A little root of Devil's Club in your organic absinthe? Or maybe you prefer bone-dry gin made with locally foraged botanicals? Canada's bumper crop of craft distilleries are making small batches of booze using the best ingredients on offer.
Sip your way across the country by taking a tour at these 10 distilleries from the West Coast of British Columbia, up to the Yukon, land of the midnight sun. Then, head across the prairies and east to Nova Scotia, Canada's honorary sliver of Scotland.
Dillon’s Small Batch Distillers | Beamsville, Ont.
Rye whisky, white rye, gin and bitters are handcrafted at Dillon's — Photo courtesy of Dillon's Small Batch Distillers
Ontario’s Niagara region is not just about wine and waterfalls. Dillon’s Small Batch Distillers, in Beamsville, has made a mark with its local, handcrafted spirits.
Tour the distillery or drop by the Sipping Room to savor its Unfiltered Gin 22 (the base spirit is distilled from Niagara grapes). Or try Dillon’s Rye Whisky, a rarity made from 100 percent Ontario rye and aged in three types of oak. If those aren't enough to get you going, there are several other spirits and bitters to sample.
Glenora Distillery | Glenville, N.S.
North America's first single-malt whisky distillery — Photo courtesy of Glenora Distillery
A sliver of Scotland? That’s the vibe at Glenora Distillery, North America’s first single-malt whisky distillery. Guests are drawn to the pastoral setting in Glenville, on Cape Breton Island, to drink drams of international award-winning Glen Breton Rare whiskies and dine in the Washback Pub while listening to fiddle music, performed daily.
Get the full-on authentic experience: Stay in Glenora’s country inn or log chalets. Hourly tours and tastings are available every day from May to October.
Odd Society Spirits | Vancouver
Sip cocktails in the tasting lounge — Photo courtesy of Odd Society Spirits
British Columbia is brimming with small-batch distilleries. But Odd Society Spirits is an East Vancouver institution that continues to push the limits. Founder and distiller Gordon Glanz experiments by using new-world ingredients when making his award-winning old-world spirits.
The stalwarts include East Van Vodka and Wallflower Gin, plus delightfully delicious oddities like its limited-run version of sloe gin made with local salal berries. Sample them in the craft cocktails served in the tasting lounge.
Lucky Bastard Distillers | Saskatoon, Sask.
Inside the distillery's inner workings — Photo courtesy of Lucky Bastard Distillers
They say you make your own luck, but a prime position amid Canada’s prairies helps when making spirits that shine. Saskatoon’s Lucky Bastard Distillers goes beyond grain-to-glass (or Saskatoon berry-to-bottle). They use audacious ingredients (think dill pickle vodka – perfect for a Prairie Margarita cocktail), barrel-age gin, and distill horilka, a Ukrainian honey-pepper vodka.
Take a tour to learn how these libations are made and meet Ginger, the gleaming copper still.
Yukon Shine Distillery | Whitehorse, Yuk.
Master distiller and founder Karlo Krauzig — Photo courtesy of GBP Creative Media
The essence of the Yukon, pure and untamed, is what master distiller Karlo Krauzig wanted to bottle up when he started Yukon Shine Distillery in Whitehorse. He has cleverly captured that spirit in Yukon Winter Vodka and Yukon AuraGin. Both are distilled from local Yukon Gold potatoes, Canadian rye and malted barley.
Another pioneering process: The spirits are filtered through charcoal and actual gold nuggets from the Yukon.
Eau Claire Distillery | Turner Valley, Alta.
Tasting room at Alberta's first independent distillery — Photo courtesy of Eau Claire Distillery
There’s a playfulness at the Eau Claire Distillery in Turner Valley farm country (a 45-minute drive south of Calgary). Case in point: its Prickly Pear EquineOx, a barley-based spirit that pays homage to hardworking horses and oxen. But the distillery, whose name translates to “clear water,” is serious about artisanal spirits.
For instance, its Parlour Gin, with hints of mint and Saskatoon berry, earned a trio of international awards. Once a movie theater and dance hall in the 1920s, you can explore Eau Claire’s heritage during a farm and distillery tour.
Pemberton Distillery | Pemberton, B.C.
Master distiller and owner, Tyler Schramm — Photo courtesy of Pemberton Distillery
Whistler may be ski heaven, but 20 miles north is Pemberton, a potato mecca. At Pemberton Distillery, master distiller Tyler Schramm transforms those spuds into Canada’s only organic potato vodka, gin and absinthe, among other spirits.
Local hops, Devil’s Club root and hemp seed are often part of the mix. Drive the spectacular Sea-to-Sky Highway to join Schramm on a tour of British Columbia’s only certified-organic distillery.
Cirka Distillery | Montreal
Tour Montreal's first distillery open to the public — Photo courtesy of Cirka Distillery
Quebec’s northern boreal forest inspired Montreal-based Cirka Distillery to infuse woodsy alchemy into its spirits. The distillery uses non-GMO Quebec-grown corn in its Vodka Terroir and Gin Sauvage, and delves deep into nature. More than 30 botanicals put the “sauvage” (wild) in its gin, with complex notes of pine, floral and fruit.
Situated near the Lachine Canal National Historic Site, Cirka is making its own history as Montreal's first artisanal distillery open to the public.
Still Waters Distillery | Concord, Ont.
Barry Stein and Barry Bernstein — Photo courtesy of Still Waters Distillery
What makes a true Canadian whisky? It’s all about the grain. Still Waters Distillery’s Barry Stein and Barry Bernstein (you can’t make these names up!) ought to know. These award-winning “wizards of whisky” started Ontario’s first micro-distillery in 2009.
The hands-on duo exclusively make whisky, offering four types under the flagship Stalk and Barrel brand, including a single-malt whisky available at cask strength and a peppery 100 percent rye.
Okanagan Spirits Craft Distillery | Kelowna, B.C.
BRBN, a whisky made with grain corn — Photo courtesy of Janet Gyenes
If you trace the roots of Western Canada’s craft spirits craze, they lead to the Dyck family, who have been running Okanagan Spirits Craft Distillery in Kelowna (there's another distillery in Vernon) since 2004. Located in an area laden with wineries and orchards, Okanagan Spirits makes fruit liqueurs (blueberry, cherry and others) and less conventional spirits such as Taboo (Canada’s first authentic absinthe) and BRBN, a bourbon-style corn whisky.
Sample all its offerings at the Kelowna distillery's Barrel Room Patio & Lounge.