As a country we have always had a rich and fascinating historical connection with all things fermented, and distilling is no exception.
The background in distilling dates back for centuries in our country, with our first settlers setting up brewing and distilling across what was not quite Canada just yet.
Our first foray was interestingly with rums made from imported molasses, and eventually the Loyalists introduced whiskey into the lexicon of distilling in Canada.
In more recent times distilling has been set to the back row of alcohol fame in our country as the industry explodes with craft brewers and new and improved wineries. Those people who love the art of the still are soon to be rewarded as artisan distilling is coming back into the conversation in a significant way.
In our own backyard we have one of the most innovative and exciting distillers in the province with Dillon’s Small Batch Distillers in Beamsville. The operation is a family affair led by the young Geoff Dillon teaming up with his father, Peter, an accomplished chemist and zoologist, along with business guru Gary Huggins, to form a business that is leading and inspiring small business opportunity across the province. The adventure of small artisan distillers is a new phenomenon in our province and continues to grow each and every year thanks to the inspiration set forth by leaders like Dillon’s. Their product is proudly Niagara-based, and with the exception of minute amounts of natural products for flavouring, the process uses only key local ingredients including botanicals, grapes, rye and even barrels produced and coopered right here in our region.
Geoff is the face and leader of the business, which employs 14 people, and continues to grow and develop in both size and variety of product.
The base offerings of vodka and white rye, along with flavoured and standard gins, are the cornerstone of his business. The business is now making advances to produce many other products to define Dillon’s beyond these standards. Botanically infused bitters are growing in fame along with new exciting taste treats such as absinthe, limoncello, pear brandy and a newly released full cask strength signature rye whiskey aged for over 40 months in Ontario oak barrels.
There is new legislation coming soon in Ontario that will help with distribution and taxation and will support growth for small business entrepreneurs to take a chance in the distilling business, and the current 15 distillers in Ontario will double or triple in the coming years.
In support of this growth Niagara College has recently announced an artisan distilling graduate program launching in 2017 in response to the imminent expansion of this Ontario industry. When I asked Geoff about the upcoming competition he said, “I am excited for the growth and changes, and see this as bringing more attention to distilling,” and then as an aside he noted “it’s about being the best and producing a great product the correct and traditional way.”
Dillon’s array of products are not only found in our LCBO stores, but they can also be found on bar display shelves in many large cities including Toronto and New York. The specialty products sell out on line like Adele tickets and the excitement for more new products continues to buzz our region.
I was told traditional sweet vermouth, made from VQA Niagara grapes, is coming this fall and the prospect of a local operation boasting all the ingredients to produce a truly regional Manhattan brings a tear to my eye.
Craig Youdale has been in the food and beverage industry for three decades as a chef, restauranteur, professor, international competitor and now dean of the Canadian Food and Wine Institute at Niagara College. His passion for all things food and wine has led him to Niagara to lead the institute to become the world’s foremost educator in fermentation sciences and culinary arts.