Ontario’s emerging craft distillers, a whole new ball game!


After wine, there comes… – spirits!

I’ve been a wine fan for a long time. But I have not been able to resist the lure of spirits either.  They got my attention and they’re winning me over. They’re fascinating and equally full of culture and lore. So with this post, I am embarking on an undiluted journey into the wonderful world of spirits.

My first notice of distilled liquor was of Single Malt Scotch. I remember working on a major project and going to the neighbourhood bar after hours. They had a display of Scotches set up on the counter. I decided to order one of each over the next several days. I liked the different flavours, personalities and histories. From there I branched into blended whisky, Irish whiskey, gin, and absinthe, among others. Ah, so many to encounter. A delightful quest!

Dramatic Growth in the U.S. – Ontario poised to explode with a micro-distillery boom

As reported at a recent American Distilling Institute (ADI) conference, micro-distilleries have grown from 50 in 2005 to around 300 today (in the US), and that number could grow to 1,000 in less than 10 years. “The renaissance has happened to wine, beer, bread and vegetables,” ADI President Bill Owens says of the craft revolution. Now, he says, is simply the time for spirits. The industry is set to enjoy similar growth to that of craft beer in the ’90′s. There is no similar organization in Canada. The boom is just starting in the Great White North. There are half a dozen micro distilleries in Ontario right now, but according to one industry proprietor, he’s hearing of 2 or 3 potential startups per week. The trend is rising rapidly!

There are many types of spirits to explore. Visit your local micro-distillery to discover. According to Time, whiskey is the quickest growing micro category in production in the US and that seems to be the initial trend in Ontario as well. The range of products made by micro-distilleries goes far beyond standard spirits. There are so many different types a craft distillery can make, so many creatively cool ingredients to add for personality, and a myriad of techniques that can be tried to add to products’ artisanal appeal. They’re making pear-based eau de vie in Pennsylvania, artisanal moonshine in Arkansas, and brandies in Napa Valley. Ontario’s doing some innovative stuff too. I visited 3 distilleries in the Toronto area to see what’s going on in my neck of the woods. Here a three attention-getters…

Still Waters Distillery, Concord, Ontario

Barry and Barry of Still Waters
Barry and Barry of Still Waters
Still Waters Barrels lovingly aging whisky
Still Waters Barrels lovingly aging whisky

Launched in January 2009, this is Ontario’s first micro-distillery, founded by Barry Bernstein and Barry Stein. They make everything by hand in small batches with a beautiful custom made pot still from Germany. Every batch is hand made right from the grain to the bottle. They proudly produce whisky, vodka, gin and brandy. Each product has that distinctively clean and characterful taste that you can only get from a small producer. Excellent products! You can find some of them in LCBO, but most of them are available only from the distillery in Concord Ontario or via their online shop. I particularly enjoyed their Single Malt, Rye, and Cask Strength Whisky.


Dillon’s, Beamsville, Ontario

Geoff Dillon
Geoff Dillon
sampling of Dillon's products
sampling of Dillon’s products

Dillon’s is a cool place to visit, even on a hot day! The people here are cool, the products are gorgeous, and they’re here to make an impact in the enjoyment of spirits. Going to Wine Country? Then add Dillon’s to your itinerary.

Geoff Dillon gives a terrific distillery tour. Lauren Huggins and her co-workers will look after you at the tasting bar. Everyone at Dillon’s will make you feel welcome.

The vodka (essentially Grappa, because it’s made from Niagara wine grapes) has far more interesting flavour than regular vodka. This is a great spirit.

The gin is the best I’ve ever had to this point. It makes the perfect Gin and Tonic.

And here are my notes for “The White Rye”.

dillonryesm THE WHITE RYEColour: perfectly clearNose: Grain mash, Asian pear, rock candy, white pepper, hint of licorice and an almost wisp of ginger

Flavour: same, with hint of vanilla

Finish: lingering

Overall Impression: A beautifully crafted white rye that’s a delight to enjoy straight or as base for a cocktail


Vieni Estates

Vieni Wine and Spirits from Wine Baron on Vimeo.

Vieni just opened this year. Situated on 175 acres, 190 meters above sea-level on the brow of the Niagara Escarpment, Vieni combines centuries of tradition with modern technology. As well as offering a large range of whites, reds and icewines, winemaker Mauro Salvador will be releasing a selection of Charmat Method sparkling wines. And the big news is that Vieni is the first craft winery in Ontario to make Grappa and other spirits distilled from local fruit. Visitors can taste the range at the winery, picnic in the vineyard, hike the property’s section of the Bruce Trail and enjoy a stay in the beautifully updated B&B where every room has a stunning view of the vineyard.

Concluding Thoughts:

So get out there, folks, and discover the wonderful world of micro-distilleries. You thought you knew spirits from going to the liquor store? There’s so much more. The small producers are the ones that will welcome you warmly, educate you, provide innovative and highly interesting products, and they’re nearby. Drop me a line and let me know how you make out … @thewinebaron

Complete list of known Ontario distilleries:

66 Gilead, Bloomfield – http://66gileaddistillery.com/
Dillon’s, Beamsville – http://dillons.ca/
Magnotta Distillery, Vaughan – http://www.magnotta.com/Distillery/
Mill Street, Toronto – http://bit.ly/10pt1C7
Still Waters, Concord – http://www.stillwatersdistillery.com
Toronto Distillery Company – http://torontodistillery.ca/
Vieni, Beamsville – http://www.vieni.ca
Waverley Spirits, Perth – http://www.waverleyspirits.com/


Published by Paul Singer

Personal: wine, travel, people. Professional: writer/blogger, mentor, marketer. One side of my life is as "The Wine Baron." The other sides include a broad range of business endeavours, including marketing of cool and innovative products.

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