Wild Life taps into Rockies and prairies to make clean mountain spirits

Wild Life Distillery uses pure water from Rocky Mountain glaciers and grains sourced from the prairies to make clean sipping spirits.

Canmore distillery a new adventure for co-founders Matt Widmer and Keith Robinson

Matt Widmer co-founded Wild Life Distillery with business partner Keith Robinson. The pair use 70 per cent red wheat from Standard, Alta., and 30 per cent barley to make their vodka. (Julie Van Rosendaal)

A new distillery is tapping into the pure water from Rocky Mountain glaciers and grains sourced from the prairies to make clean sipping spirits.

Wild Life Distillery co-founders Matt Widmer and Keith Robinson grew up exploring the Bow Valley — Robinson worked in oil and gas up north, while Widmer managed his family restaurant in Banff. The two travelled and surfed before they started on a new adventure distilling spirits in small batches in a tiny space in Canmore. 

Widmer and Robinson use 70 per cent hard red wheat from Standard, Alta., and 30 per cent barley to make their vodka. A base spirit goes back into the still with juniper, coriander, angelica and plenty of citrus — lemon, orange and grapefruit peel — to make their gin.

"White spirits are what you have to put out at the start," says Widmer. "Everyone's end goal and dream is whisky, but you have to build a business and create a sustainable cash flow while you're waiting on that whisky."

The pair is experimenting with their first batch of barrelled gin — gin put into former bourbon barrels to take on the flavour of the oak. It's a process used in making whisky, but instead of the three-year time investment whisky requires, barrelled gin only takes three to six months.

They do, however, plan to barrel a batch of whisky in March when their barrels arrive. That means the first batch of whisky will be ready in the spring of 2021. 

"We're a little behind, but we also don't have the capital that some distilleries have. It's just my partner and I, and we sunk everything we have into this."

Wild Life Distillery currently sells vodka and gin, but plans to have its first batch of whisky ready in the spring of 2021. (Julie Van Rosendaal)

"We're going to keep tasting it every week or two and see how it's doing," says Widmer, pouring a shot of gin and mixing it with their own tonic concentrate and soda water. "As those botanicals mellow out, we're going to try to hit it right at that cross point, where the flavours intersect."

They have some vodka in barrels too, which they expect to be ready sooner than the gin.

"It's already taking on that caramel flavour," Widmer says. "You don't have those botanicals that can be overpowering, so we're already getting that oakiness."

Wild Life spirits and tonic concentrates are available at 60 retailers from Lake Louise to Calgary, including Oak and Vine in Calgary. But it's worth popping in for a taste, a cocktail and a peek at the process in the back next time you're in the mountains.

Wild Life Distillery, #160-105 Bow Meadows Crescent,