The Definitive Guide to Canadian Distilleries by de Kergommeaux and Phillips - Excerpt
The Definitive Guide to Canadian Distilleries

by Davin de Kergommeaux and Blair Phillips


THERE IS A MOVEMENT AFOOT IN CANADA’S SPIRITS WORLD. If you doubt us, just visit the Farmers Market in Duncan B.C. There, among the handcrafted soaps, grass-fed meats, local cheeses, wines and vegetables, you will find the Schact family selling the gin and vodka they make by hand at their Ampersand Distilling just up the road. Duncan is typical of scores of communities across the land. Burgeoning interest in locally made food and drink has grown to include spirits, and more than 160 new distilleries have sprung up to supply that demand, with 120 of them opening in just the past 5 years alone. While this rate of growth has slowed, we see a new trend emerging: established brewers installing stills in their breweries.

For almost as long as Canadians have been making spirits, distilling had been the exclusive domain of just a handful of huge enterprises. True, before 1890 hundreds of small distilleries flourished, but whisky was their main product, so when a law requiring it be aged came into force, all but the largest distillers were put out of business. Only the larger producers could afford to wait three years to sell their spirits. Of these large distilleries, just eight remained at the turn of the 21st century.

This issue of entrepreneurial risk-taking is an underlying theme in this book. That was how distilling began in Canada, long ago—with nascent industrialists taking calculated risks—and this is how it continues to develop today. Although the prospects of being legislated out of business are now remote, there are new legislative and regulatory challenges created by governments and bureaucracies that simply cannot keep up with the pace of change and development within Canada’s spirits industry.

And yet, suddenly, like flowers bursting into blossom in a desert rain, new start-ups are transforming Canada’s distilling landscape, and for connoisseur and casual drinker alike, the effect is every bit as colourful.

These are not small-scale knock-offs of the major distilleries that provide 99% of the spirits Canadians drink. Each of Canada’s distilleries, small and large, has its own distinct, often eccentric personality. Each turns local agricultural produce into fine spirits. While larger distilleries focus on high-volume, mass-market liquors, small distillers specialize in tiny batches of specialty spirits. Often they sell these at local markets and in shops right at the distillery.

Mill St. Brewery, Toronto

What these smaller start-ups may lack in volume they make up for in cachet. Many of them, for example, are raising terroir to an almost fetish-like obsession. You really can taste Vancouver Island barley in Shelter Point’s malt whiskies. Dillon’s Vermouth telegraphs the subtle nuances of Niagara grapes, while Ungava gin reveals novel flavours of Arctic herbs in a singular refreshing bitterness. As well, new distillers are creating a new understanding of what have been traditional spirits flavours. Still Waters Distillery and Dillon’s Distillery have each created rye whiskies with surprising and appealing new whisky flavours. Distillerie Fils du Roy harvests New Brunswick Thuja staves for its barrels, while Kinsip Distillery in Prince Edward County, Ontario, taps local maple trees to bring new flavour dimensions to its spirits. As you work your way through this book, you will taste all of these and several hundred more. In all ten provinces and one territory, you will meet the quirky personalities who create these spirits and run the nearly 170 distilleries that make them. Each is an example of “plus ça change” as today’s start-up, gig economy mirrors much of the entrepreneurial energy of a bygone era, but with the support of reliable power supply, just-in-time delivery, and social media.

The idea for this book began to take shape while we were traveling across Canada writing a travel adventure series for Whisky Magazine. Crowded tasting rooms from Eau Claire distillery in Turner Valley, Alberta, to Forty Creek Distillery in Grimsby, Ontario, drove home to us the reality of just how popular drinking local is becoming. Riding the wave of the local food movement along with culinary and alco-tourism, most of Canada’s distilleries also cater to visitors.

While distillery tourism in Canada traces its origins to the local food movement, the explosion of microdistilling in Canada began with the two-decades-old craft-distilling phenomenon in the US. But historically, we can go a lot further back than that and thank Alfred Barnard for today’s enthusiasm for learning about and visiting distilleries. When Harper’s Weekly Gazette published his The Whisky Distilleries of the United Kingdom, it was addressing these two Victorian-era fascinations that have persisted to today. Since Barnard, dozens of guides to Scottish, Irish, Japanese and American distilleries have followed, and Barnard’s 1887 original—a real doorstopper of a book—is back in print.

At its peak in the 1970s, distilling in Canada was concentrated in fewer than two dozen facilities, so a directory or guide would have been very slim. Not today. And to be useful, a guide should include every operating distillery people might wish to sample. This book was up to date at the time it went to print. The logarithmic growth experienced in the microdistilling sector in the 2012 to 2017 timeframe seems to have levelled off, but we would not be surprised if there are a few new additions by the time this book reaches your hands. For the latest updates, visit us at

We have tried to make this book as comprehensive and engaging as possible, so we have moved the technical details of each distillery into tables. This frees up space for descriptions and photos and makes for easy reference and quick fingertip comparisons. As well, we have included regional maps on which you can track your progress. Once the bug bites you, you will want to visit them all.

So, as you thumb through these pages, flip back to the maps and plan your next vacation or weekend adventure. We have made it easy to design your own tour and included suggestions on where to start and where to go next. There has never been a better selection of rich specialty spirits to tempt the palate and supplement your long-time favourites. And when you get home, with new discoveries in hand, why not try one of our distillery specific food pairings or cocktail recipes—some classic, most unique.

There is a new world of flavour in Canada’s distilleries, and this is the book that will help you be a part of it.



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