With the market for small distillery hand crafted whisky at an all time high there are a lot of new start ups looking to ride the wave over the next 5 to 10 years.
Starting a distillery is an expensive prospect.
Just the equipment alone demands hefty capital. When you throw in the minimum 3 year aging for Canadian whisky it becomes a waiting game while the distillery soaks up funds like a dry sponge.
Even with a passion and vision to make exceptional whisky many new distillers have to turn to another source of income generating spirit to keep things afloat and hopefully pay for their whisky aspirations.
The two most popular stop gap spirits are Vodka and Gin. Vodka is the easier of the two however in an effort to get that smooth clean vodka profile many rounds of distilling are in order.
With a big factory setup vodka can be distilled over and over in quick time. If you are a small distillery with one still then distilling a vodka 6 times is a lot of work.
Still Waters Vodka
A good example of how tough it is to make money this way is Still Waters Distillery that was utilizing the same barley that was going into their casks of future Single Malt. Barley is a more expensive option for vodka given that anything that has sugars or starch to convert to alcohol will do. With a premium quality vodka on their hands and all capital tied up in equipment, barrels, ingredients and a number of really expensive safety compliance hoops to jump through there was little money left for marketing.
Hitting the shelves with a stock bottle and basic label is a tough road to the consumer when it comes to vodka. Flashy packaging and custom bottles are the norm along with heavy advertising budgets and discount programs all designed to get the consumer to switch their brand. When it comes to differentiating between one vodka and the next there are really only shades of grey.
Yes, premium vodka is less boozy a lot cleaner and can certainly be worth the extra dollars. It is just inherently difficult to woo the consumer when there is such a narrow range of flavor defining the category.
Gin on the other hand can be extremely unique and encompasses a lot more complexity and a vastly wider range of flavor profiles. The craft gin category has exploded in recent years as consumers look for something interesting and delicious.
Many whisky companies have turned their hand to gin making and some that I have worked with include Wemyss Malts, Duncan Taylor, The Malt Whisky Company and Whistling Andy. Flavor profiles ranging from Saffron to Cucumber to Pepper and more all built on the Gin staple ingredient Juniper.
If you love whisky and are crazy about awesome small company offerings then don’t forget to help support these fledgling brands by grabbing a bottle of their white spirit offering when you get the chance. You just might be securing an amazing whisky purchase for yourself down the road.
Getting back to the Still Waters story for a bit, we find that even though their bottled vodka was a tough sell, the quality of the drink itself meant that another small local Ontario company looking to fill a niche in the ready to drink category was keen to use it as the base for their new vodka soda.
Social Lite launched last year is at the moment the only pre-mixed drink on the market that does not include any sweetener. That means no sugar and no artificial sweetener of any kind. Throw in 100% all natural, Gluten free, low glycemic and the lowest calorie count for a full 355ml can and it’s easy to see why the brand has started to see some success in the Canadian market.
Proudly stating that their vodka is sourced from Still Waters Distillery, it is an all Canadian product that is bringing craft distilling to a wider audience.
It is fun to think that every can of Social Lite consumed helps fuel funds for more barrels which means more awesome Still Waters Stalk and Barrel whisky like their rye and single malt.
I know that once the Summer kicks in I will be working through many 4 packs of refreshing Social Lite in between whiskies.
It’s an exciting time for consumers who are looking for hand crafted spirits. The more we can support these great little companies the more interesting offerings we will see on the shelves.Have fun hunting down the cool and eclectic
Quick tasting notes on Social Lite:
Lemon Cucumber Mint – all cucumber on the nose and reminds me of cucumber water at the spa. Exceptionally clean finish with no real hint at the vodka contained therein. Bubbly cucumber water with a hint of lemon and just the tiniest touch of mint on the finish.
Lime Ginger – Lime is the dominant nose and its all lime refreshment until just a touch of tangy ginger on the finish.
Hats off to Aware beverages for their risk taking in making such a unique drink and by default helping the cool whisky category at the same time.