The Sleeman family’s brewing heritage goes back to 1834, when John H. Sleeman opened a brewery in Guelph, Ont. His great-great-grandson John W. Sleeman resurrected the family brand in 1988 and rebuilt the legacy to become the third largest brewer in Canada. Two years ago, inspired by the growing trend of craft spirits, Sleeman revived another part of the family heritage: distilling. He founded Spring Mill Distillery in a restored historic stone building in Guelph and approached spirits with the same authenticity that led to his family’s brewing success. Sleeman embraced traditional distilling techniques, investing in handcrafted copper stills from the renowned Forsyths in Scotland — which makes stills for Scotch giants like Glenfiddich — using barrels and authentic mash bills from Kentucky and bottling spirits by hand. “It’s really important to our family that our last name stands for quality,” says Sleeman.
Of course, to be considered Canadian, whisky must be aged for three years, so while waiting for the first Spring Mill whiskies to mature, the distillery released its lineup of white spirits, starting with its premium Spring Mill Distillery Gin and Vodka. “We are grain-to-glass and like to buy our grains from local farms to support local. We use red winter wheat from Western Canada to make our spirits softer,” says Sleeman. The Ward Series liqueurs, named for Guelph’s Ward neighbourhood, followed. “Our head distiller, Doan Bellman, has incredible skills. He created a spiced liqueur for the holiday season that was so good people requested we make a liqueur for summer. Bellman came up with a coffee liqueur made with 100 per cent ethically sourced beans, and it’s popular on ice.” What’s next for Spring Mill? A 100 per cent rye whisky, a haskap berry liqueur and an Irish-style spirit are all coming soon.