Timberwolf Forest Products isn’t exactly a name that brings whisky to mind, but the company has been integrally involved in the whisky industry, handling the in/out processing of barrels for Hiram Walker – the largest distillery in North America – for years, as well as a small third party bottling operation for small batch runs of spirits. So it wasn’t as big a leap as one might imagine for Tom Manherz and his family to start their own distilling operations just over a year ago called Wolfhead Distillery in Amherstburg, Ontario.
We were down in the Windsor area to visit the Hiram Walker Distillery and for a tour of the Canadian Club Brand Centre, and to visit some friends from the area, so my wife and I dropped in to Wolfhead the next day to see what they were all about. They have a great little restaurant with local beers on tap (including some of their own) and a modern menu. The look of the place was a combination of modern and rustic, and they had an in-progress mural being painted on the back wall (which I failed to get a picture of) by a local artist that promises to be a great showpiece. The Retail shop is great too, and they sell a variety of merchandise as well as their spirits.
Due to a mix-up on email, Tom had been expecting us later in the day, but was very accommodating and squeezed us in before their next public tour. He took us to the distillery, showed us the equipment and talked to us about their process. A couple of things stuck out:
- their equipment is all Italian, which differs from many of the craft distilleries, whose equipment usually comes from Kentucky or Germany, from what I’ve seen.
- all of their whisky currently available is sourced from Hiram Walker, as they put down their own juice only a year ago
- they use a 4-day fermentation, which is 1 day longer than Hiram Walker.
- their grain, flavouring ingredients, limestone filtered water, and other inputs are all locally sourced.
- Their vodka is distilled 7 times, which kind of seems like overkill, but did produce a clean spirit.
As for the products themselves, they sell a number of flavoured spirits, which aren’t really my thing, but which were enjoyed by the others in the group, especially the coffee flavoured whisky and grapefruit vodka. One thing we really liked about it was the branding. The wolf-head on the vodkas and the claw marks on the whisky-based products are clean and modern and are used well throughout the facility.
Their whisky is currently sourced from Hiram Walker, and uses 3 year old double distilled corn base whisky and some 12 year old flavouring rye. To then make it their own, they re-age the blend in barrels with extra staves put inside and some vanilla cubes. Personally, I find this a little gimmicky, and hope that once their own juice is available, they’ll let it speak for itself. A quick review of the whisky is at the end of this post.
After we tasted the products, and my buddy was talking to Tom about some people they mutually knew, his son Jarrod – currently still a student, but deeply involved in the operation – showed me their bottling line and the barrel warehouse, most of which contains Hiram Walker whisky currently, but with a growing inventory of Wolfhead juice. I was very impressed by his knowledge of the process, the openness of his answers and passion for the business. One thing Jarrod said that was encouraging to hear is they’re aging all of their spirits in full sized barrels, and not trying to take short-cuts with small 10-15gal barrels as so many do. They’re also only running their rye through the column still, distilling to about 64% and then barrelling, which should retain a ton of the grain flavour. If they stick with that philosophy and eschew the extra staves and vanilla cubes on their own spirit, it should turn out quite nicely.
Overall, a promising operation backed by institutional knowledge from the area, and a passion for good spirits. Definitely looking forward to trying their own whisky in a few years and seeing that passion come to fruition! Thanks to Tom, Jarrod and the staff at Wolfhead for a great visit!
Wolfhead Craft Whisky – 40% ABV
- Nose: spice, light oak, vanilla
- Palate: vanilla, more oak, some spices including nutmeg and pepper, quite light body
- Finish: short and spicy
- Score: 74
Overall a very light, spice-forward whisky. The impact of the “vanilla cubes” is up front and a bit too much for my liking. Looking forward to their own juice being bottled in a couple years!