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The 2018 Rum Howler Awards – The Micro Distillers

A great change has occurred in the landscape of spirits worldwide which is sure to change the industry forever. This change, which began several years ago is all about the economics of distilling. It wasn’t that long ago, that spirits writers could write confidently about the significant start-up cost of a distillery which served to act as an effective barrier to entryinto the industry. The cost of a new distillery, was not millions; it was tens of millions if not hundreds. Not so anymore.

Yongehurst Distillery

The change began in the beer industry first with the introduction of Craft Brewing. New technology brought the start-up cost of a Micro-Brewery down to a point where hobbyists and small businessmen could not only dream of brewing their own beer for their own consumption, they could actually make and sell beer as a business enterprise. These new small breweries could much more effectively innovate and retool their process to match their product to consumer whims and desires and their customer base began to grow. Small Micro-Breweries began to pop up across North America, and collectively they have garnered a significant share of the beer market.

Now the same thing is happening in the distilling industry. The start-up cost of a new distillery has changed by at least an order of magnitude, if not two. And the same type of innovation which was the hallmark of the Micro-Brewers is being realized by those the Micro-distillers. Single Malt Whiskies, Blackstrap Rums, Small Batch Vodka and Gins, and all manner of flavoured spirits are beginning to pour into the market place taking up a big chunk of the retail space that once belonged to the big guys.

The Micro-Distillers are here, and more are coming. Whisky, Rum, Vodka and Gin will never be the same again.

In recognition of the importance of the new arrivals, these are My Rum Howler Awards for the Best Micro-Distilled Craft spirits in North America.

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The 2018 Rum Howler Award for Best Craft Micro Distilled Vodka

and the winner is:

Last Mountain Hand Crafted Vodka

Runner-up Award to: Sid’s Handcrafted Vodka

Honourable Mention to: Shadow in the Lake Vodka

This category pays homage to the young Craft Distilling Industry which is flourishing across North America.

Last Mountain Hand Crafted Vodka is produced in Saskatchewan (one batch at a time) under the care and supervision of the Distillers, Colin and Meredith Schmidt. The Vodka is triple distilled and filtered three times through stone carbon before it is brought to 40% alcohol by volume and bottled.

Sid’s Handcrafted Vodka is produced by Goodridge & Williams, an independent craft distilling company located in Vancouver, British Columbia (Canada). The Vodka is produced from a slow distillation process which includes distillation through 38 column plates.

Shadow In the Lake Vodka which pays homage to the legendary beast Ogopogo. The spirit is produced from 100 % wheat grain grown in the South Peace area of British Columbia which is ground on sit . It is produced one batch at a time by Legend Distilling is a small craft distillery in the heart of B.C. Okanagan Wine Country.

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The 2018 Rum Howler Award for Best Craft Micro Distilled Gin

and the winner is:

Granny’s Gin (Last Mountain Distillery)

Runner-up Award to: Botanica Spiritvs Gin

Honourable Mention to: Eau Claire Parlour Gin

Granny’s Gin pays homage to Colin Schmidt’s grandmother, Muriel who came to Canada back in 1946 as a war bride from England and has been known to enjoy a Gin and Soda. Since Colin began to distill spirits at Last Mountain Distillery, his Granny has been asking for a nice dry gin to enjoy, one that is ‘not too florally’ which is how his Granny like to enjoy it.

Botanica Spiritvs Gin is part of the new wave of modern ‘American Style’ gins where the flavor of Juniper is pulled back to allow the other botanicals to have more expression in the spirit. Botanica is produced in small batches (less than 300 bottles per) at Falcon Spirits Distillery in Richmond California. The base spirit for the gin is a Non-GMO (Non-Genetically Modified Organism) grain spirit which has been 6 times distilled and carbon filtered to remove impurities.

Eau Claire Distillery opened as Alberta’s first craft distillery in the summer of 2014. The facility is located 35 minutes southwest of downtown Calgary in the picturesque Hamlet of Turner Valley. The name ‘Eau Claire’ has historical significance in Alberta, meaning ‘clear water’, and is representative of the clear water from the nearby Rocky Mountains that is used as the water source of the distillery.

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The 2018 Rum Howler Award for Best Craft Micro Distilled Rum

and the winner is:

Harbour Rum (Yongehurst Distillery)

Runner-up Award to: Last Mountain 306 Original Saskatchewan Rum

Honourable Mention to: Last Straw Distillery Black Strap Rum

This category pays homage to the young Craft Distilling Industry which is flourishing across North America.

The Yongehurst Distillery is a brand new Micro-Distillery located at 346 Westmoreland Ave near Dupont and Dovercourt in Toronto, Ontario. The facility is owned by long-time friends, Rocco Panacci and John-Paul Sacco who are making what just might be Toronto’s first micro-distilled rum (Harbour Rum) upon their brand new small pot/column combination still.

