Drinks, Other Sh!t

Top Shelf Distillery

The craft distilling movement has exploded. More than ever before, if you want to source your spirits locally, you probably can. Better yet, many distilleries are focusing on locally-sourced ingredients.

Photos by ADV Photography

But not all moonshiners are created equal. Distilling is both an art and a science. It requires scientific chops and experience to produce anything worth drinking. Luckily for us, we were invited to check out a local distillery that has been making some noise on the scene. Recently awarded platinum at the 2017 SIP awards in Irvine, California, this small distillery is putting out a very high quality product.

Disclaimer: We decided to go check out Top Shelf’s Distillery on our own because distilleries are cool and weren’t paid for this post, though we did get a few free bottles of their products

On a Saturday morning, the five men got into a car and took the one-hour drive to beautiful Perth, Ontario. Perth has a long history of producing spirits and Top Shelf established themselves in the region to continue this tradition. We were greeted by Will, a very knowledgeable fellow who was more than happy to open the doors and give us a peek behind the curtain.  

First, he gave us some samples of the products to get us ready to go. On hand: vodka, gin, and a couple of their signatures: apple pie and maple moonshine. We sampled the goods and immediately started coming up with ideas on how to use them in some great cocktails – more on that later.

Will provided a tour of the distilling facilities and explained how they created such boozy masterpieces. We were then taken through to the heart of the distillery, where the stills are located. Everything they do is measured and remeasured to make sure it’s 100% precise. The production process is reminiscent of a laboratory.

They use a 3-step filtration process:

  • Step one is the reverse-osmosis treatment, which purifies the proofing water.
  • Step two is reserved for the vodka and gin, which uses activated carbon to remove impurities, balancing the taste.
  • Lastly, they send the liquor through a one-micron sheet filter, ensuring it’s as clean and clear as intended. It’s a similar process from most other distilleries but it was really cool to see it first-hand. For the gin and moonshine, the fourth step is infusing the flavours – that’s the real art in the equation.

It gives you an appreciation of how much labour and love goes into these spirits, especially when they’re made in such small batches. If you’ve never been on a tour of a distillery, it’s something fun to do (especially if it involves tasting).

At the end of the tour, we were surprised to receive a bottle of each of Top Shelf’s offerings for future consumption. We also picked up a few extra for the road (not literally). The gin and vodka can be found in your local LCBO (for those living in Ontario), but the moonshines are produced in limited batches and are sold on a first-come, first-serve basis. We were happy to get the apple pie and maple flavours, but they’ve also put out pumpkin, blueberry, and honey versions since our visit! We hope to sample those sometime in the near future.

On to the spirits! Let’s start with the least interesting to me personally; the vodka. I’ll admit, I’m not a vodka kind of guy. I enjoy it in a cocktail but I find it lacks the character of gin or the depth of the brown spirits. That being said, I know the difference between a top shelf (forgive the pun) product and the rubbing alcohols. This certainly would fall into the first category. It’s made from a corn base and has the “clean” taste you would find in some higher-priced vodkas.

The gin they produce is of the London Dry variety. It’s made with juniper berries and fresh grapefruit peel blended with faint notes of cardamom, angelica, and liquorice. We were big fans. Gin is often my spirit of choice because I love the variety of flavours you can find. Top Shelf’s take has become a staple in my vast arsenal of gin bottles.

To highlight the lightness of Top Shelf’s gin and the hints of grapefruit, Brandon aimed to create something fresh and summery. Instead of just popping champagne, try making this the next time that you have something to celebrate:

Top Celly

1 oz Top Shelf Gin
½ oz grapefruit juice
¼ oz agave syrup
Sparkling rosé
Grapefruit or lemon twist

Add all ingredients except the rosé to an ice-filled shaker and shake well. Strain into a chilled champagne flute and top with sparkling rosé. Garnish with grapefruit or lemon twist.

The moonshine is really where the personality of the distillery came out. Tapping into the Perth history of bootlegging, they’re made with local, seasonal ingredients, but present some new exciting flavour profiles. The moonshines really lend themselves to making new, exciting cocktails. Look no further than Mano’s Apple Bite:

Apple Bite

1 ½ oz Sailor Jerry’s Spiced Rum
1 oz Top Shelf Apple Pie Moonshine
½ oz of cinnamon syrup
Top with ginger beer
Garnish with apple slice

Add all ingredients to an ice-filled rocks glass and stir. Garnish with an apple slice.

For my part, I was excited to play around with the Maple Moonshine. Maple syrup is a real staple in my household – my wife absolutely loves it. Whether it be breakfast, lunch, or dinner, we’re always looking to get our fill. I’ve also really been into apple brandy recently and they pair very well together.

This drink was very roughly inspired by the classic Sidecar. If you don’t have any Berentzen, you’ll need to add sweetener. Cointreau can work, but just not as well, in my opinion. Also, just like the original, feel free to add some egg white if that’s your kind of thing.

Perth Bootlegger

2 oz Apple Brandy or Calvados
1 oz Top Shelf Maple Moonshine
½ oz Berentzen Apple Liqueur
¾ oz lemon juice

Add all ingredients to an ice-filled rocks glass and stir. Garnish with lemon peel.

Looking back, we had a great time at Top Shelf. We learned a lot and got introduced to some great booze. If you happen to be in the Perth area, I recommend you visit the Top Shelf website to see when their next event is. Have a great tour to learn more about how distilling is done, sample a variety of spirits, and pick up a bottle for later!  

Unfortunately, we have long since depleted our supply of moonshine. Looks like another road trip is in order!

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