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Getting in the spirit

East Coast distillers open a new world of locally-inspired libations

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It used to be that if you wanted to buy a bottle of rum or gin, your only option was a visit to your local liquor store for brands like Captain Morgan or Bombay Sapphire. As the craft brewing industry has grown over the last five years, so has the number of local distilleries. But just because entrepreneurial spirit lovers were ready to go into business didn’t mean that government regulations were ready for them.

Ken Mill is one of the founders of Myriad View Artisan Distillery, in Rollo Bay, P.E.I. When his company started, but before getting its licence in 2007, the province didn’t even have an act regulating distilleries.

“It turned out that we were going to be one of the first distilleries in the province since the 1800s,” Mill says, laughing. “That meant we had to go up against government in order to get the wheels turning, and it took the better part of two and a half to three years before they were satisfied with our proof that there was a demand for this type of business.”

Myriad View went on to launch a product line including rum, whisky, brandy, vodka, and gin, and its line of legal moonshines. Most North American moonshine is unaged whisky made from corn mash.

Historically, P.E.I. bootleggers used icing sugar and agricultural molasses, a soil additive. Mill’s company winks at that history by using high quality molasses and cane sugar in its legal moonshines.

Launching Myriad View in the run-up to the Great Recession wasn’t the most confidence-inspiring move, but Mill jokes that rather than seeing his retirement money lose value due to market fluctuations, he’d rather lose it doing something he loves.

He was right to trust his intuition. This past year, Myriad View entered a selection of its products in the distillery’s first competition. The Sip Awards is the only internationally recognized consumer judged spirits competition. Mill entered four products and won four medals: Strait Brandy won platinum, Strait Vodka won double gold, Strait Shine won gold, and Strait Gin won silver.

“We made one commitment to ourselves when we started operations and that was that we wouldn’t make products that we wouldn’t want to consume for ourselves,” he says. “It has to be something that people enjoy, and so far, I’d say we’re doing just that. Our success has been all thanks to word of mouth.”

While Mill’s story is one of striving to achieve a dream, Peter Wilkins, co-founder of The Newfoundland Distillery Company in Clarke’s Beach, N.L., says he fell into the industry almost by accident.

Previously, Wilkins co-hosted a U.K. television show called Dom Joly’s Happy Hour, in which he and a partner travelled the world exploring global drinking habits and how different cultures approached alcohol.

“This wasn’t something I was necessarily looking to build,” Wilkins says. “I had a strong, general interest in alcohol and then I was approached with the idea of setting up a distillery and thought it could be fun.”

Since first bringing its vodka to market in early 2017, the distillery released a lineup of gin two months later.

The Newfoundland Distillery Company’s Chaga Rum won Best Canadian Rum at the 2019 San Francisco World Spirits Competition and Best Spiced Rum at the 2019 World Rum Awards in London. World Rum Awards judges called it “…bold and distinctive. Not overly complex in range, but walks the balance between allowing the spices to express themselves whilst retaining control really quite well.” In 2018, the distillery’s Seaweed Gin won double gold and Cloudberry Gin won silver at San Francisco.

The distillery’s Aquavit, known for its herbed flavour, is the first spirit produced in Newfoundland that has been fully grown and legally distilled in the province.

Wilkins proudly notes its ingredients are predominantly local. While the barley comes from Ontario, the honey is from Tuck’s Bee Better Farm in Grand Falls, N.L. Its pristine spring water comes from Springdale, N.L. The peat and juniper hail from Clarke’s Beach, N.L. and the savoury comes from Mount Scio in St John’s, N.L.

“We didn’t set out with any great, grand plans,” Wilkins says. “We stumbled through the early stages but are rather pleased with where we are at today.”

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