In 2012 the Last Mountain Distillery sent me samples of both their Vodka and whisky for me to taste and review. I was surprised at the quality of each spirit and have kept tabs on the folks at Last Mountain ever since. Recently the distillery released a brand new rum distilled (in Saskatchewan) from molasses and aged for two years in once filled bourbon barrels. Last Mountain’s 306 Original Saskatchewan Rum rated the highest score I have assigned to a two-year old rum.

The Last Straw Distillery Blackstrap Rum (and the new make blackstrap spirit) is one the few rums in the world actually made from blackstrap molasses rather than sweet molasses. One of the reasons there are so few is because blackstrap is much harder to work with than sweet molasses as the sugar content is lower, and the sugars are harder for the yeast to access. The tradeoff is that blackstrap molasses gives a richer, more robust flavour when it is distilled. It took the Distillery about 6 months (of experimentation) to discover a method to obtain reasonable yields out of blackstrap molasses without sacrificing flavour.

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The 2018 Rum Howler Award for Best Craft Micro Distilled Whisky

and the winner is:

Last Mountain Private Reserve Whisky 

Runner-up Award to: Two Brewers Yukon Single Malt – Special Finishes

Honourable Mention to:  Sonoma County Rye Whiskey

This category pays homage to the young Craft Distilling Industry which is flourishing across North America.

Last Mountain Private Reserve Whisky sits at that threshold with perhaps only a few more years of aging needed to cross that fine line which would send my scoring into the stratosphere. This is no fault of the whisky, The Last Mountain Distillery just hasn’t been around long enough to have any of its whisky reach that next level of maturity. Colin and Meredith have only been distilling whisky for a six years, and it seems they are well on their way to mastering the craft.

Yukon Spirits produces a Classic Single Malt Whisky, a Peated Single Malt Whisky, and what they call their Two Brewers Single Malt Whisky (Special Finishes). In the case of the Special Finishes, yummy is the key word in my tasting notes! And that yummy flavour is robust and complex.

The Sonoma County Distilling Company is located in Sonoma County, California. The company was founded in 2010 with the intention to bring spirits to the market using a ‘Grain to Glass’ philosophy. The production is done in-house including mashing and fermentation of grains, direct-fire copper pot distillation, maturing the spirits in American oak barrels, as well as bottling and labeling.

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Photo Courtesy Brittany Bellamy (All Rights Reserved)

The 2018 Rum Howler Award for Best North American Craft Micro Distillery

and the winner is:

Last Mountain Distillery

Runner-up Award to: Yukon Spirits

Colin and Meredith Schmidt have only been distilling whisky for a six years, and it seems they are well on their way to mastering the craft. They make outstanding Whisky, Rum, Gin and Vodka such that the Last Mountain Distillery was represented in each of the Awards Categories.

In 2009, the folks at Yukon Brewing decided that it was time to expand their horizons, and so they formed a sister company called Yukon Spirits, grabbed a still and began to make whisky. This whisky which has been produced for several years now has placed Yukon Spirits firmly into Canada’s whisky fabric.

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rh-winner2017The Winners

The 2018 Rum Howler Award for Best Craft Micro Distilled Vodka: Last Mountain Hand Crafted Vodka

The 2018 Rum Howler Award for Best Craft Micro Distilled Gin: Granny’s Gin (Last Mountain Distillery)

The 2018 Rum Howler Award for Best Craft Micro Distilled Rum: Harbour Rum (Yongehurst Distillery)

The 2018 Rum Howler Award for Best Craft Micro Distilled Whisky: Last Mountain Private Reserve Whisky 

The 2018 Rum Howler Award for Best North American Craft Micro Distillery: Last Mountain Distillery

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rh-runner-up-2017The Runners-Up

The 2018 Rum Howler 2017 Runner-Up Award for Best Craft Micro Distilled Vodka: Sid’s Handcrafted Vodka

The 2018 Rum Howler Runner-Up Award for Best Craft Micro Distilled Gin: Botanica Spiritvs Gin

The 2018 Rum Howler Runner-Up Award for Best Craft Micro Distilled Rum: Last Mountain 306 Original Saskatchewan Rum

The 2018 Rum Howler Runner-Up Award for Best Craft Micro Distilled Whisky: Two Brewers Yukon Single Malt – Special Finishes

The 2018 Rum Howler Runner-Up Award for Best North American Craft Micro Distillery: Yukon Spirits

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The Honourable Mentions

rh-hm-2017The 2018 Rum Howler Honourable Mention Award for Best Craft Micro Distilled Vodka: Shadow in the Lake Vodka

The 2018 Rum Howler Honourable Mention Award for Best Craft Micro Distilled Gin: Eau Claire Parlour Gin

The 2018 Rum Howler Honourable Mention Award for Best Craft Micro Distilled Rum: Last Straw Distillery Black Strap Rum

The 2018 Rum Howler Honourable Mention Award for Best Craft Micro Distilled Whisky: Sonoma County Rye Whiskey

 

 

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