Posted on | February 19, 2015
Written by | Cara McIlwaine
Think Canadian spirits and whiskey springs to mind. But just as craft distilling has started to transform the American spirits landscape, so it is up north. Dillon’s Small Batch Distillers, in Beamsville, Ontario, is an emblem of a modern, craftier Canada—distilling not only rye whiskey but also gin, vodka and more. Just two years old, the distillery’s spirits are now reaching the ultimate boozy destination: New York.
Dillon’s Small Batch is a family affair. Peter Dillon is a scientist and chemistry professor who has also been distilling much of his life. His son Geoff, while double-majoring in biology and economics in college, caught the distilling bug. Geoff recalls, “About halfway through school, I learned to distill and I started to see so much opportunity in the craft distilling movement.”
After graduation, Geoff traveled abroad to Scotland, London and the U.S., learning more about distilling. He returned to Ontario with a plan to launch a distillery—involving not only his father but also his father-in-law. Peter Dillon serves as engineer and herb and botanical expert; Geoff’s father-in-law, Gary Huggins, is chairman and manages the distillery and tasting room. Housed in a former truck repair shop, Dillon’s Small Batch opened in late 2012.
Beamsville was chosen for its prime location as part of the fruit belt of the Niagara Peninsula, growing a plethora of pears, plums, apricots, berries and more. Most notably of late, the region is also known for its rapidly progressing wine business—grapevines thrive here. Dillon’s uses local grapes as the base for both the brand’s Unfiltered Gin 22 and Method 95 Vodka.
Geoff Dillon notes that the gin and vodka are the first Canadian versions of those spirits ever produced from 100% grapes. Gin 22’s name refers to the 22 botanicals, such as juniper, wormwood, hibiscus, basil and lavender. The Rose Gin is a traditional London-style gin infused with their seven-botanical base as well as with rose hips and rose petals, resulting in a uniquely sweet spirit that works well as an aperitif or in a cocktail. The rye used in The White Rye is also sourced from Ontario; it’s a “purist’s rye,” not aged in wood, it is particularly robust, showcasing the spicy character of the grain. Dillon’s grows some gin-destined herbs on their property as well as sourcing botanicals from local farms.
In addition to the core spirits—gin, whiskey and vodka—Dillon’s also makes a dozen bitters, pear eau-de-vie, absinthe and a variety of seasonal fruit gins and liqueurs. A barrel-aged rye is set for release in 2016 after three years in wood.
While still quite young, Dillon’s Small Batch spirits have already begun distinguishing themselves at competitions. The Unfiltered Gin 22 earned Double Gold at the 2014 San Francisco International Spirits Competition and Dillon’s was named “Canadian Distillery of the Year” at the 2014 New York International Spirits Competition.
Dillon’s Small Batch Distillers products are being imported into the U.S. exclusively by ECU Imports and distributed by Empire Merchants (800-338-3880). Geoff Dillon is thrilled that Dillon’s will be moving into the New York market, calling it the epicenter of mixology. “Dillon’s is a fast growing producer of fine spirits looking to expand into the great cocktail markets of the world. We’ve been bombarded with requests for our Rose Gin from New York establishments ever since bartenders got a hold of a sample. We are looking at cementing our place as the leader in unique Canadian-made spirits and New York is the place to prove that.”
The White Rye, Unfiltered Gin 22 and Rose Gin will be marketed in NYC and soon after across the state with a major focus on the on-premise trade and off-premise retail establishments.