Edmonton’s first single-barrel craft whisky flies off the shelf

Before the doors of Hansen Distillery opened to the public Tuesday to sell its first batch of craft whisky, co-owner Shayna Hansen said she was worried no one would show up.

Not only was the building at capacity for those invited to taste the first samples, customers were lined up around the building.

“It’s a new, tough industry. We’re kind of flying by the seat of our pants…(I’m) just so excited that people are as excited as we are,” said Hansen.

Aged for three years, Northern Eyes Whisky is the first authentic, single-barrel Canadian whisky to be produced and distributed from inside Edmonton city limits, Hansen said. The first batch of 500 bottles was expected to sell out by the end of the day.

“They’re innovators – a cut above the industry,” said James Laszlo, a customer since the distillery opened in 2016 who took Tuesday off work to be one of the first to sample and stock up.

“What makes it special to me is the heart, the soul and the attention to detail in what they are doing, and to have that pride here within Edmonton is something that’s a first,” said Laszlo.

Co-owner and distiller Kris Sustrik grew up on a farm and wanted to make a unique “cowboy style” whisky, made from Alberta rye with an appreciation for the quality of the grain, he said.

“I’m beyond excited about how good it turned out. I would not have released it if it wasn’t ready,” said Sustrik.

The distillery began by making moonshine from a Hansen family recipe that dates back to Prohibition, when Hansen’s grandparents came from North Dakota and Iowa to settle in Alberta. When it came time to name the whisky, Hansen said they wanted something that was a nod to that immigration and looked forward to the future.

Just making it to this three-year milestone was, at the time, “wishful thinking,” she said.

The city and the mayor took on an active role promoting the distillery’s products by giving them away as gifts to visiting dignitaries or on out-of-town missions, support Hansen said she was grateful for.

“It connects people to place, to literally be drinking in the spirit of the place,”  said Mayor Don Iveson, who helped bottle it on Tuesday. It’s also a matter of pride for the city to have joined the craft whisky club, he said.

“It’s refined and yet a little bit rough – just like Edmonton,” said Iveson.

Hansen Distillery gave the first bottle to the City of Edmonton for its archives.

“There is no doubt there is a little bit of history in every bottle,” said NDP MLA for Edmonton-West Henday Jon Carson. The distillery was creating more opportunities for producers and growers across the province by using locally sourced ingredients, he said.

A 750 ml bottle is priced at $69 plus taxes. More batches will be released March 3 and April 7. Sustrik also plans to age 5, 7, 10 and 18 year whisky.