Alberta distillery takes home best new spirit prize at World Whiskies Awards

A young Alberta distillery just took home a huge title at the World Whiskies Awards in London, England, beating out submissions from Scotland, Ireland, Japan and the U.S.

Anohka Distillery won “World’s Best New Make & Young Spirit” for its “This is Not Whisky” heavily peated single malt spirit.

“The competition this year was really interesting because there were really famous distillers,” said Gurpreet Ranu, Anohka owner and distiller. “There was a group from Scotland which is now run by four whiskey legends. They opened up a new distillery called The Borders.  We beat them. Clonakilty in Ireland, they submitted their new make. We beat them. The same Japanese distillery again had entered this year and … we beat them.”

In order to qualify for the world awards, spirits have to win their national competition. This is the second year Anohka has been nominated at the World Whiskies Awards.

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“They called all the nominees up to the stage and I looked around and I saw who I was up against, and these are veterans in the industry… titans in the industry. I’m looking around and … I don’t really feel like I belong on this stage but if we win, I mean, amazing,” he said.

“It was really cool being in that room and going up against these heavyweights,” Ranu said. “I’m just this guy from Parkland County. Nobody’s heard of me and I show up and I win best in the world. It was pretty crazy.”

Click to play video: 'ANOHKA Distillery'

ANOHKA Distillery

Ranu is a physicist turned lawyer turned distiller who started Anohka Distillery on a farm in Parkland County, about 40 kilometres west of Edmonton, in December 2021. The operation grows its own barley and has its own peat bog.

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“Alberta grows more barley than any country in the western hemisphere and we happen to be in the best barley growing conditions in the world,” Ranu said. “The fact that we weren’t value-adding to it and turning it into this amazing product, it didn’t make any sense to me.”

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His distillers use a blend of modern, sustainable technology and traditional techniques, including copper pot stills.

“The most ridiculous thing that we do is after we have our fermentation and we create our wash to distill it, we basically have a 1,000-litre Molotov cocktail and we light a giant fire underneath it to heat it. And that’s an inherently silly thing to do,” Ranu said with a smile.

“It adds flavour,” he explained. “Anybody who’s ever cooked any food knows that if you cook with steam, which is what everybody else is doing — or the industry standard — your results are different than when you use fire to cook. If you grill your vegetables versus steaming them, they taste very different. So we knew the fire would contribute certain chemical reactions and flavour compounds. It actually contributes a whole bunch that we didn’t even anticipate and have been a happy surprise for us.”

Click to play video: 'Edmonton Whisky Festival highlights best from around the world'

Edmonton Whisky Festival highlights best from around the world

After taking risks, the international honour is validating, Ranu said.

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“We did a lot of crazy things that nobody else is really doing and each thing we thought would contribute just a little bit to make the spirit a little bit more special. As you’re doing it, you have no idea if it actually matters. And then taking an award like this, it kind of validates all the decisions that we’ve made over the last few years, all the crazy things we did… people telling us there’s no way this is going to work and then proving everybody wrong.

“The decisions that we’ve been making are the right decisions and knowing that is really important and gives us a lot of confidence,” Ranu said.

The winning spirit is described by the creators as deep and rich in texture, with a “sweet, honeyed pastry backbone supporting waves of ripe strawberry, tropical fruit and melon wrapped in complex smoke, leather and peat notes.”

It came by its name honestly, Ganu explained.

“In Canada, you can’t legally market whisky as whisky until it’s been aged for three years, so I said, ‘Alright. This is not whisky, I guess.’ But it is whisky but it’s not ‘whisky.’”

Anohka Distillery also produces two award-winning gins. Tempest Gin and Timeless Gin are available at liquor stores across Alberta. The distillery is launching an online store in order to sell its spirits, including the award-winning not-a-whisky whisky.

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