Bridgeland Distillery Artisan Collection: Wheat Whisky – Moscato Brandy Finish

Image credit: Bridgeland Distillery (@bridgelanddistillery)

Pop quiz. Which Alberta-grown grain accounts for half of Canadian and one third of North American production? The instant answer would probably be rye, but that is not the case. Saskatchewan, on average, is Canada’s largest rye producer. Believe it or not, the correct answer is barley and Alberta’s relationship with the grain goes back many generations.

Alberta’s rich barley heritage is certainly playing a big role in Alberta’s massive craft beer boom, but there is an often overlooked intermediary (at least by consumers) that has had a huge influence in how this boom is unfolding. These are the growing number of the province’s malting firms. 

In order to get barley into beer or spirits such as whisky, it usually has to be malted first (a notable exception is Irish style pot still whiskey, which contains both malted and un-malted barley). Malting any grain consists of three main processes: steeping, germination, and kilning. 

Steeping is exactly what it sounds like. The barley is soaked in water for 24-48 hours, allowing enzymes to form and starches and proteins to be broken down. Germination is a term familiar to many gardeners. Here, little rootlets start to sprout out of the barley. To prevent clumping and rootlet tangling between individual grains, the barley is constantly turned over, either using machinery or by hand with specialized rakes. Back in the old days, when everything was done by hand, the term “monkey shoulder” was used to describe people who had a repetitive strain injury from working on the malting floors all day. But I digress…

Kilning stops the germination in its tracks by heating and drying the barley and preserves the starches needed by brewers and distillers alike. Much of the barley used in brewing and distilling takes advantage of this process by tweaking the type of barley to be malted along with the modification of steeping, germination and kilning times to create unique flavours for their brews and spirits. To add even further creativity, the malted barley can be roasted, to create dark, rich coffee and chocolate flavours.

Just as Alberta has its burgeoning and innovative craft breweries and distilleries, the province’s craft malting firms have followed a similar trend. One such malter that has gotten a lot of attention over the last few years is Red Shed Malting, based in Penhold, Alberta.

Although Red Shed, founded by the Hamill family, has only been open for less than a decade, their barley roots go back several generations. Originally immigrants from Ireland, the Hamills arrived in Alberta in the 1920’s and started growing barley shortly afterwards. The idea behind Red Shed grew out of Joe Hamill’s (fifth generation of the family in Canada) passion for home brewing. The thought was “we have the barley so why don’t we malt it for Joe’s beer as well?” Things have certainly expanded from there!

Growing the barley that they malt allows them to trace exactly where each bag of barley was grown, when it was seeded, harvested and so on. All of this is proudly displayed on each bag of their product and allows brewers and distillers to tell the story of not only what makes their beer and spirits so great, but also where it came from.

Distilleries are a fairly new thing to Alberta, but a growing number of them, such as Grain Henge (from Troubled Monk brewing) and Bridgeland Distillery in Calgary (and the subject of this review) are turning to local malt houses, such as Red Shed, in order to create malted barley that is not only local, but is created to suit their specific needs. It’s a win-win!

The more curious reader may question why I’m talking about malted barley when I’m reviewing a wheat whisky? Because there’s 20% malted barley in the mash of course! This first release in Bridgeland Distillery’s Artisan Collection is a wheat whisky comprised of 80% Red Spring Wheat and 20% malted barley from Hamill Farms and Red Shed Malting. It spent the first year of it’s life in a new American oak barrel before being transferred to a first-fill Bridgeland Distillery Moscato Brandy barrel (aside…their Brandy is delicious as well!). It’s bottled at a cask strength of 57% ABV.

Nose: After having had a few drams from this already, the number one recommendation I would impart on those who buy this is to let it sit for about 30 minutes or so. Be patient with it. Let the full influence of the secondary Brandy cask maturation to come forward. At this point, there is a lovely balance between the whisky and cask. Plenty of toffee greets the nose, which is a classic wheat whisky signature; at least for me. Also lots of dried strawberries and dark chocolate as well as well as some freshly chopped mint. Quite light on the latter though. The spicing is mostly cinnamon and allspice as well as a dusting of ginger. There is just a bit of candied pineapple lurking in the back. Even though this has sat in my glass for quite a while, there is still a bit of an alcoholic sharpness that tickles the nostrils. Not uncommon for a young, cask-strength whisky though.

Palate: This is where this whisky really shines. Dark Wurther’s candies and toffee start things off before an explosion of fruitiness and dark chocolate. Blackberries, ripe cherries and dried strawberries in equal measure. The dark chocolate just keeps on trucking throughout the whole development. It’s that high quality stuff you buy in the organic aisle. The caramel and toffee from the entry sticks around right till the end of the experience. Cinnamon gives this a fairly spicy kick, particularly at the backend of the development. 

Finish: After the heat from the cinnamon fades, lots of tart blackberries and cocoa powder remain, along with a hint of toffee.

With water added

This is very cocoa powder-forward now. The toffee remains as well as the alcoholic sharpness. I’m getting more than a hint of dark raisins and some toasted almonds. Quite the contrast compared to nosing this neat! The candied pineapple is also more prominent. As with the nose, the palate is heavier on the cocoa powder. There’s not as much toffee sweetness, resulting in a drier experience. I really like the water/no water contrast.


As I have said before, me and wheat whisky got off to a very rocky start, but since then, it’s turned into a love affair. Yes, there are some American brands who make good wheat whisky, but it is mostly thanks to Alberta distilleries that my passion for wheat whisky has grown in leaps and bounds. This Bridgeland Distillery release is no exception. They’re just getting started with their Artisan Collection and I’m excited to see what they’ll do next!

Instagram: @paul.bovis

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