a cream liqueur which makes Bailey’s blush. Rig Hand is so dedicated to using local ingredients they developed a “sugar beet rum” lovingly call Brum – which now comes in white, spiced and original. One of the biggest advantages of being a small batch distillery is the ability to experiment and create very intense flavor profiles, like my new favorite, Habanero Lime Vodka.
In the heart of Old Strathcona sits, not only Edmonton’s first distillery ever but, North America’s smallest. This doesn’t stop Adam and his team from creating award winning spirits from locally farmed and foraged grains and botanicals. Vodka, is my last choice of spirit to imbibe, but I have to admit, I have never and will never turn down Strathcona Distilleries, single grain Vodka. For me this is a sipping vodka with a beautiful vanilla expression. Truth be told, I also have never turned down their barrel aged gin either, how could I when it combines two of my favorite things.
Over in the west end of Edmonton is Hansen Distillery. This husband/wife team of Chris and Shayna are making spirits based on recipes which have been handed down through Shayna’s family, some of Alberta’s first distillers. You can feel their family roots from the moment you step in to their tasting room. The Hansen line up includes gin, vodka, un-aged rye and moonshine. Last fall they added cream liqueurs, including Purple Cow, which is infused with Saskatoon berries. Their Ring of Fire and Cherry Rye rank pretty high on my list.
As a Sherwood Park girl, Elk Island Spirits holds a soft spot for me. John and his team are making magic out in Ross Creek, with a tasting room located in Sherwood Park. Their Ross Creek Rye is not only an award winner but a top seller in our craft spirits section. I see big things in store for Elk Island Spirits.
The newest distillery is also a husband/wife team. David and Andrea opened Black Diamond Distillery in St. Albert in early 2018. This duo is doing things a little different, not only are they producing a variety of vodkas including Thai Chili Pepper, Earl Grey Tea (my personal favorite) and Cucumber. They are also producing the best liqueurs I have had the honor of sampling. I do believe that Tart Cherry is a must have for the summer.
Why are distilleries important to Alberta? Just like craft breweries, they help diversify the Alberta Advantage. Small batch distilleries not create jobs they provide new avenues for local producers to get their products to market. The growing number of Alberta small batch distilleries shows the world that you don’t need centuries of practice to master the craft, all you need is knowledge, passion and the unbreakable Canadian will.