Podium Dreams

What does winning a medal in the Canadian Artisan Spirit Competition do for your distillery? Here are some lessons from recent winners to inspire your entries this year.

When you’re a start-up distillery toiling over your first batches, the thought of winning a national competition and running out of product might seem like a distant dream. But it’s one that can come true.

Monashee Spirits Ethos Gin – 2019 Canadian Artisan Spirit of the Year

Monashee Spirits Ethos Gin – 2019 Canadian Artisan Spirit of the Year

The distiller of Ethos Gin (2019 Canadian Artisan Spirit of the Year,) Josh McLafferty of Monashee Spirits in Revelstoke, B.C., is a believer. “The award has brought in a lot of recognition from across the country and the U.S.. We have seen a huge increase in our sales of Ethos Gin and our other products ... it has been a struggle keeping up with all the demand.” Not only retail sales, but bars and restaurants creating Ethos-based cocktails, have added accounts and exposure to the brand.

McLafferty recalls spending a year and a half, and creating more than 30 test batches of gin, before arriving at his ideal triticale-based botanical spirit. “At the end of the day, we are just a little distillery and cocktail bar trying to do really cool stuff,” he says—winning a big award was never his goal. “My mantra about awards is: If I don’t win anything, we’ll keep doing what we love. If I win every award, we just keep doing what we love to do,” says McLafferty. “It about the passion, not the awards. But they do help!”


Capital K Distiller Tall Grass Dill Pickle Vodka – 2019 Best in Class, Infused Vodka

Capital K Distiller Tall Grass Dill Pickle Vodka – 2019 Best in Class, Infused Vodka

Capital K Distillery in Winnipeg, the first in the province of Manitoba, has found that “winning [CASC] awards has really given us credibility,” says Lindsay Gillanders, who handles marketing and communications for the distillery and calls the awards “a really big deal for us.” Medal-winning Tall Grass Gin and Tall Grass Dill Pickle Vodka are “now far and away our best-selling products,” she says. The marketing message comes naturally: “Have you tried Winnipeg’s first craft gin? It's won big at a national spirits competition!”

She says the so-called earned media exposure (free coverage they received as a result of the win) has increased brand recognition and local market share. “We have a really small marketing budget and the opportunity to get on TV and in print, chatting about the products, has been great,” says Gillanders, who notes a social-media bump whenever they mention the medalling spirits. “Engagement goes through the roof and we get people tagging each other to try the local award-winning product.” 

Enter the 2020 CASC here.

What’s in a Package? 5 Trends to Consider

Are you considering entering the new branding category of CASC and wondering how you would fare? Artisan Spirit magazine recently identified the top five trends in small-batch spirits packaging: what personality is your distillery brand, and what is it saying to your customers?

Nostalgic: Artisan Spirit identifies this brand by its historical look that plays on the heritage of a region or location, a turn-of-the-century aesthetic with vintage type, crests or seals plus details and flourishes like gold foil. You’re communicating both the luxury of your product and hearkening back to the quality of earlier times.

Bootlegger/Prohibition: If your label or logo uses hand-drawn or rough-hewn type, crafty aged-looking paper and old photos or historic iconography that looks back to a speakeasy era and more lawless times, you’re communicating that your brand is a renegade that bucks the status quo.

Copper: Your still is the heart of the distillery, and if your brand is inspired mainly by the magic of copper and the iconography of your still, you’re implying handcrafted, small-batch quality... but perhaps not setting yourself off from the pack, Artisan Spirit says.

Large Type: This trend sees the name of the product dominating the label: vodka, whisky, gin. While this translates well to an easy call for your spirit from the back bar and promotes the product, you’re missing an opportunity to communicate a broader message about your overall brand, the article says.

Modern and Clean: Bright, vibrant colours and sleek and sophisticated design (often using sans-serif typefaces and visual references to technology or innovation) drive more modern packaging. This type of brand cultivates urban appeal, fashion-forward followers and communicates sophistication, the article speculates.

Be one of the first-ever winners of the new Branding category of CASC: enter here to see how your bottle, label and branding can go for gold.

Industry News

Reinventing Spirits

What if you set out to distill a completely innovative product, and end up creating a new spirits category in the process? It happens: here’s how.

