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Made-in-Newfoundland vodka claims top prize at worldwide competition

Wooden Walls vodkas are shown in St. John's, N.L. Wooden Walls vodkas are shown in St. John's, N.L.
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A Newfoundland-made vodka has been named one of the world’s best by judges at this year’s World Vodka Awards.

Wooden Walls Distilling took the top prize in the varietal vodka category, beating out competitors in North America, Europe and Australia. Judges said their Evening Tide Vodka had a “funky and distinct aroma,” and a “compelling unique quality.”

“To have it recognized on a world stage was just really, you know, unexpected for us and exciting at the same time,” said Matthew Pribag, who manages the distillery in downtown St. John’s.

The distillery uses a mix of wheat, rye and oats in their Evening Tide Vodka, and co-founder Peter Madden said a long fermentation process helps set the spirit apart.

The vodka spends about a week fermenting at the distillery in St. John’s, before it is distilled, filtered and bottled.

“We do it at a lower temperature, just to have a process that is slow, controlled and pulls those flavours out really well,” Madden said.

He said each of the grains comes from farms in Atlantic Canada.

The award is an early recognition for the young distillery, which opened its doors in St. John’s in late 2022.

“It only takes one sip, I think, for people to recognize the quality and craftsmanship that goes into our products,” said Pribag.

Madden said business has been tougher than expected, but he’s hoping an international award will help the distillery make more inroads in Newfoundland and Labrador.

“We’re the only distillery and the first distillery ever in St. John’s,” Madden said.

“First legal distillery, we always say,” he added with a laugh.

The business draws from many traditional elements in Newfoundland and Labrador. The name Wooden Walls is a homage to the large boats that carried men from St. John’s to the sealing grounds near the turn of the 20th century.

The tasting room is located in downtown St. John’s, in a building that once housed Templeton’s — a well-known and long-running family paint shop.

Staff have overseen extensive renovations to project a “comforting, speakeasy vibe,” said Pribag.

In a province that has particular alcohol preferences — and some heavy favourites — it can be hard for a new entrant to break into the market.

“It’s very hard to differentiate,” Madden said. “We want people to know that we’re actually making this stuff right downtown.”

“There’s a difference. It’s made here. There’s so much care put into each bottle. It’s different than the other products you see on the shelves in that way.”

Madden’s true love is whiskey, and his staff are planning to spend more time and energy in that market in the future — but he said the Evening Tide vodka will always be the distillery’s signature vodka.

The drink capped off their “Maiden Voyage” series of vodkas, where staff created four single-grain vodkas, sent them into customers’ cups for feedback, and tried to combine the best parts into one drink.

The vodka is available to purchase at liquor stores in Newfoundland and Labrador, and Madden said he hopes he can soon make the spirit available across the country.

“It will just take some time, and then we’ll get there.”

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