Plan a trip to Ontario, Canada's Niagara region, and your list may include the iconic Falls, world-class theater at the Shaw Festival, fine dining inspired by the region’s orchards, most definitely a wine tasting, especially the ice wine that is its global viticulture claim to fame.
Visitors to wine country have another way to taste the fruit of those vines in a most unexpected way, at Dillon's.
Here's BestTrip.TV's Lynn Elmhirst's original story about this unusual distillery - don't miss the update at the bottom that explains how this distiller is giving back to the community during COVID-19.
Local small-batch distiller Dillon’s Unfiltered Gin 22 is a true product of Niagara: grape-based, and enhanced by the flavors of 22 other botanicals. Silky smooth, intriguingly complex, using it, my simple gin and tonic was reborn as a sophisticated summer sipper.
But wait… a grape based gin?
Unfiltered Gin 22 is one of three signature spirits Dillon’s launched when they opened their Niagara-region distillery in 2012, along with their Method 95 Vodka, White Rye, and a line of 6 bitters.
Only a year after opening, all three spirits were awarded medals (bronze, silver, and gold respectively) at the San Francisco World Spirits Competition, ‘the highest you can go’ says proud Master Distiller Geoff Dillon, who seems bashful about such rapid success.
Dillon’s is riding the concurrent waves of a cocktail revolution and the local and crafted food movement. But Geoff attributes innovation – a willingness to experiment to make unique products, like gin from grapes instead of grains – to the attention their spirits and bitters are attracting.
That innovation is at the heart of the Dillon’s distillery. Geoff’s father, Peter, is the botanical expert and experimenter. It’s a natural extension for the environmental chemist and life-long ‘foodie’.
Geoff started a career in finance, but then took a fork in the road to attend the esteemed Artisan Distilling Program at Michigan State University and study with whisky distillers in Scotland in preparation for launching Dillon’s.
‘The science of distilling is pretty easy. The art is hard. Every day is an experiment.’
To craft their award-winning spirits, the father-son team combines the benefits of old school pot stills with modern technology – and source the best ingredients.
Niagara – best known for its wine -- was the ‘ideal’ place to launch a small-batch distillery. Fruit, grapes and botanicals can all be sourced locally.
The grapes they distill come from growers who have surplus. Dillon’s and local vintners are mutually supportive in other ways too. There's long-established wine tourism in the Niagara region. Existing local wineries have embraced the 'new kid on the block'. Dillon's and wineries send visitors to each other, and the result is an even richer Niagara wine and spirits experience.
With its stylishly designed tasting room and stacks of ageing barrels, Dillon's is right at home among the area’s scenic vineyards. If you drop by for a distillery tour and tasting, you may well get to meet Geoff yourself. He often conducts the tours.
‘I love the tours, having so much fun with people, educating them… most people don’t even truly know what a distillery IS! It blows people away every time!
‘This opens a whole new world for them.’
Since the outbreak of the global pandemic, Dillon’s has become even a bigger part of its community.
While its tasting rooms – like Niagara’s other tourist attractions and wineries – remain closed, its stills are working overtime. But not making gin or vodka.
Mid-March, Dillon’s announced on social media, “They're not pretty but they work. We're bottling up some 65% alcohol for disinfecting. Any essential service individual or organization who needs some, reach out, we'll have 1,000+ bottles for tomorrow, on us.” (Top, and below images via Dillon’s facebook page.)
In addition to producing bottles of the optimal percent alcohol for disinfecting, the company has also been making hand sanitizer.
“This has been a wild ride. Since Tuesday’s post we have had thousands of emails, phone calls, messages from every form of front line worker from all across the province. Hospitals, homeless shelters, EMS, police, fire, nursing homes, Dr.’s offices, friends, new friends, family and so many more. We have shed more than a few tears here hearing the stories and are trying our absolute best to help. More than 5,000 bottles have gone to keep these people at least somewhat safer in what they do.
“Currently we have exhausted stockpiles of aloe for hand sanitizer but we have scaled up our disinfectant with the unbelievable generosity of some of our Niagara wine industry friends and their donations of bottles, caps and alcohol.” Other partners, including Volkswagen Canada, have stepped in to help deliver throughout the province.
This family-owned, small-batch distiller has proven that good deeds and love of community multiply.
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