Toronto’s Distillery District is an historic collection of Victorian-era warehouse buildings that once housed the Gooderham and Worts distillery – once the largest of its kind in North America. After the distillery closed in 1990, its beautiful brick buildings and cobblestone streets were converted into a pedestrian-only shopping and dining area. Today, visitors to the district can shop for everything from mod-style housewares to designer clothing, or fill bare walls and hallways with the one-of-a-kind paintings and sculptures created onsite by the artists who keep studios in the converted warehouses.
The Distillery District has managed to hang on to a bit of its alcohol-producing past as well. The Ontario Spring Water Sake Company opened here in 2011 as eastern North America’s first sake brewery. The owners created the facility with an aim to offer Torontonians and visitors an education in sake – namely, that it’s more than just a cheap alcoholic drink served warm alongside sushi.
The facility offers a full sake learning experience. Visitors can peer through windows to watch sake being made in the brewery behind the retail operation. They can find a spot at the tasting bar to sample their way through the varieties produced and bottled under the company’s Izumi brand – fruity Nama-Nama, refreshing Nama-Cho, the higher-alcohol sipper Genshu Nama-Nama and the complex flavours of limited edition Telon Sakura, which is reminiscent of white wine. And those who want the full experience can join one of Ontario Spring Water Sake Company’s frequently scheduled full brewery tour and tasting experiences.
The Ontario Spring Water Sake Company is helping to bring the world of sake closer to Toronto, too. In May 2012, the brewery played host to Canada's first sake festival, Kampai. The one-day event was held in the Distillery District and allowed participants to taste the home-grown sake next to products from more than 30 other brewers.
It could be said that Izumi sakes are produced through somewhat of a global effort; the team is led by a sake master from Japan, the rice used in the brewing process is imported from California, while the water is sourced from a spring located in the town of Huntsville just north of Toronto. Izumi sake varieties are available in a growing number of Toronto restaurants – including George, Nota Bene and Hiro Sushi – as well as from LCBO liquor stores across the province of Ontario. Bottles can also be purchased at the brewery - which is convenient for sake lovers who, after learning so much about the process and tasting the final product, can't imagine leaving Toronto without bringing home a bottle or two.