Discover the Local Talent
Ontario's small-batch distillers are known for creating incredible spirits with amazing quality and distinctive flavours. Meet the artisanal producers winning fans and awards for hand-crafting spirits using locally sourced ingredients with innovative and sustainable methods.
A trip to P.E.I. in 2014 inspired the Beattie family to start their own distillery. When founder Ken Beattie met a potato farmer using his crop surplus to handcraft spirits, he realized he could do the same on the family farm in Alliston, Ont. Instead of throwing out all the potatoes that were too small to be turned into potato chips, or using them for animal feed, like they’d done in the past, the Beatties transformed them into a smooth spirit. Gluten-free and packaged in handmade bottles, Beattie’s Farm-Crafted Vodka has been racking up fans since its debut in 2015, and won the Platinum Award for Best Spirit in the 2018 World Spirits Competition. “We were against Russian and Polish vodkas that dominate that category, so as Canadians winning that award was very cool,” says Beattie’s sales manager Jonny Metcalfe.
The family-run distillery’s innovative product line-up also includes one of the only gluten-free gins on the market, a sweet potato vodka and an Irish moonshine-style spirit called Poitin that’s aged in virgin oak barrels and tastes like a light whiskey. This spring, Beattie's is introducing a vodka made with Ontario strawberries. "It’s wonderfully aromatic and smooth.”
When a family relative with a dairy farm mentioned that milk sugar typically goes to waste during milk production, home-distilling enthusiast Omid McDonald got the idea to turn that sugar into a spirit. He teamed up with biologists at the University of Ottawa to create a process for fermenting the unused milk sugar and built a distillery in Almonte, Ont. After 18 months of tinkering, the first batch was ready. “When the vodka dripped off the still, it was delicious," says McDonald. "It’s clear but has a creamier mouthfeel than other vodkas and just a hint of sweetness.” Thanks to its sustainable ingredients, efficient production and packaging that’s half the weight of other glass bottles, Vodkow also has half the carbon footprint of traditional vodkas. “We also buy carbon offsets so every bottle is carbon neutral.”
For its second product, Dairy Distillery pioneered technology to create another unique spirit: Vodkow Cream, Canada’s first lactose-free dairy cream liqueur. “It has no added flavourings or colours because we want the beauty of the cream to come through," says McDonald. "I love it cold, on ice or in coffee, and its neutral flavour makes it a wonderful choice for cocktails.”
Nickel 9 Distillery:
Locally Sourced Spirits
Making spirits started out as a hobby for bartender and restaurant consultant, Chris Jacks. When people took notice and started placing orders for his hand-crafted vodka, that hobby quickly transformed into a full-time job. In 2017, Jacks bought a still from a distillery that was going out of business in Toronto’s Junction neighbourhood and got to work producing high-quality spirits from locally sourced ingredients, starting with apples from a nearby orchard to create an eau de vie (an unaged brandy) as the base for his vodka. “That base gives the vodka a distinctive finish that’s softer than a grain alcohol,” says Jacks, who followed it up with a gin crafted with nine wild Canadian botanicals including cedar and spruce tips to impart a foresty taste, and chaga mushrooms for a unique hint of umami. Both spirits are ideal for enjoying in simple cocktails: “Our Temple line is about purity so they’re great topped with soda or mixed in a martini with lemon.”
From Field to Glass
What do you get when a farmer, a lawyer and a marketing executive walk into an MBA class on sustainability together? The idea to turn all of the unwanted carrots from a family farm in the Holland Marsh into a small-batch distillery. “You can only give so many carrots away to food banks so much of the surplus crop from the Riga brothers’ farm was getting tilled back into the soil,” says John Rocco, who co-founded Farmhouse Spirits Company in 2018 with classmates Jennifer Quick and Peter Riga, and Riga's brothers Giovanni and Domenic. They hired a contract distiller to help and Peter experimented with mashing, grinding and juicing the carrots to fine-tune the recipe for their handmade vodka, Sight. “It’s truly a farm-to-glass spirit,” says Rocco. “It doesn’t taste like carrots but has a subtle earthiness and is amazing sipped on ice or paired with ginger in a Moscow Mule.” Farmhouse also produces a bespoke gin featuring 20 botanicals, including basil, tarragon, lavender and mint grown in a greenhouse on the farm. “It has nice citrusy notes and tastes really fresh with muddled cucumber and soda.”