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Topshelf Vodka

Review: Top Shelf Vodka 83.5/100
a review by Chip Dykstra (Aka Arctic Wolf)
Posted August 20, 2021

Top Shelf Distillers are located in Perth, a town in Eastern Ontario, located on the Tay River, about 80 kilometres southwest of Ottawa. At one time Perth was home to four distilleries, the two most famous, McLaren and Spalding & Stewart, were located in limestone buildings alongside the Tay River catering to the tastes of the early Scottish settlement by producing malt whisky similar to the Scottish style of the day.

Prohibition (the Ontario Temperance Act of 1916) is largely blamed for the demise of the distilling industry in Perth, but now, about one hundred years later, Top Shelf Distillers have began to once again bottle spirits in Perth. Vodka and Gin are their core brands, making up most of the distilleries total volume with their primary market being Ontario, although they have also began to sell their spirits in Manitoba, Saskatchewan, and Alberta. In addition to Gin and Vodka, the distillery produces a number of different Moonshine brands and they have just began to bottle and sell their Perth Whisky.

Top Shelf Vodka is distilled from locally-sourced corn and bottled at 40 % alcohol by volume.

When tasting Topshelf Vodka for the first time I served it side by side with a few others as part of one of my Rum Howler Vodka Tastings. The spirits were first served chilled where each one was sipped, then swallowed as a shot. After each vodka had been tested, I served a variety of food which my guests then sampled while intermittently sampling each vodka with different food pairings. The tasting was concluded with a cocktail serving for each spirit and my guests were asked to share their thoughts about each vodka.

This review relates the information gathered at the tasting as well as my experience when tasting the vodka on my own in isolation from the other spirits.

The First Impression 8/10

I had to look twice at the Top Shelf Vodka bottle when it arrived as at first I thought the label had been misprinted with the Top Shelf logo on upside down. I checked the Gin Bottle they had sent me and saw that this was no misprint, the distillery has this quirk of the upside down logo on all of its products, and on its website. I suspect the aim is to catch someone’s attention and in my case it worked.

You probably have noticed the green One Bottle, One Tree logo sticker in the upper right corner of the bottle. This is to let the consumer know that for every bottle of Top Shelf Vodka sold at the LCBO the distillery commits to have one tree planted within 100km of the purchase site. It is there way of contributing to the protection of Canada’s forests and woodlands.

Overall the bottle and label presentation is adequate. The label has a sort of ‘we printed this label on our home printer’ look to it. I see this a lot with the craft spirit producers, and I guess my thought is that craft or artisinal spirits should incorporate more craft and art in the label to give the consumer more confidence that the new producer has brought the proper care and attention to the spirit inside.

The First Sip 17/20

When I sampled Top Shelf Vodka for the first time I did so in a side by side tasting with two other vodkas, Taynton Bay Vodka, and Spring Mill Vodka. I had a small group of friends over (there were four of us in all) and we sampled the spirits after they had been chilled for several hours in my freezer. The idea was to taste three of the new spirits released recently from some of the new distilleries in Canada. Reviews of the other two spirits are forthcoming but I will give you the spoiler now and say that Top Shelf Vodka was the favoured spirit of all of those gathered.

Top Shelf Vodka was slightly thickened and displayed light aromas of grain spice with hints of lemon citrus. The first sip was clean, lightly sweet with the light grain spices which were apparent on the nose freshening the palate. There was perhaps just a hint of lemon balm but as the vodka warmed this flavour did not strengthen and we noticed very little breakdown of the clean light and spicy grain flavour. The spirit appears to be a crowd-pleaser.

Taking a Shot 17/20

In the next phase of the tasting, I poured another small shot of Vodka into each of my guests shot glasses (mine as well) and we all took a larger swallow of the Top Shelf Vodka. The effect was pleasing although I should note that there was just a hint of burn as the spirit went down (not all of us noticed the light burn). There was also a light aftertaste which to some seemed slightly metallic, but others felt it was more of a light bitterness which reminded one of my guests as the aftertaste of rye (he was disappointed to learn this was a 100 % corn vodka).

When I sample the vodka on my own a few days later I did so with the spirit at room temperature, I did notice that the metallic taste was slightly more pronounced, and that a slightly sweet lemon flavour seem to linger as well. I should point out though that this amount of breakdown in flavour was much less than I was expecting. I guess you could say I was impressed.

Out For Dinner 16/20

The next phase of my tasting was to sample each of the Vodka spirits as we enjoyed an assortment of table snacks.  I had made a Pepperoni Pizza and also bought a Turkish Loaf for the tasting, and my friends had brought food along as well, teriyaki chicken wings, picked tomatoes, and even some hot dogs that I quickly grilled on the barbecue. I have learned that a good vodka will act as a palate cleanser allowing each person to enjoy their food a little more thoroughly if preceded by a sip of of vodka.

When I sampled Topshelf with the different foods I was left with a mild feeling of indifference. A small swallow of the vodka between bites of food did not seem to make any meaningful difference in the way the food tasted to me. A very good vodka will usually bring the spicy and salty flavours of the food more into focus helping you to enjoy them. Topshelf Vodka seemed to have no effect either positively or negatively.

Cocktail Hour 25.5/30

I mixed a Vodka Daiquiri (see recipe below) for each of my guests at the tasting, and everyone without exception enjoyed the lightly tart cocktail that resulted when I mixed with Topshelf. We felt the cocktail was perhaps just a little sweeter than one we we would normally enjoy, but that makes complete sense as corn vodkas usually carry a little sweetness from the corn into the cocktail experience. I also mixed a Vesper Martin and found the clean lightly spicy flavour of Topshelf Vodka is a good match there as well.

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Final Score 83.5/100

A Solid Vodka which can be served neat as a ‘shot style’ vodka and as well as one which works very well in cocktails.

If you are interested in comparing more scores, here is a link to my other published Vodka Reviews.

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Suggested Cocktail

 

The Vodka Daiquiri

2 oz  Topshelf Vodka
1 oz  fresh Lime Juice
1/2 oz Sugar Syrup (1:1 ratio)
Ice

Add the three ingredients into a metal shaker with ice
Shake vigorously until the outside of the shaker frosts.
Strain into a nice cocktail glass

Garnish (if desired) with a slice of lime
And of course…enjoy!

If  you are interested in more of my cocktail recipes, please click this link (Cocktails and Recipes) for more of my mixed drink recipes!

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You may (loosely) interpret my score as follows.

0-25     A spirit with a rating this low would actually kill you.
26-49   Depending upon your fortitude you might actually survive this.
50 -59  You are safe to drink this…but you shouldn’t.
60-69   Substandard swill which you may offer to people you do not want to see again.
70-74    Now we have a fair mixing Vodka.  Accept this but make sure it is mixed into a cocktail.
75-79    You may begin to serve this to friends, again for cocktails only.
80-84    We begin to enjoy this Vodka in shots, although cocktails are preferable.
85-89    Excellent!  Shots or cocktails!
90-94    You may want to hoard this for yourself.
95-97.5 The Cream of the Crop
98+       I haven’t met this bottle yet…but I want to.

Very loosely we may put my scores into terms that you may be familiar with on a Gold, Silver, and  Bronze medal  scale as follows:

70 – 80    Bronze Medal (Recommended only as a mixer)
81 – 89     Silver Medal (Recommended  for shots and mixing cocktails)
90 – 95     Gold Medal (Highly Recommended for Vodka Shots and Sublime Cocktails)
95.5+       Platinum Award (Highest Recommendation)

 

 

 

 

 
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