Still Waters Distillery
November 30, 2011
New Flash – December 1, 2011. Just in time for Christmas, Still Waters Distillery has opened a shop right at the distillery. They have a good stock on hand of their single malt vodka along with a selection of imported malt whiskies. And yes, they will remain open after Christmas has passed.
Still Waters’ shop is open between 10am and 6pm Monday to Friday or Saturday between 1pm and 6pm. The distillery and shop are located in north Toronto at 150 Bradwick Drive, Unit #26, Concord, Ontario, L4K 4M7. That’s just south of Langstaff Road, one block west of Dufferin St. The distillery is tucked in behind #140 and #160.
For more information you can call them at 905-482-2080 or send an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.
It’s no secret that canadianwhisky.org is a big fan of their Still Waters single malt vodka. Here is the review posted shortly after we first tasted it in 2010.
A distillery in an industrial mall on the northern outskirts of Toronto? How did that happen? How could something as evocative as a distillery end up there? But more than that, how come a city as large as Toronto – with over 2.5 million inhabitants, indeed, Canada’s largest city – has only one such establishment? New distilleries are a rare and endangered species in Canada where you have to search long and hard, and in the most unlikely of places to even find one. Here in the land of peace, order, and good governance, government regulation appears to strongly discourage new starters.
But it wasn’t always that way. In pioneer days, when Governor John Simcoe was there to assure King George III that his Canadian outpost was safe and secure, he was able to satisfy the monarch that all was (mostly) well in the colonies. After all, he reported, Toronto, then called York, was home to possibly hundreds of small distillers. To him, this suggested a community with an eye to the future.
Then, as now, Toronto, which sits right on the shores of Lake Ontario, had ready access to fresh water, to Southern Ontario grain, and to easy shipping routes. It was here, in 1837 (a year that would be surprisingly turbulent in the otherwise peaceful history of our nation), that brothers-in-law, William Gooderham and James Worts established one of Canada’s most productive and highly regarded whisky distilleries.
Sadly, the massive stone Gooderham and Worts distillery in downtown Toronto closed its doors as a distillery for a final time in 1990. Its characterful red brick Victorian out-buildings have been converted into upscale boutiques, restaurants, lofts and condos, called “The Distillery District.” Much promoted as a tourist “destination” the Distillery District houses several bars that feature vodka, Scotch, and cheap liqueurs, but give barely a nod to Canadian whisky, despite the rich heritage that surrounds them. So much for history.
And so, with the distilling era at Gooderham and Worts now passed, Toronto whisky-making starts afresh in an industrial mall in the northern suburban town of Concord, Ontario. Long-time chums, Barry Bernstein and Barry Stein, the men behind this new distillery, are every bit as enthusiastic as William Gooderham and James Worts were when they set up their shop on the shores of Lake Ontario. And if the early products from Bernstein and Stein’s stills are examples of what is to come, they stand a pretty good chance to be every bit as successful as their distilling forbears.
Their Still Waters single malt vodka is a rich, creamy, malty, clear spirit that qualifies as vodka only by definition. To the discerning palate, this is malted-barley eau-de-vie. It’s a drink that once tried declares itself as decidedly moreish. Grey Goose may have a nicer bottle, but Still Waters single malt vodka, which is triple distilled to 95% alcohol, and charcoal filtered, shows just how much flavour high-strength distillate can retain when crafted with care by people who think whisky.
Whisky, you see, is the partners’ first love and already nearly a dozen 40-gallon white oak barrels of nascent Still Waters single malt whisky lie sleeping at the back of the distillery. Their new-make whisky spirit is double distilled to about 70% alc./vol. Rich, creamy, and ever so malty, with hints of ripe red fruits, toasted grain, and nary an off note, the new make has all the earmarks of great Speyside whisky spirit.
Bernstein and Stein left successful careers in business to set off on this new (ad)venture. Despite family fears that they had taken leave of not only their jobs, but their senses as well, the team forged ahead, beginning by importing and bottling Scotch single malts under their Premium Bottlers label. But the more they bottled and sold other people’s whisky the more they realized what they really wanted to do was to make their own.
Several years of research and planning led them to engage a German still manufacturer, Christian Carl, to design a distillery to their specifications. Three copper distillation chambers – a pot, a four-plate column, and a 12-plate column – are linked to allow maximum flexibility in the production of new spirit. The heart of the single malt whisky operation though, is the 450-litre copper pot.
