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Distiller opening gets Lincoln in the spirit

 January 4, 2013 00:01:00

When it comes to alcohol, Niagara is justifiably famous for the wines that are created here. A new Beamsville business hopes to carve out their own niche, but in spirits rather than wines.

Dillon’s Small Batch Distillers opened their doors in Beamsville on Dec. 8. The company produces white rye, vodka and gin created entirely from locally grown produce. The grand opening last month was the culmination of months of hard work.

“We’ve been working on it for a year and a half,” said Dillon’s chairmain Gary Huggins. The business is named for father and son team of Peter and Jeff Dillon. Peter is the engineer and botanical expert, while his son Geoff is the distiller. According to Huggins, the Dillons are working toward a dream: the creation of a truly Canadian rye whisky.

“The whole idea came from his (Geoff’s) desire to establish a Canadian rye whisky. That’s what got us going down this road,” said Huggins, who is Geoff’s father-in-law.

According to Huggins, the ideal of a Canadian rye whisky has been diluted over time. There are no standards for marketing or production. In other words, if it tastes like rye, it can be sold as rye, even if it contains no rye.

“If you had a scotch, for example, it has to be 50 per cent barley. If you have a bourbon it has to be 50 per cent corn. If you have a rye, it just has to look dark and taste like rye. You can flavour it. You don’t even have to put rye in it,” said Huggins.

At Dillon’s, small single batches of locally grown rye are distilled using time-honoured distilling processes.

“This process is much more back to the roots, using tradition with modern techniques. Our rye is made of 100 per cent locally grown Canadian rye,” said Huggins.

However, the whisky currently being produced at Dillon’s cannot yet be billed as Canadian rye whisky.

“On the rye side, we’ve started with what we call the white rye. It’s unaged, so it’s clear. Aging is what gives it the colour. What we do is we take that and we put it in barrels, and we’ll age it for three years. After three years, we can call it Canadian rye whisky,” said Huggins.

The unaged rye alcohol has a distinctive flavour of its own, uninfluenced by the flavours of the barrel. Dillon’s also produces vodka and gin, and makes use of local grapes in the process.

“Our gins and vodkas, we make from grapes, and that’s very unusual… We think it has a great taste and a great flavour. You get a unique taste out of that,” said Huggins.

The gin, which is made from the vodka, is unfiltered to maximize the flavour. Most gin derives its flavour only from juniper, but Dillon’s Unfiltered Gin 22 makes use of 21 other botanical ingredients as well.

“It’s really quite rich,” said Huggins.

The decision to use locally grown rye and grapes in production is part of the Dillon craft distillery philosophy. By supporting local growers and using natural products, Huggins said the distillery demonstrates their dedication to the art of liquor making.

“We want to use local products, where possible. We want to use fresh products where possible. We don’t want to use syrups or chemicals. We want it all back to natural, and we make things one small batch at a time,” said Huggins.

Dillons Small Batch Distillery is located at 4833 Tufford Rd., in Beamsville. Dillon’s store and “sipping room” are open Friday to Sunday from 11 a.m. to 5  p.m.

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