Top Shelf in Perth, Ontario is another new distillery that has brought distilling back to an historical home of whisky in the province. Perth’s history dates back 200 years to when it was a Scottish military settlement around the time of the war of 1812. The Scottish population understandably had an affinity for malt whisky, but the distilleries in the UK couldn’t keep up with demand.
Robert McLeran built Perth Distillery near Stuart Park, and began producing malt whisky in the Scottish style to satisfy this demand from both the locals and south of the border. Robert Gemmell eventually acquired and renamed the distillery in 1953.
This history is proudly displayed at the distillery, along with old bottles of “Scotch” whisky bottles; (one can only imagine the conniptions the SWA would have over that today!)
The distillery shut down in 1864 (more history below) and distilling was absent in Perth until 2014 when Top Shelf opened its doors.
They use a hybrid 600L Kothe still and produce moonshines, vodka, gin, liqueurs, bitters and whiskies which are still aging on-site.
Andy and Garrett went into great detail about the production process, and here are some of the highlights:
- they use primarily corn, distilling it to be nearly neutral for use in their moonshines
- their white whiskey is a corn/rye mashbill, with about 20% rye.
- They use enzymes in the fermentation process, but also include some malted barley
- Their mashes are typically 250kg and take 4-5 days to ferment, typically to a 1060-1070 gravity
- they use reverse osmosis town water
- the name Top Shelf refers not just to their quality aspirations, but also to the top of a rickhouse where you get more temperature fluctuation in your barrels and where they try to age their best barrels.
- They use only full size barrels, both ex-bourbon and virgin oak.
- Once it comes of age, they’ll be releasing a single malt (barrel pictured below)
- All of their bottles are hand labelled as well
I had a chance to try a few of their spirits including their very floral and spicy gin, their grain-forward 100 proof white spirit, and a heads/tails run of their one year rye mash.
The most exciting part of the visit, however, was getting a chance to sample Barrel #1 of their whisky (bourbon-style mashbill of 77% corn, 12% Rye, 11% malt), which hit 3 years recently and was just released at the Victoria Whisky Festival this week! Check out their instagram for details!
While there wasn’t time to do a full, proper review, I jotted down a few notes, and would love to see how it has evolved over the past year, now that it’s a full fledged whisky!
- Nose: oak, banana, yeasty, vanilla
- Palate: spice, cinnamon, vanilla, oak, malt, vegetal. with a couple drops of water, more citrus, orange and spicy notes came through.
- Finish: long, spicy and lots of oak and vanilla notes.
Since barrel #1 was all pre-sold, we sadly won’t get a chance to see how it evolved in the past year, but fortunately, the second release is coming out in February, so stay tuned!
The team at Top Shelf is knowledgeable and passionate, giving back to their community at community events, commisioning local artists for their advertising signs, and willingly sharing their spirits with their equally passionate fans. Many are available at the LCBO, and hopefully their whiskies will be soon as well! Be sure to drop in if you’re ever near Perth!