A group of us from the Toronto Whisky Society have been getting together for meetups at scotch bars or at each other’s homes for drinking nights for a couple years now, and we recently visited the Toronto Distillery Co, the same distillery that recently did an AMA here on Reddit’s World Whisky Sub. Charles and J.R. have been very friendly and engaging with the community on here, and were happy to stay after hours yesterday to give us a private tour and a tasting of some of their wares. J.R. went into a ton of detail regarding how they got started, the challenges facing small distilleries in Canada/Ontario, their process and their future plans. Here are some pictures from the event, and I noted down a few interesting facts that he shared that you guys might find interesting:
- officially the government body that permits distillers to produce spirits in Canada is the Canada Revenue Agency… yup, the taxman strikes again
- before 2001, you couldn’t get a license to distill without owning a still, and you couldn’t buy a still without a license to distill. This caused Charles to almost get arrested at the border when he bought their first still and tried to bring it back to Canada, as the border guard didn’t know about the 2001 Excise Act which enabled you to buy a still so long as you had applied for a license
- an excise warehouse at the distillery can be any specific place within the distillery. for TDC, it’s a red shelf at the back of the room. At that point, the product is still owned by TDC and the excise tax owed on it is deferred until it leaves the warehouse. as soon as it moves from that shelf to the front of the room for sale or shipping, tax is owed to the government (enforced by monthly tax returns).
- the LCBO owns that liquor as soon as it leaves the excise warehouse. From that point, TDC can sell to the public, but they’re officially selling on behalf of the LCBO, who pays them a very generous $1.30 commision for performing that service. what a deal!
- TDC sources their grain from K2 milling and it all comes from local farms in the Schomburg area north of Toronto. their batches don’t get blended, so terroir/climate patterns will affect the flavour. They also use organic yeast and enzymes, also locally sourced.
So after all of the cool factoids were shared, we got into the sampling. We got to taste JR’s Dry Gin, which is very juniper forward and distilled with the 13 botanicals directly in the still. We also got to try their applejack, which is distilled local apples and wheat spirits, then aged in ex-bourbon barrels. It was surprisingly more whisky-forward than apple-forward, which was an unexpected surprise. quite oaky too. We also tried their beet spirit which uses certified organic sugar beets and tasted very earthy and very much like beets. This won them an award from the Premier’s office for food innovation… (the one thing Kathleen Wynne has done to support them).
Aside from those spirits, we got to try 4 white dog spirits and 2 aged whiskies, including a cask strength version of their recently released First Barrels, which they exclusively bottled for the Toronto Whisky Society! Here are some general tasting notes on the whiskies we tasted that night.
Ontario Organic Rye Spirit – 50% ABV
- Nose: spicy, citrus
- Palate: spicy, quite sweet, lots of cinnamon
- Finish: short, sweet
Ontario Organic Wheat Spirit – 50% ABV
- Nose: anise, sweet, fruity
- Palate: less spicy, quite floral, some apple
- Finish: again short, floral, sweet
Ontario Organic Corn Spirit – 50% ABV
- Nose: very sweet, smells corny
- Palate: sweet, thick mouthfeel, quite candylike
- Finish: longer, still quite sweet
this one is interesting as it has a lactobacillis contamination and isn’t for sale. he shared it to show what happens when the still gets contaminated, but some of us really liked it
Ontario Organic Red Fife Wheat Spirit – 50% ABV
- Nose: grainy, musty, sawdust, stale crackers
- Palate: cinnamon hearts, cedar, candied apples
- Finish: sweet, cinnamon, medium length.
First barrels is a mix of whiskies ranging from 2-26 months in age, in new char Canadian oak barrels ranging from 10L to 110L. The mashbill is 40% Wheat, 40% Rye, 20% Corn. NCF, uncoloured.
First Barrels – 42% ABV
- Nose: sweet, some rye spice, vanilla and caramel, sugary
- Palate: sugar, caramel, spicy, cinnamon, some oak, hotter than expected for 42% and quite youthful.
- Finish: short, sweet oaky.
not the best Canadian whisky I’ve tasted but the mashbill is very cool and unique.
in our discussions with Charles we mentioned how much we love cask strength whiskies. he said they were still bottling First Barrels at the time, and would put some aside at CS for us to try. little did we know, they did a limited 7 bottle run … 1 of which we sampled from and 6 for purchase… we bought them all of course! (members here might be willing to swap you some, or better yet, check out TDC in person and tell them the Toronto Whisky Society sent you… maybe they’ll give you a sample!)
First Barrels Cask Strength – 63.2% ABV
- Nose: caramel, no heat at all, tons of oak, apples
- Palate: rye spice up front, lots of oak, some candy, pepper, caramel, crazy low heat for such a high proof. tannins, sugar, rye dill.
- Finish: caramel oak, long, lingering, earthiness, sugar. still tasted the oak long after drinking some water
pretty awesome bottle and we showed we meant it by buying up their stock of the cask strength release! hopefully they’ll release more CS stuff in the future because it was really really good. way better than I expected given the youthful age of some of the whisky in the bottle!
huge thanks to JR and Charles of Toronto Distillery Co for their engagement with the community, their openness about what they’re doing and their goals, and for sharing their work and whisky with us. you’ve gained some new friends and fans in the GTA!