Imagine having to spend more than $1,000 on a scissor lift rental, just so you can dust ceiling fans.
That’s what Gurpreet Ranu, owner of Anohka Distillery, has to do every time he wants to clean the ceilings in his tasting room and storage facility, which is located right next to the distillery itself.
The two black buildings rise 50 and 30 feet into the air, with sloped roofs at 45-degree angles. The buildings sit on top of a hill that was specifically constructed so drivers on Highway 16 could spot the distillery. It’s located in Parkland County, just west of where Highways 16 and 16a merge — about 50 kilometres west of Edmonton.
It’s hard to believe that these two buildings were designed on the back of a napkin, by Ranu and friend Burke Atkinson, owner of Atkinson Construction (ACL). When time came to make sure the building was code compliant, Fort Saskatchewan’s Voshell Architecture and Design was called in.
“It’s an absurd building,” says Ranu. “But I can’t believe how close it is to what I’d originally imagined.”
Anohka opened late in 2021. It’s part of a 110-acre farm, where grain is grown and harvested in order to make spirits. There’s a pond in front of the buildings, surrounded by plants that encourage bees to visit.
Ranu was a lawyer in town, which he says led to him developing a passion for whiskey. He visited Edinburgh, Scotland, which inspired him to take classes remotely from Heriot-Watt University when he returned during the early days of the pandemic. And, when you speak to him, he talks about flavour compounds, bacteria and chemical changes with so much ease, you’d think he could also reanimate a Frankenstein monster if he wasn’t so busy making award-winning gin and prepping his first whiskey release.
Anohka’s Tempest is the No. 1-selling Alberta-made gin. It is a very complex, spice- forward drink. The Timeless gin is a more subtle, easier drink — and both won medals at the 2023 World Gin Awards.
They are the product of stills that were designed by Ranu, and built by Copper Brothers, from Portugal. Ranu wanted to make his spirits using a fired kettle, rather than steam. After all, it’s the way some old, distilleries in Scotland do it. And Ranu said using fire rather than steam adds caramelization and complex flavours. But, two Canadian manufacturers told him his plan was crazy, and wouldn’t entertain building a system that uses fire.
The copper stills rise, like shiny gnomes’ hats, towards a picture window. Tubes run back and forth.
“Everything was hand hammered. This is where art meets science. Every part of this design has a purpose.”
The bottles themselves are beautiful, too. Ranu insists that his spirits be bottled in 100 per cent recycled glass bottles. And they are elegant, with Bohemian crystal glass stoppers. The bottles had to be sourced from Italy.
“Because it’s recycled, there are little imperfections in the glass, but I think those imperfections add character,” says Ranu.
In the warehouse, barrels of spirit age, waiting for the requisite three years before they can officially be called whiskeys. But, even though it makes financial sense to rush a whiskey to market, to open casks as soon as the three-year timer hits three years, Ranu said he doesn’t see things that way. He will wait, sample, wait, sample, and not release the whiskey until he thinks it’s ready.
But, with the hot spring conditions, spirit that’s only been in barrels for six months is already maturing nicely. He offers me a sample, and I can’t believe the amber-coloured spirit has only been stored for half a year. A spirit this young shouldn’t be this dark, or have complex caramel notes.
“I do not have a countdown clock, I will not release it until it’s ready,” says Ranu. “You only get one chance to make a first impression.”