Dillon’s Gin Shakes Up Summer Cocktails
As well as famously preferring his martinis shaken, not stirred, James Bond goes big with garnish when he drinks gin and tonics. In Dr. No, Ian Fleming’s sixth 007 novel, Bond orders a double containing two cut halves of a whole lime.
While this kind of liberal lime use may strike G&T purists as unusual, it is nothing compared to the kind of ingenious creativity being exhibited by Dillon’s Small Batch Distillers. Based in the bucolic Niagara town of Beamsville, Dillon’s produces gins infused with cherry, rhubarb, strawberry, and rose hips and petals, as well as a traditional dry-style gin made from a base of 100-percent Ontario rye grain, and a Western-style unfiltered gin made from a base of local wine grapes and vapour-distilled through 22 botanicals. Combine these spirits with Dillon’s array of bitters and mixers, and it’s no wonder the distillery recently published a recipe book containing one hundred unique craft cocktails.
According to Geoff Dillon, who co-founded the distillery in 2012 with his dad Peter, its recipe for success is equal parts experimentation and fun. Geoff holds a degree in biochemistry and is a Master Distiller certified by the Institute of Brewing and Distilling, while Peter is a professor emeritus at Trent University’s School of the Environment and Chemistry. “When I moved down here from Muskoka to start this distillery, it was because I knew we would be surrounded by botanicals, by fruit, by grapes, by orchards,” Geoff says. “And as a distiller, I also knew that this kind of bounty would be a lot of fun to play with.”
A dozen of Toronto’s top bartenders got in on the fun over the last year, when Dillon’s virtually hosted blind tastings to ensure that “our gins are the best ones out there,” Geoff explains. “Our Dry Gin 7 is clean, classic and perfect for mixing.”
The cocktails discovered over the course of this process reflect Dillon’s delicious inventiveness. A tangy yet subtly floral Rose Gin Greyhound, for instance, combines its namesake spirit with Dillon’s Orange Bitters, fresh lemon and grapefruit juices. Shaken with ice, strained and garnished with dried rose petals, it looks and tastes like summer in a Collins glass.
For adventurous G&T drinkers who want to kick their cocktail games up a notch (and don’t mind planning ahead), a Clove & Clementine Gin and Tonic calls on them to steep Dillon’s Dry Gin 7 and whole cloves in a Mason jar for two to three days, then combine the contents in a rocks glass with fresh clementine juice and Dillon’s Lemon Bitters before topping it all off with Dillon’s Tonic and soda water.
While many premixed cocktails fall short of their handmade equivalents, Dillon’s canned and bottled products successfully pair tastiness with effortless prep. Indeed, the brand’s “Tangerine, Lemon & A Hint of Mint” canned gin cocktail recently took home a double gold medal at the 2022 San Francisco World Spirits Competition, and was awarded “Best Of Class for Signature Cocktails.”
Whether made from scratch or pre-mixed, “cocktails that use our infused gins really jump up to the next level,” Geoff says. “We do the experimenting, you reap the rewards, and everyone has fun.”
Photography: Nataschia Wielink