It’s not commonly known, but most Canadian distillers use pot stills to make at least some of their so-called “flavouring” whiskies. Whisky lovers who are more familiar with Scottish distillation practices often talk about the importance of a pot still to the flavour of the final product. What most people do not know, however, is that in Canada, unlike in Scotland, the beer, or wort, is not filtered before it goes to the still. This means that all the grain from the mash goes into the still right along with the wort. True, Glenora distillery in Nova Scotia and Shelter Point in British Columbia follow the Scottish tradition of using clear wort for their single malts. But virtually every other pot-distilled whisky in Canada passes first through a beer still – a column – for an initial distillation and to separate out the spent grains. Only then does it go into the pot still as high wines for a second distillation.
Still Waters has merged the two approaches, introducing a new twist to Canadian-style pot distillation. Most malt distillers will filter the beer before its first distillation. Not so here. At Still Waters the unfiltered wort goes not to a beer still, but directly into the pot still for what the team calls the “stripping run.” “We feel this contributes to the richness of the flavour,” says Bernstein. Taste tests would be inclined to agree.
As the spirit leaves the pot still, it passes through a short rectifier, but since the plates are wide open, the rectifier acts more like the lyne arm on a traditional Scottish copper pot still and really does little more than provide additional exposure to copper. No question, the new spirit is clean. A second distillation, also in the copper pot still built for them by Carl Company, yields a spirit of about 70% alcohol, ready to be put into barrels for ageing.
Recognizing the primacy of wood in making flavourful whisky, Bernstein and Stein use ex-Bourbon barrels bought from Boubon distillers along with new oak barrels custom crafted for them by a wine cooper in Prince Edward County, Ontario. Although in Canada, spirit must spend at least three years in wood before it qualifies as whisky, the Still Waters team expects to wait much longer than that before releasing their first single malt whisky. How long? Only tasting will tell. Meanwhile, they have their Still Waters vodka to generate cash flow.
Patience may be a virtue when making whisky, but so, it seems, is impatience. Bernstein and Stein know they may have to wait many years before their first malt whisky is ready, and they are clearly willing to do so. But at the same time, they are also keen to whet the palates of Canadian whisky lovers for Still Waters whisky. The solution? The team is experimenting with buying aged whiskies from other Canadian distillers then blending them with just enough Still Waters malt spirit to call them their own.
Focus groups at Toronto’s Whisky Live event were enthusiastic about two such blends when tasted head-to-head with an unnamed, but very successful Canadian whisky. Focus group members also gave their opinions on a collection of proposed new bottles (pictured at top) as well. The team is analyzing feedback to decide which whisky, if either, will make it into a Still Waters bottle. It’s too soon to say what the results will be, but here are some initial tasting notes for both blends, and the control. Why not leave a comment and add your own opinions to the discussion?
Control whisky (a top-selling Canadian whisky)
Nose: Vanilla, caramel, bourbon, hints of oak, dry wood, hints of spirit, quite expressive, rich rye spices featuring cloves and cinnamon.
Palate: Creamy vanilla, new oak, newly cut lumber, lots of rye spices – especially hot ginger and warming hot pepper. Sweet, with slight caramel notes, and exceptionally well balanced. A lovely citric bitterness in the middle showcases the wood.
Finish: Lovely long oak and vanilla, with hot pepper and hints of sweetness.
Empty Glass: Caramel and fresh-cut wood.
Still Waters Blend A
Nose: Creamy, with loads of rye and hints of rye grain, sweet ripe fruit and heavier dark fruit, caramel, and hard candy.
Palate: Very robust and very spicy, with rye spices and hints of ginger ale, lots of pepper, very pleasant heat, mild citric notes, hints of citric zest balanced against a creamy butterscotch sweetness.
Finish: Slow fade on pepper, spices, and citric pith.
Empty Glass: Dusty rye, humbugs, roasted grain.
Still Waters Blend B
Nose: Malty new spirit, slightly floral, lightly fruity, smells a lot like young malt whisky. Really quite unique. Simple, but quite interesting.
Palate: Very fruity and a bit malty, with hints of lime and citric pith, ripe pears, tingling rye spices, restrained hot pepper. The pith really lends the citric notes a refreshing and cleansing quality without losing a creamy essence of vanilla soy milk.
Finish: Medium. Some peppery heat, cleansing citric zest, malty nuances.
Empty Glass: Not much left the next morning, except a hint of cereal.
Well there you have it. Which of these would you most like to find in your glass some Friday evening after a hard week at work?
But actually, that is not all. With luck, come January we’ll post tasting notes for the newly distilled spirit for yet another Still Waters whisky, this one made from 80% rye grain and 20% malted barley, and distilled right at Still Waters Distillery in that most unlikely spot for a distillery, an industrial mall in Concord, Ontario. Stay tuned.
Note: Canada’s craft distilling industry is still in its infancy, but a vibrant community of craft distillers has already established itself in the U.S. For more information, visit Matt Colglazier’s micro-distilling website, americancraftspirits.