Article: What Does Single Malt Whisky Mean To WLD?
What Does Single Malt Whisky Mean To WLD?
As we get ready to roll our inaugural 5 year old Single Malt Whisky out from the Wild Life Whisky warehouse, we felt it was time for a recap; a little history lesson if you will.
This whisky begins and ends, in a way, an important chapter in the WLD Storybook. It has been the goal that we've been working toward for over a decade. It began as an idea, a handshake, and a dream of whisky.
Alberta Malted Barley - 100% baby
Here's Co-founder, Matt Widmer, with his version of the story. "Although Wild Life opened its doors in 2017, the single malt seed, which eventually sprouted into WLD, got planted in 2010. I was living in Tofino, on Vancouver Island, and had a friend (Shayne Hackwell) who was a recent BCom graduate from the University of Victoria. The two of us would surf in the evenings after work, and cook food, drink whisky, and chat about business ideas. The craft distilling scene in BC was just in its infancy, and nothing was yet happening in Alberta. Shayne and I dreamt up silly business ideas, beginning with "Tofino Fresh Water"; a bottled water company sourcing pristine coastal water from natural springs. This never happened of course, as bottling 100% water is way less fun than bottling 60% water and 40% alcohol :) We wondered what distilling was all about, and this lead to me sign up for a craft distilling course at the Koval Distillery in Chicago, IL, the following year.
Crow pose 20' in the air. Don't look Ma.
Fast forward 3 years and a move back to the Bow Valley, I began hounding Keith with the idea of starting a craft distillery. I was working alongside my father at Ticino's, his long time Banff restaurant institution (44yrs), and Keith was back and forth from Northern Alberta. We shared many backcountry skiing and camping trips, and would go back and forth on the idea. Then, in 2014, the liquor laws in Alberta changed to permit smaller operations, and the dream became a possibility.. One evening that summer, beside a rainy campfire out in the Kananaskis wilderness, Keith and I shook hands and agreed to go for it. We then began building a business plan, searching for a location, and sourcing equipment. We booked a trip to Scotland the following spring to solidify our love for Single Malt, and learn the ins and outs of whisky making from our idol, Jim McEwan (maybe you've heard of him).
Keith in Banff, Scotland, 2015 - On our 'drammin' tour
We signed a lease in Canmore, in June of 2015, and the dream became a reality. The next 18 months were spent jumping through government permitting hoops, renovating the original distillery location, building the tasting room bar and installing the distilling equipment as it began to arrive.
On January 6th, 2017, we opened our doors with our very first product, Wild Life Vodka. A far cry from Single Malt Whisky, but anyone who understands whisky making knows that the magic in whisky is in the time it takes to produce. Vodka and gin can be ready for market in a matter of weeks, but whisky takes 3 years at a minimum, 5 years is better. Many Scotch whiskies rest 12+ years before bottling but we are far too thirsty for that."
Matt beside our original 500L Alembic Copper Pot Still
So what is Single Malt Whisky? It can seem confusing in the marketplace, but it's really quite simple. By Scottish definition, is it whisky made from 100% malted barley, aged for a minimum of 3 years, matured in oak barrels not greater than 700L, and bottled at no less than 40% Alc./Vol. Most importantly, it is a whisky made by a SINGLE distillery. In Scotland, many whisky producers buy and sell whiskies from around the country creating blended whiskies, which can also be wonderful. Single malt is not necessarily from a single batch or single barrel, but rather from a single distillery; that's the key to the name. Here's an article from Forbes if you want to nerd out some more.
WLD 5 Year Single Malt Whisky - The label colour aims to acknowledge our glacier lakes and rivers
Wild Life Single Malt Whisky, however, is so much more than that. It is the pinnacle of our distilling career to date. It is a 'tip of the cap' to our love of Scottish Tradition. It was distilled on the same 500L Alembic Still that Keith and Matt cut their teeth on while learning the whisky making process in Scotland.
It is patience, passion, and attention to detail. It is adventure in the mountains, and cause for pause with friends. It is friendship, commitment to a process, and the journeys in between. It is a great conversation, after a long day in the mountains.
It is best enjoyed where you enjoy things best.
So raise a glass, and know that this is more than just a spirit. This is Wild Life.
- Matt & Keith
Big shout out to Mr. Mark Vanderwal, our head distiller, who distilled this whisky, and has been a part of the Wild Life story for the past 6 years.