Local, small batch, craft distillers have started to emerge in Canada. We have not yet seen the boom that our neighbours to the south have, but we’re getting there. I love discovering and drinking new spirits, I love it even more when they are Canadian!
This is the first of a series of interviews with distillers located across Canada. My goal is to introduce you to the wide variety of local and craft products in our Canadian backyards. Covid 19 has hit our economy hard and as Canadians we have come together and supported each other. I hope these interviews connect you with our craft distillers, many who have changed gears to produce alcohol sanitizer for their communities. It’s our turn to show them support by making a choice to buy local spirits, you will not be disappointed!
Our first interview is with Jill Linquist President and Distiller at Raging Crow Distillery out of Nova Scotia.
Please tell us a little bit about yourself and how it is that you got to where you are today?
In June of 2016 we were on a wine tour in the Okanagan when we came upon Legends Distilling in the Naramata Bench amongst several wineries. The young woman who provided their tour of the distillery happened to be from Lunenburg, a fellow Nova Scotian! As we went around the tour with her we were surprised to learn that all the products made at the distillery could be produced from one still.
Back home, we own Goose Landing Vineyard and know the difficulties in dealing with weather issues and predators as it relates to grapes, plus the seasonal aspect of wineries. A distillery does not face these issues and that’s when the thought of a distillery began to ferment.
What were your next steps now that the idea was fermenting?
In the summer of 2017, we started on our business plan. Raging Crow Distillery Inc. was incorporated, and we received a permit to produce spirits from the Canada Revenue Agency in February 2018.
Where there any roadblocks or surprises as you started to move forward on your business plan?
We were quite surprised to discover that the distillery’s location in North River, NS was a dry community. A plebiscite would need to be held. We are very fortunate and grateful that with the support of over 90% of the community the vote was overwhelmingly for a wet community. We could now start to produce and sell.
What are some of the biggest challenges in being part of the spirits industry?
Fire regulations. Regardless of the size of your distillery there is only one standard for fire rating. Therefore a small, craft distillery is expected to have the same safeguards as a mammoth distillery like Seagrams. This needs to change.
The annual increase in perpetuity on excise tax needs to change. Otherwise it will become cost-prohibitive for distilleries to operate. Provinces need to remove barriers for craft distilleries to operate on an equal footing with the big distilleries such as the mark-ups at liquor boards and inter-provincial restrictions.
Now that you have gotten past the hurdles, tell us a little about your distillery.
At Raging Crow, we have two stills; a 200L pot still that we named “Beauty” and a 400L column still affectionately named “The Beast”. They both arrived in July after renovations were underway to our building in North River. Development of our products throughout the summer months and a grand opening of the distillery was held Sept 30th, 2018.
At Raging Crow we produce small batch, handcrafted, artisanal products that include such unique flavour profiles as Spruce Tip Gin and Dill Pickle Vodka which is fabulous in Caesar’s. We use locally sourced, all-natural products such as Aroma Maya coffee for the coffee liqueur, MacRae’s maple for Maple Vodka and local haskaps for Haskap Gin are used whenever possible.
What are Haskaps and what kind of flavour do they imbue in your Gin?
Haskaps are berries that you traditionally find in the wild and grow on the edges of wetlands. The berries themselves have a raspberry, wild berry undertone. You might compare their flavour to a bumbleberry or what you get from a mixed-berry pie. The Artisan Distillers Canada recently described our Haskap Gin during a blind tasting as:
- ”The finish is pleasant, with an aftertaste of cherries and some herbal notes”
- ”Smells like Black Forest cake”
- ”Rich and round mouthfeel”
- ”There is an herbal and savoury note on the nose”
Our Haskap Gin is made with haskaps, juniper, lemon peel, coriander and vanilla (no Black Forest cake is added) and it makes a wonderful gin & tonic, martini or spritzer.
When you look at your portfolio of spirits, what is your proudest product?
One of the signature products is the potato vodka which is the only one produced in Nova Scotia. Although it produces a smaller yield and can be more difficult to distil the end product has a lovely smooth, silky mouthfeel and taste.
We strive to produce premium products and are constantly developing new products. We currently have an organic rye aging in a used bourbon barrel, and we’re really excited about Nova Scotia’s first bourbon aging in a new Kentucky oak barrel!
Getting to know you a little better, who is the person behind the spirits?
Much of my day is spent doing the paperwork of keeping current with the federal government, as well as maintaining ties with various markets and customers. The other part of my day is dealing with suppliers. Oh, and also have to fit in distilling in there!
Outside of my working day I have a great appreciation for gourmet cooking and it is my other passion.
Based on everything that you know now about the spirits industry, is there anything you wish you knew when you started?
Anyone thinking of doing this should visit various distilleries to get a feel for how a distillery should be laid out. We got lots of good ideas for our distillery doing this. Visiting various distilleries also lets you establish relationships with fellow distillers. You really need to look into fire regulations for distilleries, and contact a good engineer, as well as have a good relationship with the local building inspector. That is critical!
Do you have anything in the works or plans for something in the future that you feel is exciting and can share with us?
The distillery stepped up to help in the fight against COVID-19 in March 2020 by producing hand sanitizer in accordance with WHO standards and licensed by Health Canada.
I am very proud of our Spruce Tip Gin, Caw-Caw-Phany Gin, and we are getting really excited about our bourbon release this Fall.
We are truly small batch and locally sourced. Dealing with raw, natural products creates problems in need of solutions. For instance, we had an issue with the sap from the spruce tips congealing that took some time to figure out. We also discovered that you can freeze spruce tips without any ill-effects, so it is now a year-round product instead of just seasonal.
We are thrilled with the support and feedback we have received from our community and we are in the process of an 800 square foot expansion.
What do you see for the future of the craft spirits industry?
We expect to see continued growth. There is room for others to join so long as they are offering something different from the other distilleries.
For our industry to continue to prosper we need to see reduced fees to sell thru the Nova Scotia Liquor Corporation (NSLC). Decreased excise taxes for craft distilleries and an elimination to inter-provincial barriers.
Where can we find your products?
Products are currently available at the distillery and select markets, or by ordering online. Contact us and we will help you find our products. You can also get more information from our website, https://www.ragingcrow.com/
This is the first in a series of articles featuring Canadian Craft Distillers.
Images used here with permission of Raging Crow Distillery
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