Anohka Distillery This is Not Whisky Peated Malt New Make Spirit

What makes a distillery truly innovative and unique compared to the competition? Whole marketing departments exist at the bigger brands whose sole mandate is to convince you that it is all about the water they use, their use of the finest casks, or spin a mythical yarn that may not be grounded in any real history. The result is a lack of transparency, guarded secrets about the actual casks they use, and lack of access to the people who are actually making the whisky. It should be noted that even newer distilleries fall into this category and that’s a real shame.

Anohka Distillery is so far removed from this category that I’m having trouble mentioning it so close to the previous paragraph. If you’ve ever had the pleasure of making your way out to their location, just outside of Spruce Grove, Alberta, Anohka’s owner and founder, Gurpreet Ranu, usually has time to show you around. The distillery is his playground and he has spared no expense ensuring that their gin and whisky (still maturing) is like nothing else in Canada.

So, what of innovation? The secret to Anohka’s early success is their ability to keep all options open while mixing together traditional and modern techniques that build upon each other. 

Let’s take their still house, for instance. The pure copper pot stills, hand-beaten in Portugal, look old and new at the same time.  But it’s what’s underneath the stills that has everyone excited. Like only a small handful of distilleries, such as the famous Springbank of Campbeltown, Anohka’s stills are direct-fired, rather than heated via steam coils. For anybody who has had anything from Springbank, there are more than a few deeply toasted notes that come from distilling whisky using direct-fire. Dave Scott, distillery manager at Anohka, likens it to the difference between bread (steam heating) and toast (direct fired). Nobody in Canada is distilling whisky this way.

(As an aside, Springbank does not heat their stills by direct fire alone, as many have stated. Because of the volume of their stills, there is no way to heat a still of that size efficiently by exclusively heating it from below. To aid in the faster heating of the still, they do in fact have steam coils in their stills. That being said, there are still Maillard reactions occurring at the bottom of the still, where the direct-firing is taking place. With some tinkering, helped along by their much smaller stills, Anohka can get away with exclusivity direct-firing their stills.)

Since they are using well water, drawn from beneath the distillery, its usage must be as efficient as possible. Using very little water, their state of the art mash filter extracts every drop of liquid from the mash as it is transferred from the mash tun to the fermentation tank. This process requires 30% less water and energy.

Rather than playing around with fancy cask finishes and new American oak barrels, Anohka has instead decided, at least initially, on using mainly ex-Bourbon casks. This staple of the Scotch maturation world has a long history of complementing single malt distillate’s characteristics in a way that doesn’t quickly swamp its initial flavour profile. In time, they plan to branch out, but for now, tradition is best.

All that said, what the local whisky community is really buying into is Gurpreet and Dave’s open-source style, sharing information about their processes and even putting details on the back of their bottles that many other distilleries would shy away from.Anohka has a few meanings in Sanskrit including “uncommon, extraordinary, wonderful, rare or strange”. That really sums up their philosophy perfectly. As for when the time will be right for them to release their whisky, they don’t have a three year countdown clock (minimum time a spirit has to be rested in barrels in Canada to be called whisky) on their wall. It may be ready in three or five or six. For now, their award winning gin is helping to pay the bills, which I’ll cover in a future review!

Very few Canadian distilleries are selling their new make spirit and even fewer release it at still strength. Anohka is one of those few and best of all, you don’t need to hunt down any information about the new make. It’s right on the back of the label! This review covers their “This is Not Whiskey” Peated Single Malt Spirit. It comes straight from the still at 63.5% ABV. This batch contains 100% Laureate barley that was malted and smoked at Simpsons Malt in the UK. They were wanting a phenol count of about 100 ppm, but instead got 75 ppm. It was firmented for just under five days and then twice distilled in their copper pot stills. Let’s dive in!

Nose: Seeing as this is 63.5% of the way to becoming pure ethanol, there is a pretty shocking absence of any bite on the nose. Although it’s a very bad practice to stick your whole honker into the glass when nosing spirits, as long as you smell gently, you can actually do that with this one.  The first thing I’m getting is this deeply toasted bread character. In a previous new make spirit review, I mentioned a bread dough note. This spirit is nothing of the sort (although, to be fair, the other one was an Irish-style Poítin). This is much heavier on the smoke than the peat. It’s not campfire smoke. Instead, it’s like lifting the lid on a recently lit BBQ, but before you scrape away the charred bits that are stuck to the grill. I know that sounds oddly specific, but I am reviewing this in summer. 

The phenols are at 75 ppm, but it’s not really overpowering the senses, to be honest. It’s not briny. It doesn’t have a medicinal smell like the inside of a recently vacated ER room.  It’s not like huffing Lemon Pledge (ed note: don’t do that).

There’s a charred sweet and sour thing going on here as well. Usually, I liken it to a grilled lemon, which retains the sourness, but introduces a sweetness from the caramelized sugars. 

I know this is long, but I have never taken notes on peated new make and I’m trying to take you through this as I discover it in real time, iPhone in hand, taking notes as I feel my way forward. 

Palate: For those of you that are tolerant (and patient) enough to endure my wordy reviews, you’ve probably noticed that I never comment on the color of the spirit or the legs that form as the liquid descends from the sides of the glass. I’m noting the legs here as they take a really long time to move down the inside of my Glencairn. This denotes a big time oily spirit. And this one is oily AF.

That oily consistency coats your mouth right from the entry. For those of you who are used to drinking high-proof spirits, this is shockingly easy to drink. Not that it lacks any depth. This one is all about depth. New make spirit is quite dry, yet there is a sweetness to this on the entry that took me by surprise. It’s almost confectionery. As the experience progresses into the development, that dark toast really starts to build along with a progressively building, but not overpowering heat. Although the peat is masking it a bit, the tropical fruit notes that result from that long fermentation are singing loud and clear by mid-development. The peated malt gives all of those fruits a grilled character.

Finish: This just doesn’t stop. The toasted bread and grilled fruits remain in perfect balance the whole way.

With water added

I wasn’t shy on the water here. A full teaspoon was added to my final 1 1/4 oz. Even with all of that added, the aromas are just as potent. The burnt toast is still very much in the foreground and the grilled lemon is sitting by its side. That sweet BBQ smoke is not quite as pronounced. On the palate, this still packs a huge punch. The grilled tropical fruit is outpacing the toast and there’s almost a creamy, smoky milk chocolate on the back end of the development into the finish. The milk chocolate progresses to dark chocolate as the finish progresses.


In 2023, BC’s DEVINE Distillery Ancient Grains whisky spirit finished second in the World Whiskies Awards “Best Canadian New Make & Young Spirit” category. This one finished first. There is so much going on and the character is so bold that this will easily be able to withstand its lifespan (however long that will be) in oak. Along with DEVINE, Bridgeland, Mad Lab and a few others, Anohka is not afraid to show their hand by releasing new make or young whisky spirit with pride. And at around $35-40 CAD for a half bottle, you can’t go wrong!

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