Close your eyes for a moment and transport yourself back to primary school (for those of you in Alberta whom this memory is so fresh that it’s less than six years ago, please stop reading ;-P). Ready for a quick math lesson? What’s the area of a building floor roughly 8 m long and 8 m wide? 64 sq m (~750 sq ft)! For those of you who did that without Siri, Google Home or Alexa, one bonus point for you.
Now think what you could stuff in there. Bachelor pad, small retail space, two car garage…distillery?!
Amazing as it may sound, that’s about how large (or small) Strathcona Spirits distillery is. Within that diminutive space, North America’s smallest distillery manages to carry out all the processes involved in making spirits, right down to the bottling and labelling (although some maturation occurs offsite). One of these days, I’m going to have to take a tour and just witness how all of that is possible.
This isn’t the only restriction that founder Adam Smith had to navigate in order to bring Strathcona Spirits to fruition. It’s been less than ten years since the Alberta Goverment passed a law that even allowed craft distilleries such as Strathcona Spirits to exist. Prior to this, a distillery had to produce 2,500 hL (250,000 L or 1,250 American standard barrels) of spirit a year. A prohibitive amount for all but the mega-distilleries, like Alberta Distillers in Calagary.
Being Edmonton’s (capitol of our province, for those of you outside of Canada) first distillery, further hurdles lay in their path. In 2016, the year the distillery was established, stores selling liquor had to be 500 m away from each other. Unfortunately, Strathcona Spirits fell within some other store’s radius, but the regulation was finally loosened so that the distillery could sell their expressions on-site.
For those of us, including myself, who have only seriously been into whisky and other spirits for just a few years, it’s hard to imagine just how much effort and determination it has taken to get to this point. A point where we can bask in all of the choice that our province’s craft distilleries, such as Strathcona Spirits, have to offer, no matter what tipple you desire.
Part of Strathcona Spirits’ Dreamland releases, the whisky in my glass today is the Pedro’s Dreamland. This release is a blend of five charred new American oak quarter casks. Three contained 100% Hard Red wheat, one contained 100% rye and one contained a mashbill of 74% Hard Red wheat and 26% rye. The whisky was aged for 2.5 years before being finished in ex-Pedro Ximenez Sherry casks for 1.5 years. It’s bottled at 46.66% abv.
Nose: Young, high-wheat whiskies have such a distinctive smell. More than any other type, it has this slightly dusty grain bin character that I can really get behind. There’s enough cask influence to not make it tip too far that way though. I’m getting a pretty strong frosted mini-wheat vibe from this as well. The nose evolves quite a bit after this has sat in the glass. I’m getting some cherry filling, like you would find in a turnover pastry. A light sponge toffee is starting to come up now as well as some sweet cinnamon. It took a while, but I’m finally getting some of the PX cask. Dark chocolate nut bar with a couple of raisins.
I love how this whisky evolves over time in the glass. I’m surprised that I’m not getting more of the cask finish on the nose, but I think the palate might correct that. Let’s see!
Palate: Yep. I was right (engage smug mode). The dried dark fruit hits the tip of my tongue almost straight away. Prunes mostly, but also some raisins. It’s not a Sherry bomb, though. There’s a nice balance between the spirit, initial maturation and the PX finish. The entry gives me some orange vanilla cream after a few sips. The development brings back some of that young wheat character I got off the nose along with the sponge toffee. The dark fruit and nut bar is now more milk chocolate. The backend of the development isn’t all that spicy. Not surprising given the dominant grain. Still, the casks deliver a small dose of cinnamon and a touch of clove.
Finish: This fades a little faster than I would like, but it is still well balanced. The chocolate and toffee keep the sweetness chugging along. A light pepper tingles the tongue at the end.
With water added
Quite an evolution with a few drops of water added. Lots more toffee and what I can only describe as a cherry flavoured sugar cereal. Cherry bon bons too. There’s less of the grain bin character that I got without water. I actually get more of the PX cask on the palate. Much more chocolate at the beginning. This fades a little starting mid-development, but is replaced by the dried fruit. The spice is turned up a bit at the end of the development. The youthful grain character has been reduced. I almost want a little more of it, to be honest. The slightly spicier finish has been lengthened a bit.
This whisky was a little bit unbalanced when I first popped the cork. It was a bit too grain forward and I was getting very little of the barrel finish. I only say this in case anyone else experiences the same thing and becomes disappointed too quickly. I never judge or review a whisky until it’s been open for at least a week and has been drained past the shoulder of the bottle. Instead, get to know it a little, share with friends or just sip and binge Netflix while it’s snowing outside. Notice how it changes and, more often than not, you’ll turn that frown upside down.
I had a similar experience with their Prairie Dreamland release (their first whisky), which was finished in Cognac and Armagnac casks. It took a couple of weeks to open up. After that it was lovely.
The choice of casking here was a smart one. Dumping this into quarter casks helped to turbo charge the contact with the wood, imparting the flavours from the cask much faster. Finishing these Dreamland whiskies in casks that add dried fruits, chocolate and darker baking spices really helps to balance out the strong grain notes from the predominantly wheat spirit. After some patience, this whisky delivered a nice, balanced experience that Strathcona Spirits is quickly gaining a reputation for.