Now that “dry” January is over, it seems like time to search out new wineries and distilleries in Niagara-on-the-Lake.

In fact, January was “wet” in our household, judging by the number of empties that have piled up beside the back door. Normally, this would involve a quick trip to the nearest Beer Store, to recycle the dead soldiers, but in all the vastness of Niagara-on-the-Lake there’s not a depot to be found. There are six in St. Catharines a few kilometres to the west and three in Niagara Falls a few kilometres to the south, but nothing close. However, the great folks at Niagara on the Lake Cat Rescue have a scheme to use empty bottles as a fund raiser and I willingly drop off our glass donation to help the cause.

Spirit in Niagara’s fruity range of eau-de-vie

Another cause for concern is a new report which suggests I’ve moved from being a safe drinker to one at high risk. The Canadian Centre on Substance Use and Addiction identifies cancer, heart disease and stroke as health risks of drinking alcohol. New alcohol guidelines recommending that Canadians limit themselves to just two drinks a week – and ideally cut alcohol altogether – have prompted intense debate over risk versus enjoyment in a country where the great majority of adults regularly drink alcohol.

In the UK, the NHS recommends no more than six glasses of wine or six pints of beer a week – ideally spread across three days or more. Health officials in the United States recommend no more than two drinks per day for men and only one for women. The CCSA says that new research suggests three to six drinks a week should be considered moderate risk for both men and women and seven or more drinks a week is high risk. However, critics of the new guidelines say the research on which it is based is deeply flawed.

“This type of research often marginalizes other considerations of health and wellbeing from alcohol,” says Dan Malleck, a professor of health sciences at nearby Brock University. “There’s no space in [the CCSA] for considering there might be benefits. Their job is to find harm.” He describes the guidelines as “irresponsible,” and says they risk creating “anxiety and stress” among Canadians who once saw themselves as moderate drinkers but now occupy a “high-risk” category. “The research they’re using also ignores the enjoyment and pleasure and stress relief and collegiality associated with alcohol. None of those things are in the calculation whatsoever. We aren’t just machines with inputs and output of chemicals or nutrition. We actually exist in a social space. And that has a significant impact on our health.”

In the interest of “enjoyment, pleasure, stress relief and collegiality” I recently headed out to the Spirit in Niagara Distillery, located less than a 10-minute drive to the west of our new home. Since the new distillery is almost in our backyard, I felt honour bound to check them out at the first opportunity. With a local expert on hand, we sampled their three whisky offerings in a tasting flight accompanied by a whisky cocktail.

Their Canadian whisky is small batch distilled from 100 per cent Canadian corn, then aged for three years in Bourbon barrels before being finished in Cabernet Sauvignon casks. The result is a smooth sipping whisky.

In 1964, the American Congress declared bourbon to be “America’s Native Spirit,” which means to be called Bourbon, it must be made in the US, which really means Kentucky. To get around these rules, the distilley has named their offering “Brrrbon.” It is distilled from a mixed mash of corn, wheat and barley before aging for three years in virgin oak casks. I like it so much that I buy a bottle for my whisky bucket.

Their mixed mash combines the first two and is bottled at a higher proof. It’s interesting but a little raw.

Spirit in Niagara’s award winning building

Master distiller Joshua Beach trained in Scotland and has done a masterful job. I hope he will put his experience to a single malt in due course, but I suppose we won’t be drinking that for a few years yet. We will have to be patient. Meanwhile, he’s keeping busy making spirits with the seven local tender fruits as flavoured eau-de-vie, London Dry gin and vodka.

Owner Arnie Lepp joins us for a pleasurable cocktail and a chat. He’s been a soft fruit farmer locally since 1988, following on from his father and grandfather, and now grows a wide variety of soft fruits on several hundred acres. A sister company handles the growing, packing and distribution of the fruit, but there are still tons of over ripe or fallen fruit unsuitable for market. Once simply waste, much of this fruit now becomes the basic ingredient for the distillery’s spirits. It’s a brilliant concept and one for which Lepp has been much praised by the green movement. In addition, he’s just been honoured with a Niagara Biennial Design Award for his beautifully crafted faux vintage reception building, where all the wood interiors have been recycled from a 150-year-old barn that once stood on the property. Here there’s a shop, bar, lounge and restaurant. On our next visit, we will meet chef Armando Cappuzzello and sample the menu, where all the offerings come with a spirit pairing.

Featured image: Canadian Whisky, Canadian Brrrbon and Mixed Mash Whisky line the bar at the Spirit in Niagara

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This is Nigel’s 364th blog on Gentleman’s Portion. The SEARCH function at the top works really well if you want to look back and see some of his previous stories, or check under CATEGORIES.

2 replies »

  1. Where are the ingredients for their whisky’s from? No corn, wheat or barley is grown in NOTL as far as I know. Which raises the same questions for Oast, The Exchange and Silversmith micro breweries.


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