When any small business opens its doors for the first time, making sure that they stay open depends upon a variety of factors. One of the most important is establishing a sense of community around your brand. Located in the heart of Calgary, the community of Bridgeland-Riverside’s small-town feel and independent spirit spans over a century. Although businesses have come and gone over the years, residents are fiercely loyal to local establishments and appreciate the creativity and diversity of their shops, restaurants and public spaces.
Having grown up in the Bridgeland community, Bridgeland Distillery co-founder, Daniel Pleznik knows this all to well. Bridgeland’s success has been recognized by all of the awards that their spirits have won over the last few years, including the 2021 Alberta Spirits Awards’ Distillery of the Year. But its sense of place within the local community has garnered a strong local following that allows the distillery to thrive and innovate.
That sense of community also translates to long-lasting partnerships further afield. The term grain-to-glass gets mentioned a lot when discussing craft spirits, but many times it’s just mentioned in passing without delving into what it means for each distillery. For Bridgeland, it means establishing relationships with local farms in order to source grains that are grown, harvested and even malted within the surrounding rich farmlands of southern Alberta. The barley for their Glenbow single malt whisky (review coming soon), for instance, originated from a single family farm (Hamill Farms in Penhold, south of Red Deer).
Bridgeland Distillery’s logo, which depicts the nearby Reconciliation Bridge (formerly Langevin Bridge), is itself a reflection of the surrounding community. It is both a symbol of its ability to connect the population of Bridgeland-Riverside in a literal sense as well as bringing Calgarians and Indigenous Peoples together to remember past harms and heal historical injustices. It is times like these when inclusive communities make this world a better place.
The Bridgeland Distillery spirit in my glass today isn’t yet a whisky, but it’s well on its way to becoming one. The Taber Berbon Spirit is their take on a Bourbon-style mashbill, but with a very unique twist. Using 60% corn from Molnars Farm in Taber, 32% malted barley and 8% wheat (the latter two from Hamill Farms), the mashbill lacks the rye grain that typically gets used in this style of spirit. The high barley content reflects an interesting little trend that features a grain that usually exists as less than 10% of the mashbill in most Bourbons. This release is aged in new American oak (#4 char) for one year and is bottled at 45% abv.
Nose: This nose will be very familiar to those that have tried other high-barley Bourbons, such as those produced by Boulder Spirits. Yes, there is a slight buttery popcorn vibe, but lying underneath is an almost Scotch-like feel. This presents itself in the form of light tropical notes of mango and mandarin orange as well as barley sugar and a light scent of cocoa powder. The dusty grain bin note that I get from young wheat spirit is very faint. The barrel has obviously not fully taken hold, but there is a little bit of vanilla and sponge toffee sweetness to let you know it’s there.
Palate: The entry is buttery with a slight honey sweetness. A little vanilla cream is in there, for sure. The transition into the development introduces orchard fruits alongside the citrus. Mostly ripe pears. Mid-development brings back that cocoa powder I got on the nose. What starts out as light caramel transitions to dark sponge toffee at the end of the development. This is actually spicier than I was expecting, given its proof and mashbill with cinnamon, ginger and even a grating of nutmeg and a crack of fresh black pepper.
There is definitely a youthful grain character to this spirit, yet it doesn’t come off as harsh in any way. That’s a testament to the new make, which I really should try sometime. There’s so much going on here that it’s sometimes difficult to concentrate on it all.
Finish: Medium in length and a lovely balance between sweet, spice, sour and bitter. It’s really a combination of all the notes from the development fading in unison.
With water added
The char from the barrel is a little stronger with a few drops of water. The citrus shows up as a lemon/lime drop candy note. There’s a fresh cut hay character as well. Honestly, I would never guess that I’m nosing a spirit that was made with a Bourbon-style mash right now. There’s a nice floral nature to this too. The entry is a little sweeter with floral honey. Gone is the pear, replaced by quite a strong apricot note. The cocoa powder has faded significantly, but the dial has been turned up on the ginger.
This one caught me completely off guard. I had a preconceived notion that this was going to be a light, sweet spirit with a strong grainy youthfulness. That did not turn out to be the case whatsoever. There are some youthful moments here and there, but the quality of the new make and the uniqueness of the mashbill gave me some delightfully unexpected turns along the way. I will keep a very keen eye on this spirit as it transforms into a whisky. So should you.