Small-batch booze is the new giant in the spirits industry, with craft distilleries taking a swing at long-standing industry giants with their intriguing flavour infusions and artisanal appeal. Beyond their quest for the perfect teeny weenie beanie, Millennials and older Gen-Zedders are thirsty for something more unique and boutique in their glasses, leading to an uptick in small-batch sales. Here are the key players putting Canadian small-batch spirits on the map.
Dillon’s Small Batch Distillers
Having recently celebrated their 10 year anniversary, Dillon’s Small Batch Distillers is a huge Canadian spirits success story. Developing alongside a thriving viticulture scene in Niagara’s Bench region, Dillon’s hand crafts spirits in copper stills using fresh local ingredients. Dillon’s have been leading the way in the ever popular flavour spirits category with their gin-fusions, such as strawberry, rose, cherry and rhubarb making hot sales. While Dillion’s made their name in craft gin and a very impressive line of flavoured bitters, they have also delved firmly into vodka, rye whisky and (trend alert…) absinthe! Jumping on the growing market of ready to drink canned cocktails, Dillon’s have firmly thrown a hat in the ring with their fruit and fizz forward gin concoctions. Dillons have also recently collaborated with restaurant group powerhouse, Oliver & Bonacini, to develop a limited release of flavoured spirits that celebrate their iconic culinary establishments in Toronto.
Exciting things have been happening in the colourful UNESCO maritime town of Lunenburg, Nova Scotia. Producing on the historic site of an old blacksmiths, Ironworks have been drawing an adoring crowd since they opened their distillery doors in 2010. Best known for their multi-gold-award-winning Blue Nose rum, Ironworks also produces vodka, gin, whisky, brandy and liqueurs and has been experimenting with extended fermentation durations for richer taste profiles. Sustainability is front and centre for the small-batch distillers, who save more than 500,000 litres of water each year. Fruits used in the distillation process come from within less than a 150 kilometre radius of Lunenburg and, instead of using sugar cane for their rum, Ironworks sources molasses from Crosby’s in New Brunswick.
Keeping things on the rugged side of cool, Bearface proudly declare they produce “whisky made in bear country” and are pioneers in elemental aging, a process where liquid is barrel aged in shipping containers and exposed to the extreme elements of the wilderness. The climate of the aging process imparts a unique flavour of the craft spirit, and the intense fluctuation of the Canadian seasons plays an important role in the taste profile of Bearface. Master blender, Andres Faustinelli, is constantly working to untame whisky production, leading to experiments such as the more recent Wilderness Series, in which an infusion of foraged Matsutake mushrooms impart a one-of-a-kind umami finish.
Eau Claire, Alberta’s first craft distillery, produces a cross section of spirits. Their raison d’être, however, is the creation of small-batch single malt whiskies. Locally sourced grain is used to handcraft premium liquid, which is then aged in ex-Bourbon, ex-sherry and new European oak casks, and released in small batches (the current “006” release is quite the delight).
If you’re not so much into the brown spirits, or if you’re looking for something more on trend, Eau Claire also produce a delightful Early Grey gin, which is perfect for all your bergamot cocktail daydreams.
Best known for their now vastly popular and notably purple Empress Gin, Victoria Distillers are masters of both flavour and marketing. Revered for its Instagram-bait colour-changing “magic” when mixed in drinks, Empress Gin has also dazzled at national and international spirits awards. The indigo hues of the spirit are 100% natural, coming from an infusion with butterfly pea blossom, an ingredient in a popular tea offering at the iconic Empress hotel in Victoria, the namesake and inspiration behind the gin.
Empress is now exported globally, but Victoria Distillers also create brandy, vodka, something akin to rum and a frankly dreamworthy chocolate liqueur. Oh, and keep your eyes peeled; a red coloured Empress release has been teased on their social media. Details are pending, but if the success of it’s purple big sister is anything to go by, consumers will lap it up.