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Meet Ontario’s Coolest Distillery: Top Shelf Distillers in Perth

We are excited to welcome our newest Feast On Preferred Purveyor, Top Shelf Distillers!

We sat down with co-founder, now Production Manager, Hanna Murphy, to learn more about this unique, locally-run distillery located in Perth, Ontario.

As a member of the Ontario Craft Distillers Association, Top Shelf Distillers started production in the spring of 2014 and opened their doors December 2015 as a small-scale distillery, crafting high-quality spirits just outside of Ottawa.

John Criswick, serial entrepreneur from Ottawa, joined forces with Hanna as an investor/director. He trusted in Hanna’s passion and ambition to distill artisan spirits (being an avid spirit enthusiast himself) and lo and behold, Top Shelf was born.

As a Perth native, Hanna wanted to keep ties with her hometown but what sealed the deal was Perth’s rich history in distilling. It is one of the first distilling towns in Canada. Part of Top Shelf’s brand is that they celebrate the legacy of the distilling trailblazers that came before them. With overwhelming support from the township, Top Shelf Distilling opened on the 200th anniversary of the town, and 100 years after whisky was last produced in Perth.

What makes Top Shelf unique is that they don’t take themselves too seriously, or play by the rules. They have a wacky, upside-down logo and their tagline is #BottomsUp – keeping with a more modern and fun brand. This and their use of locally-sourced ingredients and their competitive, low costs is what makes them stand out amongst the more mature, ‘serious’ craft distillers.

We asked Hanna where the name Top Shelf came from. They were undecided on a business name when one day, the Top Shelf team made a stop in a local convenience store and asked the cashier how he was doing. He responded, “I’m feeling top shelf!” It was the most random thing, and yet, the perfect fit.

Alright, alright, let’s get to the alcohol. Top Shelf Distillers primary focus is whisky. In their first year, they produced 26 barrels of whisky made from locally-sourced rye, corn and malted barley. To be classified as Canadian whisky, the spirit must be aged for at least three years, so they had to come up with something in the meantime. Enter Top Shelf’s delicious vodka, gin and moonshine (whisky that hasn’t been aged).

They even have maple moonshine! And how fitting, when Top Shelf is located in Lanark County, Maple Capital of Ontario. The Top Shelf team is super stoked about it (we’re pretty excited ourselves). They use maple syrup from Watson�s Corners, only 20 minutes from town. This and their 100 proof moonshine can be found in the LCBO this month!

Locally-sourced ingredients:
Corn: Delta
Rye & malted barley: Dodds & Erwin Ltd. Perth, ON
Maple syrup (moonshine): Paul’s Maple Products Lanark, ON
Apples (moonshine): Hall’s Apple Market Brockville, ON

Top Shelf’s distiller, Andy Hawkey, hails from New Zealand, a country not unfamiliar with the tastiest of spirits. As an ex-high school chemistry teacher, Andy brings the knowledge and passion for his craft and ensures the sustainability and drinkability of the product.�

Interested in how Andy and his team creates such a high-quality, delicious spirit?

Mash-Cooker In the mash cooker, they add water, enzymes and grain. The mash is heated with steam until it reaches a boil. The starches are broken down into fermentable sugars that yeast can consume and turn into alcohol.

Fermentation During fermentation, yeast consumes the sugars present in the wort, and converts them into ethanol (alcohol). This takes 5 days and the target alcohol by volume (ABV) is 8-10%.

Distillation During distillation, water is separated from the ethanol. The still is gradually heated with steam to capture the ethanol, leaving the water behind. They do two distillations for all spirits. The first distillation brings the ABV to 25-30%. The second run will further concentrate the alcohol. The target ABV for vodka is 95%, and 75-80% for whisky.

Finishing The vodka is finished by carbon filtering to remove any impurities and to create a clean, pure spirit. Vodka does not require any ageing. Our whisky is aged in American White Oak barrels for three years at 62.5%. Over the three years of ageing, approximately 23.8L of alcohol will evaporate through the barrel, this is called the Angels Share and is unrecoverable.

Bottling Once the product is proofed to 40% ABV, its time for bottling! Top Shelf’s machine fills 4 bottles at a time, and all bottles are hand labelled.

They partner their spirits with tonics & cordials from Split Tree Cocktail Co.Harvey & Vern’s old-fashioned sodas from Kitchessippi Brewing Co., and cocktail bitters from ReallyHorrible — all based out of Ottawa.

Headed to or from the Ottawa area? Take a detour to Perth and check out the distillery! If you’re just dropping by, they offer a taste of all products and you can learn about the basic distillation process. Book in advance and for $10, you get a full 20-30 minute tasting tour around the distillery with the genius distillers, two specialty cocktails and a taste of all the spirits.

Once a month, Top Shelf opens up their back parking lot during the warmer months for a local shindig with local bands, a food truck and tastings!

The hope is to expand the distillery’s food offerings in the near future. In the meantime, you can find Top Shelf products in a number of local bars and restaurants in Perth (Fiddleheads, Fieldhouse, O’Reillys) and Ottawa (Feast + Revel, Mercury Lounge, Prohibition Public House, The Hintonburg Public House). Look for samples at these upcoming Perth events:

  • Festival of the Maples, April 29th
  • Barns Farms and Wicked Chefs, August 26th
  • Rib Fest, July 28th – 30th
  • Garlic Fest, August 12th and 13th

Find Top Shelf vodka, gin (and soon, moonshine!) at LCBOs in the Ottawa area.

Taste-tested Cocktail: The Gin + Soda

Hanna loves loves loves their gin. They toned down the traditional juniper flavour, upped the citrus notes and added grapefruit, creating a subtle, beautiful gin. Combine with a splash of local Split Tree lavender cordial, top with soda and you’ve got yourself a perfectly crafted Ontario cocktail.