A Focus on Craft: Four Niagara Region Distillers

Written by Bill Wittur



As we welcome 2017- Canada’s 150th birthday – into our lives, we wanted to look at some of Ontario’s craft spirits producers, both new and well-established, to get into the spirit of this important celebration.

Still Waters Distillery, located in Concord, is one of the oldest micro-distillers in Ontario.It’s owned by Barry Stein and Barry Bernstein, whose focus has always been on traditional whisky. This is tough when you’re a new business because you have to wait a

Barry Stein and Barry Bernstein, co-owners of Still Waters Distillery

Barry Stein and Barry Bernstein, co-owners of Still Waters Distillery

minimum three years before you can sell anything. The early days for ‘The Barrys’ were a challenge because the rules were tilted towards large producers. Their business plans became a template for regulators when dealing with other new distillers in Ontario.

They’ve weathered the storm and Still Waters will celebrate its ninth year of production with the launch of Stalk and Barrel Red Blend and Blue Blend labels. The Red is malt dominant and slightly sweeter, with hints of granola and chocolate on the tongue. Blue Blend shows more rye characteristics. The rye base results in a spicier note and taste. There is a touch of fruit and caramel. The brewers recommend enjoying their products straight up. Prices and LCBO product numbers are not available yet, but you can reserve your bottles by visiting stillwatersdistillery.com.

2017 will be an important transition year for the owners of Trafalgar Distillery in Oakville. Jeff and Eric Dornan, the owners and producers of All or Nothing Brewhouse, started making craft beers in 1993. The distillery was added in 2013. They are now shifting the focus of production to a narrower range of higher quality products, including beer, mead and spirits. The Dornan brothers are experimenting with different cask sizes and wood types to create a signature product that they can call their own.

Barrels, at Trafalgar Distillery

Barrels, at Trafalgar Distillery

They will continue to sell their delicious flavoured moonshine products at their Oakville location. All of their spirits are based on corn, but they have started working with other grains as well, including traditional rye and malt for quality whiskies. While these products are a few years away, you can taste their potential in the Baked Apple Shine (like liquid apple pie) and the Toffee Shine, which I recommend for a variation on the classic hot toddy.

Dillon’s Small Batch Distillers can be found in Beamsville, on the Niagara wine route. Jeff Dillon leveraged a number of factors to his advantage —a career in the financial sector, a father who is passionate about whisky, and a great location. He also evolved an incredible branding strategy. As a member of the American Distilling Institute, he’s witnessed the massive growth of craft production in the US and wants to help lead the market in Canada.

Dillons bittersDillon’s focuses on spirits (rye, vodka, gin) and complimenting bitters. But it also produces, either regularly or occasionally, absinthe, vermouth, eaux-de-vie, vermouth (available only through Vintages), and more.

For Canada’s 150th Dillon’s has introduced its first single cask rye whisky, released in December 2016. This whisky is 100% pure Ontario rye and is pot distilled.

Many Dillon’s product can be purchase at the LCBO, but it’s worth the trip to Beamsville to check it out.

Polonée is another relative newcomer in the Ontario craft spirits scene, based in St. Catharines. The distillery was started in 2013 by Adam and Patricia Szymkow. They produce everything in small batches, paying attention to all details to ensure a quality product.

The signature Kannuk Vodka is handcrafted in a way to shout out about Canada’s diverse culture: it is distilled from corn to 06represent its North American origin; wheat for its European essence; sweet potato (which is unique for a vodka) for its Caribbean and South American vibe; and wild rice for its Asian and African influence. The result is a perfect mosaic of inputs yielding an exceptional vodka.

All bottles are sealed with a toasted maple wood top that gives the vodka a light brown hue. No colouring or dye is used to get this unique finish.

Plans for Canada’s 150th are still under wraps, but the Szymkows recommend you enjoy their Kannuk vodka today with sparkling water and a slice of cucumber. Kannuk can be purchased at the distillery.


Bill Wittur loves discovering new producers. He is the owner and operator of Drinky.ca.

About the author

Bill Wittur

Bill Wittur loves discovering new producers. He is the owner and operator of Drinky.ca.