Vodkas Spring Forth

WineAlign Spirits Review
by Margaret Swaine

Margaret Swaine

Margaret Swaine

As sure as flowers pop up in spring, so does vodka. Vodkas in their truest form, crystal clear and unflavoured, are the most sought after in the Americas (over 80 percent of the vodka category’s sales in the US are attributed to non-flavoured). In the US, by the end of 2016, there were 1,600 vodka brands in the market. While Canada offers considerably less than that number, our choice of vodkas is quite extensive and ever growing. Here are the stories behind some of the classics and some of the new.

The BC Government is one of the most enlightened in Canada as far as legislation to encourage craft distilleries in this country goes. (Stay with me on this – better laws mean more vodkas.) In 2013, this provincial government created a Craft distillery license which among other rules, require that base alcohols must be produced using only BC agricultural products. In return the Craft distillers are eligible for mark-up exempt direct sales.

Since the 2013 law came into effect, the volume of craft spirits produced in BC has grown by nearly 400 per cent and there are now over 35 craft distilleries in the province.

Some of the other interesting requirements the law imposes are: The distillery must ferment on site using traditional methods. Annual production cannot exceed 50,000 litres. All grain and materials must be non-genetically modified and 100% raw materials locally grown in British Columbia.

Those micro-distillers who do not qualify for “Craft” status have greater freedoms such as they can choose any agricultural inputs from anywhere they wish in order to make their spirits. They can also practice more diverse distilling methods not allowed by the current Craft policy. This group of distillers pay a 167% mark-up, which is the same mark-up as the largest multinational spirits producers.

Even more encouraging is the situation in Nova Scotia where over two years ago markups were reduced from 160 per cent to between 60 and 80 per cent, with an extra 10 per cent discount if distillers use Nova Scotia agricultural products.

All this means more new vodkas for Canadians to try. Vodka is often the first product a new distillery will make as it does not need to be aged and is a popular spirit that generally sells well. (Compare zero aging to the three-year minimum age before spirit can legally be called whiskey in Canada and you can see why vodka is almost a cash flow necessity.)

Many of these craft distilleries have limited distribution but even that is opening up at last. For example, Sid’s Handcrafted Vodka, BC’s fastest growing craft vodka, and is now available in Ontario at the LCBO. Made using only BC wheat and barley from the Peace River Valley, it’s at a bargain price for the quality. Adam McDonnell, Managing Director of Goodridge & Williams which make the product told me they deliberately kept the price low to meet the ‘simple needs of the drinker’: a good craft brand at a good price.

Sid's Handcrafted VodkaNutrl Vodka

He believes most craft spirits in the market today cost too much and taste “too different” for the consumer. The company’s other vodka, Nütrl Vodka, aims to deliver the most neutral, flavour-free spirit, possible while still reaching for high quality. McDonnell says that is the most difficult type of distillate to make as there is no place to hide defects in the distilling process. Nütrl sells at ten dollars more in Ontario than Sid’s so the company is making a point here for sure.

Kannuk Vodka is made from an interesting fusion of corn, wheat, sweet potato and wild rice in St. Catharines Ontario (the new Polonée distillery will just open this summer for public tours and tastings). Founder and distiller is Adam Szymków, a polish-Canadian who is obviously proud to be a Canuck. See his website: for his Canada facts and tips.

Kannuk VodkaBob's Super Smooth Premium Spirit

Bob’s Super Smooth Premium Spirit is a triple distilled premium vodka made from whey at London Ontario’s Black Fly Beverage Company. (In 2007, the European Union tried to refine their legal definition for vodka. Previously, the EU had defined vodka as a distilled spirit made from any agricultural product. After much debate, the new legal definition says that vodka can still be made from any agricultural product, but if it is something other than grains or potatoes, the label must specify the other ingredients.)

Georgian Bay Vodka is made from a blend of two-row malted barley and corn-based vodka using Ontario spring water and triple distilled. Alberta Pure Vodka, the number one overall standard vodka in Canada has been produced in Calgary Alberta for more than 70 years by Alberta Distillers Ltd., the oldest distillery in western Canada. If you are at the T Bar at the Chelsea Hotel in Toronto, be sure to try The Checkout, made with bacon infused Alberta Pure Vodka, their own house made clamato juice, freshly grated horseradish, Frank’s Red Hot sauce, Barberian’s steak spice rim and served with cherry tomato, hardboiled egg, crispy bacon and a pickle spear. It’s a deliciously Canadian meal in a glass.

Georgian Bay Vodka Alberta Pure Vodka Birmingham's Dill Pickle Vodka

This is not a “pure’ vodka but I had to throw this in for Caesar fans. If you are in Saskatchewan Birmingham’s Dill Pickle Vodka is a true local favourite. The recipe was originally developed at Birmingham’s Vodka and Ale House in Regina, Saskatchewan and became instantly popular. Lucky Bastard distillery partnered with Elman’s Kosher Foods from Winnipeg, Manitoba who have been crafting Kosher dill pickles for over seventy years to make the spirit. They infuse the dill pickles and brine in Lucky Bastard Vodka for a number of months to allow the flavours to meld. It makes an awesome Bloody Caesar.

Reyka Small Batch Vodka Wyborowa Vodka

From Iceland comes Reyka Vodka, made at a distillery powered by geo-thermal energy from nearby hot springs, using glacier spring water and filtered through lava rock. Poland has been making vodka for over 500 years, and Wyborowa, a pure rye grain vodka, is one of their flagship spirits. From Polmos Bielsko-Biala, Extra Zytnia is also a classic Polish rye vodka at a great price.

Extra Zytnia Vodka Black Cow Pure Milk Spirit

Out of England’s West Dorset, comes Black Cow Pure Milk Spirit Vodka, the world’s first milk whey based vodka that’s premium priced. It’s particularly good in an espresso vodka martini: 2 ounces Black Cow, one shot espresso, half ounce coffee liqueur, shaken together with ice and then strained into a chilled martini glass and garnished with coffee beans. That’s my kind of pick me up. Cheers to all.

Margaret Swaine

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George Brown College