Work-life balance. It’s a buzzword these days. Frequently bantered about at offices and businesses around the globe, work-like balance is a mantra and a motto. Something you can put up on your website for the world to see. But here’s the problem. Sometimes that’s all it is…a motto.
If you’re not careful in real life, your existence revolves around your work. It’s all you ever think of. Your next promotion, busting your butt to get that project done ahead of schedule to make your boss happy (or as happy as bosses can possibly be), equating long hours to feeling “more productive.”
But life is more than that. It’s about getting out from behind the counter or your desk and discovering that there is more to life than work.
Make no mistake, Matt Widmer and Keith Robertson, founder/owners of Wild Life Distillery in Canmore, Alberta, have had to work hard to get to their current destination. After reading through their entire blog (which is an excellent marketing tool, by the way), it’s crystal clear that, although they’re still working 50 hours a week, they have always made sure to take time away from the distillery to fish, surf, mountain bike, hike and everything in-between. Taking the time to pause, reflect, recharge, spend time with friends and loved ones, and remember why we are “here”, in the global sense.
Since 2017, when the distillery officially opened to the public, Matt and Keith have come a long way, but they have made sure to stay true to themselves by always taking time to enjoy the scenery around them and to make use of what their local land has to offer. Literally. For example, their annual Alberta Botanical Gin releases (which I am dying to try) use only locally foraged ingredients.
As much as possible, this mantra of sourcing local translates to a chapter in the distillery’s history that Keith and Matt have been looking forward to since they opened. That chapter is about whisky!
Released in November of 2022, their first whisky makes ample use of the most Canadian of grains…wheat. Their wheat whisky uses 100% locally grown grains, with a mash bill of 61% wheat, 26% malted barley, and 13% rye. As an aside, I’m very happy to see that Wild Life, like Bridgeland in Calgary, uses a high proportion of barley in their mash bill! Poured from eight barrels, all at least 3.5 years old, it’s bottled at 45.3%.
Nose: As I’ve said before, young wheat whisky runs the risk of having a paint-thinner type character. That’s nowhere to be seen here. It is a bit light, but that’s to be expected with a large percentage of wheat in the mash. Some toffee with a hint of orange initially. Barley sugar is coming up now, along with a slight whiff of milk chocolate. There is a pleasant minty note which gives a freshness to the dram. It’s ever so slightly floral as well. Cinnamon rounds this out.
Palate: Very creamy and sweet on the entry with vanilla and honey. You need to swish this around for the development to unfold. The lack of spice initially starts to slowly build late in development. Again, this being a predominantly wheat whisky, it’s to be expected. The cinnamon, toffee, and cracked black pepper culminate in a mild zing on the tongue before the finish. That creaminess on the entry transitions to milk chocolate during the first half of the development and finally to cocoa powder, which counteracts the lingering creaminess. The floral note on the nose reappears mid-way through the development but pretty subtle. If anything, it helps to balance out the sweetness.
Finish: This is on the short to medium side, but is nicely balanced. Most of the sweetness fades early in the finish, but just enough hangs on to counteract the black pepper, which sticks around the longest. I get a cooling menthol as I breathe in and out after I have swallowed the whisky.
With water added
Even with a 1/2 teaspoon of water added to my remaining 3/4 oz., the nose has really opened up. The toffee note has really increased, as has the floral character. The balance between the two is really lovely. That barley sugar is quite prominent too. I was a little worried that the palate would be quite subdued, but again, this whisky surprised me. Admittedly, it is a little thinner and slightly more floral but balances quite well with the toffee/honey sweetness. The cocoa powder is definitely still there towards the finish and sticks around much longer.
Although their first whisky lacked a bit of heft, from a marketing perspective, this was a pretty smart move. Wild Life has spent the better part of five years courting a faithful gin and cocktail crowd. Releasing cask-strength rye or single malt might have been a turn-off to those in their community who were excited to try something new. This approachable first release will hopefully be accessible enough to spirit drinkers from various spectrums. For the whisky geeks, it offers a glimpse into Matt and Keith’s approach to blending with a focus on subtlety and balance. With rye, single malt, and peated single malt maturing in their warehouse and a promise to release a new whisky every 8-12 months, there is plenty to get excited about!