The Globe and Mail  published a story about (behind a paywall) Distillerie Shefford and Distillerie du St. Laurent in Quebec, two artisan producers experimenting with distilling maple syrup, into an entirely new spirit they’re calling acérum (the Latin word for maple), and have formed the Union des Distillateurs de Spiritueux d'Érable (Association of Maple Spirit Distillers).

Internationally, B.C. entrepreneur Matt O’Brien is a co-founder of a Chilean-based distillery producing Träkál, a spirit infused with unique flavours from Patagonia. Distilled on an apple and pear base (like a brandy), infused with botanicals (like a gin), it has certain kinship with spirits like akvavit, too. It’s so unique that is some countries where it’s stocked, it has its own spirits classification. Read about it in a recent Fortune article.

Openings and Events

Meet Your New Colleagues

La distillerie des Appalaches opened in Levis, Quebec in July. “Our first product, Kepler Gin,  already won gold at this year’s Gin Masters award in London,” says CEO Dave Ricard, calling Kepler a “grain-to-bottle contemporary gin” on a corn, barley and rye base, with fresh fruits and Boreal herbs. The distillery is currently oak aging a maple rum.

Wiseacre Farm Distillery, located at the Caldwell Heritage Farm in South Kelowna, expects to open this month. A well-known name in the local food scene, the farm hosted the 11th annual Okanagan Feast of Fields this past August.

The Banff Whisky Experience (September 13–14) brings more than 70 distilleries (including several Canadian artisan producers) to the mountain paradise this month, including a Sunset Terrace named after Banff’s Park Distillery.

Canadian Artisan Spirit Competition: New Categories

We listened to your feedback, and important changes are coming to CASC this year, including new category divisions for:

  • Terroir Spirit: an exciting new award for spirits with a highly expressive sense of place

  • Gin: now Classic and Contemporary (with a sub-category for Flavoured)

  • Vodka: now Classic and Contemporary

  • Liqueur: separated into Fruit Liqueur and Liqueur

  • Whisky: new Single Malt and Single Grain options

  • Bitters: small-batch Canadian bitters will have their own judges and rules

  • Branding: similarly, a separate panel of pro judges will evaluation artisan spirits’ packaging and design

New Categories: Details

When registration opens August 8, here are the new category options that will be available:

Terroir is here!

  • We are introducing a new “super-category” called Terroir Spirit. Medals will go to spirits that are not only artisanally made but highly expressive of sense of place, through the provenance of their ingredients and their taste and flavour profiles. You can enter any spirits in any category in the Terroir Spirit category as well (each category will have its own potential Terroir award).

Gin is now:

  • Classic Gin: these adhere to a traditional taste profile, and are more closely aligned in flavour, aroma and style with big-brand commercial gins.

  • Contemporary Gin: these gins fall further into the “craft” or “artisan” category, and may display some more unusual flavour and aroma characteristics.

  • This is now a Flavoured Gin sub-category under Contemporary Gin, to allow you to highlight gins that have non-traditional fruits or botanicals (e.g. rhubarb, berry) or follow other global traditions (e.g. Japanese).

Liqueur is now:

  • A second, specific Fruit Liqueur category.

  • There remains a broad Liqueur category for all other flavours/styles.

 Vodka is now:

  • Classic Vodka: these are more traditional, commercial styles of vodka.

  • Contemporary Vodka: these intentionally have lots of character, and perhaps retain a greater sense of the raw materials.

Whisky is now:

  • Single Malt Whisky: these are 100% malted barley whisky from one distillery

  • Single Grain Whisky: these are all other grain whiskies (rye, unmalted barley, wheat, corn or other grains, and any mix of those grains) from a single distiller.

You’ve got a beautiful bottle … let’s celebrate it!

We are introducing a branding competition this year—look for details next week. This will be your chance to show Canada that your distillery is just as creative on the outside of the bottle as it is on the inside.

Bitters Need Some Love

Finally, we’re excited this year to be opening up the competition to Canadian-made artisan bitters. Our goal is to bring some attention to the amazing bitters made by distilleries and other small producers across the country. Bitters are an important part of the artisan spirits culture we’re building, and we want to get them some love. A separate judging process will be developed and announced soon.

Early Bird Registration For All Categories Opens Thursday, August 8.

