Saskatchewan-made Alibi Vodka from micro-distillery Backroads Spirits Co. in Wakaw has done the unimaginable by winning the World’s Best Pure Neutral Vodka at the 2023 World Vodka Awards. Having started production just two years ago, this award came as a surprise to this family-owned and operated micro-distillery.
“Honestly it still hasn’t sunk in,”Backroads Spirits partner Ray Shevernoha said. “I mean, we entered this competition just simply hoping to get a gold medal out of it.”
Shevernoha said he had to read the email notification a few times when he received it, then consult with his son Cruz to see if it was real.
“He called back and he goes “I think that’s the top award,’ and I go ‘that’s how I hear it too but I said ‘that’s just unbelievable.’ I mean, we are talking world-scale completing with countries, Australia, Czechoslovakia and Poland, Italy, the U.S.,” he said.
“I still wait for somebody to call me and say ‘oops we said the wrong name’. It’s just small-town Saskatchewan, Canada, (and) to win an award on this scale is beyond belief. I mean, it is just absolutely unbelievable.”
The World Vodka Awards are open to distilleries from across the globe. The awarding process takes place with a panel of esteemed international judges, ranging from industry experts, leading journalists, specialist drink retailers and other distillers, conducting a blind taste test in a series of rounds.
Shevernoha said that being around for only two years made it even more impressive.
“We have grown unbelievably. Obviously our product is doing well and people like our product, but to be acknowledged like this by world class journalists and industry experts and other distillers who were all part of the judging team, to come out and say this is the best, this isn’t a bunch of good old boys sitting around the campfire and picking. These are experts who have tasted … hundreds of products for sure over the years,” he said.
Firstly, gold medals are awarded, and the best vodkas are selected from each country from around the world. Next, all the country winners are then blind taste tested against one another to finally select the World’s Best Vodka.
“It’s unbelievably overwhelming is what it is and it’s gratifying is what it is too because you think you are on the right track, you think you like your product but you are obviously biased. For others to acknowledge it, it’s just something we can keep with us forever,” Shevernoha said.
The product has made significant inroads in the marketplace in northern Saskatchewan with some room for growth, according to Shevernoha.
“We started two years ago with Wakaw as our home base and we slowly branched out from there pushing further and further into the province,” he said. “As of today we actually don’t have much of a presence, if any, south of Saskatoon.”
“I feel comfortable saying that Alibi is the number one vodka in Prince Albert,” he said.
“Alibi definitely does well in Prince Albert, but on the other hand we only have product in one store in all of Regina. As far as we have come, I feel like we have got that much more work to do,” he said.
Shevernoha said the award is already helping to grow their brand across Canada. Since the award, they’ve received calls and emails from British Columbia, Ontario, and Alberta about their vodka.
It’s also given them a boost back home in Saskatchewan.
“This is everything you hope and dream of. This is advertising you can’t buy,” Shevernoha said.
“Doing deliveries, I have been out in small town Saskatchewan, I have been to liquor stores this past week after the announcement and people are going ‘oh my God you guys are those people from Wakaw you are Alibi Vodka. I have heard of this.
“When you start out in the beginning you stand in a liquor store, you look at the wall of vodka, and you wonder, ‘how am I going to sell anything to anybody based on this competition?’ I mean, two years later, it’s ‘maybe we are doing something right?’”
The Saskatchewan made Alibi Vodka was first awarded Canada’s Best Pure Neutral Vodka and when pitted against the Gold Medal winners from the other countries, Alibi Vodka was selected the best of the best ultimately being awarded World’s Best Pure Neutral Vodka.
The judges from the competition described Alibi Vodka as, “Clean and smooth with a bit of citrus and other fruity notes. Bright and fresh, staying cool on the palate.”
Shevernoha explained that he is still overwhelmed by the win.
“(I am) still processing, still hoping for it to sink in,” he said. “In the meantime, it’s a very busy month coming up so we are keeping our feet moving forward. We have got a couple of big shows coming up this week and next weekend.”
Among these events is the Kinsmen Club Fest of Ale in Prince Albert on May 12.
“It kind of gives some credibility that maybe we are on the right track with what we are trying to do here, so we are extremely excited to have this award,” Shevernoha said.