Appreciating vodka is a rather nuanced art: the vanishing point appears distressingly early. By this I mean, it is hard to distinguish among brands given the drink is a neutral spirit to begin with, indeed is subjected to further treatment (often by charcoal filtering) to earn the vodka designation.
Yet, differences there are. These can be discerned probably after a maximum of one drink. After that, the vanishing point has arrived. The palate is too numbed and the drink too clean to worm out (sorry) any further differences.
Still, a one-drink tasting, apart from its inherent decorousness, does offer the possibilities of connoisseurship.
So let’s talk.
The feedstock used – corn, rye, wheat, etc. – probably has some influence even if only in parts per million. The human senses of smell and taste can pick out very subtle differences. The water used, especially in proofing down for bottling, has an influence too. Demineralized water is often used, maybe distilled, but in practice the waters are not identical.
Other variables are the final distilling-out proof, which can vary slightly, and the type and other details of charcoal filtering. Some vodkas have a faint burned wood note from charcoal filtration, for example.
This leads me to the vodka pictured, from a craft distillery in Amherstburg, ON, Wolfhead Distillery.
The distillery is on the outskirts of a historic town on the lake, in Windsor-Essex County, a fertile farming region in southwestern Ontario.
The distillery makes its own vodka in a copper pot-and-steel or aluminum column still set up. It has whiskey aging but none to sell of its own since too young. It sells under its name a whisky sourced from Hiram Walker in Windsor, a mix of a well-aged corn whisky and a younger, five year old rye whiskey. (I’ll return to the whisky soon).
The vodka is extremely good. The base is wheat. I didn’t get whether malted grain or artificial enzyme is used to convert starch to sugar, probably the latter. It has what seems a light farina-like scent, and a creamy taste. There is almost no bite, no “alcohol” notes as many vodkas have.
The label states the drink is filtered with limestone but what that means exactly I don’t know. I was told the groundwater in the area percolates through limestone beds and this water is used in mashing. Whether pulverised or other limestone is used in some way in final processing I can’t say.
At $35 a bottle, it is worth the extra money and trumps the average Russian or Scandinavian import. I tried it at room temperature as I’m not sure that chilling wouldn’t reduce some of its distinctiveness.
The house sells a banana-infused version of the vodka, and a coffee-flavoured whisky, both are excellent with good natural flavours. The same applies to an apple and spice-flavoured whisky.
I didn’t buy the regular (non-flavoured) whisky as it is treated with wood chips and to my mind this took away qualities of the drink. It’s too woody IMO and the balance isn’t right.
The business grew out of a wood palett processing business in the area, which of course ties in to barrels or at least expertise in choosing them. It’s a pleasing transition, from one arborial-based pursuit to another.
The building is well-designed with a bar on one side and the retail counter on the other. There is a line of beers as well available at the bar, made by a brewery somehow connected to the distillery. I liked the IPA, but other beers need some work, IMO.
The still is behind the rear glass wall. An outdoor restaurant completes the picture. It should be very successful and I look forward to when its own whisky will be released. I was told that a rye whiskey is aging distilled at a low proof in the alembic, so straight in other words, and high proof spirits were produced using the columns and are aging as well. The rye whisky on its own, and a blend of that and the high proof whisky, will be placed on the market in due course. At least that’s how I understood it from the staff.
All good news, and a picture perfect example of the vitality of distilling in Ontario today.