News: What to Read, Sip and Know Now

Pouring it on: a new Canadian beverage alcohol magazine

Earlier this year, the inaugural issue of Poured debuted, billing itself as “the only magazine to target and directly reach the producers of beer, wine and spirits across Canada.” It’s produced by Lester Communications in Winnipeg, in partnership with Beer Canada, Spirits Canada and the Canadian Vintners Association. The latest issue had coverage of the artisan spirits scene, including stories on The Distillery School in North Vancouver and women distillers in Canada.

Other potential good reads for artisan distillers in Canada:

  • Distilled, the Ottawa-based magazine celebrating “the craft and culture of fine spirits.”

  • Artisan Spirit, the publication of the American Craft Spirits Association.

  • SevenFiftyDaily, covering the business of beverage alcohol from a U.S. perspective.

Cocktails by Volume

In October, Dillon’s Small Batch Distillers in Beamsville, Ontario, will publish Craft Cocktails: Seasonally Inspired Drinks & Snacks From Our Sipping Room, by distiller Geoff Dillon and Whitney Rorison, the distillery’s hospitality manager. To be published by Penguin Random House Canada, it includes 100 seasonal recipes inspired by their wine-country location and ingredients. Pre-order a copy now from the publisher, or from online stores including Indigo, Kobo and Amazon.

Vodka 2.0

Following an industry consultation period between January and March of this year, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency has expanded and revised its Food and Drug Regulations around vodka. It now allows vodka to be made from agricultural products other than potato and cereal grain (including fruits, dairy or honey), in line with other global jurisdictions; those products, however, must be disclosed to consumers on the label. It also permits vodka to be rendered neutral (“without distinctive character, aroma, or taste”) by material or processes other than charcoal. The new rules came into force on June 26, and distillers have until December 13, 2022 to implement new labelling requirements.

Meet Your New Colleagues

Welcome to the fold some of the most recent artisan distillers to open across Canada. We’ve got our eyes on another dozen or so that are almost ready to open their doors: drop us a note if you know about a new distillery opening in your area!

Sweet on Liqueurs: Why your distillery needs one in its portfolio

Though many distillers get into the business out of a passion to make great whisky, or to explore the nuances of gin, we believe every distillery should make something on the sweeter side. Why?

Read More

Great Things in Small Packages: what artisan distillers should know about packaging

Sponsored Content

Q ▸ How can boxes help my spirit brand?

A ▸ Standing out on the liquor store shelf is critical: you need something special that’s worthy of the consumer’s attention. For example, we make single-bottle custom printed retail boxes for premium spirits.

Shipping boxes should continue to tell your brand story. With so many options in corrugated cardboard, you can control what your branding story should look like, whether you prefer a one-colour-on-kraft look or a full-colour litho laminated image.

If your distillery does online sales, it’s critical to maintain your branding at the consumer packaging level. We offer a variety of different custom printing options including outside and inside printing. We also can suggest various divider options and materials for filling void space inside your shipping boxes.

Q ▸ Where would branded packaging fit into my production process?

A ▸ Many distilleries receive their bottles bulk packaged on pallets, as it’s less costly. They get us to manufacture boxes for them, which can then be custom branded.

Other distilleries have bottles shipped form their supplier, already in boxes with dividers. Since they can often re-use them, we can help to customize their packaging creating custom adhesive labels or custom printed tape to brand and identify each box’s contents. We have even provided custom-branded boxes to the bottle supplier directly, who then ships the packed and branded custom boxes to the distillery.

Q ▸ What are some of the trends in spirit-packaging now?

A ▸ If your distillery has a tasting room or sells retail, we can create spirit or cocktail kits, seasonal gift packs or carriers (similar to those used in the wine industry) for customers purchasing multiple bottles.

We are also seeing a trend toward smaller and tasting sizes, which often require their own unique packaging. We even packaged a spirits advent calendar last year!

Q ▸ What are some of the common mistakes small distilleries make with their shipping packaging?

A ▸ Common mistakes include using boxes that are poorly fitted and don’t provide adequate protection for the bottles, such as dividers or void fill. Also, not ensuring the box’s performance has been formulated to stand the shipping requirements—everything from how high they’ll be stacked to how pallets will be wrapped and what temperature and humidity they’ll be stored in.

For our distillery customers not using Water Resistant Adhesive (WRA) is a common problem. Shipping boxes are made up of three layers—a liner, medium and another liner glued together to make the corrugate. Without WRA, any moisture or condensation on the bottles could break down the corrugated board if stored in a cold fridge.