Grapes meet spirits in Niagara venture
BEAMSVILLE – It’s Niagara’s reputation as a wine-and-fruit destination that prompted Geoff Dillon to start a spirited new venture here. Dillon learned the art of distilling from his father while studying biology and economics at the University of Western Ontario. Further training abroad set the stage for a return to Canada — specifically this region — to start Dillon’s Small Batch Distillers in Beamsville.
The region was a perfect fit to launch a distillery that uses grapes as the base for some of its artisan liquor products. “My dad has been a big influence on me, he’s been distilling his whole life,” Dillon said. “So I thought I’d continue the family tradition.” “I thought I could actually make a go of it, and realized Ontario could use something like this.”
His father, Peter Dillon, is a scientist and professor with a masters in chemistry and a doctorate in zoology from the University of Toronto. He is also the company’s engineer and herb and botanicals expert.
The other principal is Dillon’s father-in-law Gary Huggins, who acts the distillery’s chairman and manages the 4833 Tufford Rd. enterprise that opened in December.
Dillon, 27, who originally hails from Bracebridge, mused starting a business like this is about getting a stream of permits. “We’ve been working at this building for over a year now, pushing permits through,” he says of the facility that was once a truck repair site. “And the idea itself started 3 1/2 years ago.”
The distillery’s equipment is state-of-the art and custom-built in Germany. “It’s about a blend between traditional copper-pot stills and new technology to give us tons of freedom to make exactly what we want to make,” Dillon explained. His Lincoln facility features a tasting bar “sipping room” and a store. Meanwhile, their white rye is currently going through the LCBO approval process.
Another agent is marketing their products — which include white rye, vodkas, gins and bitters — across Canada. Duty-free shops and licensed establishments will be another sales point.
The wine is a particular niche Dillon is excited about. It’s being used as a base for their vodka and gin. The grapes are turned into wine, then put into the still. That goes through a boiling and distillation that reduces it to 95% ethanol. Another process merges the Pinot and Gamay Noir, Cabernet Franc and Merlot with the spirits and adds other botanical flavours to the mix.
“Almost no one in the world uses grapes (for this kind of distilling),” Dillon said. “And I came down to Niagara for the fruits, these grapes, this whole scene.”