Wayne Gretzky. To some Canadians, he’s royalty. To others, he’s merely the son of Canadian royalty, and part of the reason we have more gold medals then we deserve (1 more, if you’re following). To others, he’s a hockey player, right?
However you’re not here to discuss hockey. That would be an easy discussion: He was a good hockey player, and certainly gives back to Canadians and Americans alike. You’re here to hear about his distillery and winery.
For quite awhile, Wayne has had a winery down in Niagara. Most Canadians reacted like anyone famous does when they venture into a business that they aren’t accustomed to: Must be a money grab, won’t taste good, etcetera.
However Wayne Gretzky wine ended up being drinkable. Heck, it ended up being quite nice. And while the winery changed spots, any of us cynics were told to hit the bricks when speaking without trying the wine. The trick was they were smart and paired up with Peller in 2011 to make the wine, and continue to do so now.
Thus when the winery expanded into being a distillery, and released a whisky, our ears perked up, and when they built a standalone location for both in the heart of wine country we decided to visit. And when they stated they hired Joshua Beach as master distiller, a man who has his masters from Heriott Watt in Scotland, we drove faster. (And had a DD who was sober after the tasting of course.)
Wayne Gretzky distillery opened on April 9th, 2017. Prior to that they had released Wayne Gretzky No. 99 ‘Red Cask’ Canadian Whisky. According to our guide, Adam, they originally had setup a secret still and created the whisky up in Grimsby. Of course there are rumours that it was sourced from Forty Creek (also in Grimsby), but we were told the above, so we’ll stick to that.
Normally I’d jump right into the process, however quite a bit of care has been placed in the quite large and impressive buildings at the distillery. Wayne Gretzky happened to be in the area, trying local beers, and decided he wanted to setup shop.
The main office is a glass building, named “The Office”, as it’s shaped like a hockey net. The colouration and boards on the buildings look like a barn, to pay respect to Wayne’s grandfather, who let a young Wayne bang some pucks against the barn.
Finally the beautiful water fountain in the middle, which is an ice rick in the winter as a tribute to Walter Gretzky, who used to always ensure there was a local rink for kids to skate. It’s 1/3rd the size of an olympic sized hockey rink, but no hockey will apparently be played on it, because windows and hockey pucks don’t get along very well.
The distillery has two stills: A pot still, made in Kentucky, and a Column still, which is typically used in the initial distillation or for the grape spirits. The main rickhouse is located in Grimsby, at the old secret distillation location. They have the ability to make 15 barrels per week.
All grains are sourced from Grant Mills. The distillery uses rye, malted rye, and corn, which is germinated by a 3rd party (in the case of the malted rye), and ground on site using their hammer mill. All grains are later recycled after being used, sold for animal feed.
The grains are fermented for 2 to 3 days after being mixed with water from a Unesco Heritage site.
All whisky uses the wine barrels for finishing, with ex-bourbon casks for the initial aging. Currently they use Cabernet Sauvignon and red ice wine casks. The wine used French oak initially,
All of their whisky is currently made the traditional Canadian way, with the rye and corn whiskies aging separately, and then being blended later. This allows them to have more variability in the initial years. They also vary the amount of rye versus corn whisky depending on the whisky.
As part of the tour, they have a great location and setup in which to try the whisky. We were given water, coffee to clear our nasal palates, a whisky tasting wheel, some un-aged spirits to smell, and even a target scent bottle for each whisky.
It’s quite the tour, and quite an amazing start for a distillery. Check out our reviews of the Red Cask, Ice Wine Cask and Ninety-Nine Proof whiskies in a later post.
Special thanks to Racquel Heron who took all the photos. Check out her Flickr for whisky and non-whisky related photos here.