A drop of gin in Clarke’s Beach

New­found­land Dis­tillery Com­pany adds home­grown touch to liquor

The Compass - - Ed­i­to­rial - TC ME­DIA edi­tor@cb­n­com­pass.ca

With a few lo­cal in­gre­di­ents and a lot of heavy­duty equip­ment, Peter Wilkins and Bill Carter hope to make a splash on the spir­its mar­ket.

In­side the old Garfield Ralph Ltd. build­ing in Clarke’s Beach, the pair founded The New­found­land Dis­tillery Co. This spring, the com­pany ex­pects to have its first bot­tles of prod­uct avail­able for sale.

“We’re start­ing with vodka, then gin, and then aqua­vit, which is a Scan­di­na­vian drink, sort of a young whiskey,” ex­plains Wilkins.

Wilkins, an English­man who moved to Clarke’s Beach in the late 1990s af­ter meet­ing a lo­cal girl from this side of the At­lantic, knows Carter from his ear­li­est days in New­found­land, and was aware of Carter’s fond­ness for dis­till­ing whiskey. Wilkins is a big fan of gin him­self, and when Carter moved back to New­found­land af­ter spend­ing a cou­ple of decades work­ing as a chef in Ot­tawa, their dis­cus­sions about start­ing a lo­cal dis­tillery be­came se­ri­ous.

“I think it was al­ways out here,” Wilkins said when asked about the choice of lo­ca­tion, “be­cause I live around the bay and I didn’t see the point in hav­ing it any­where else, and luck­ily Bill was very happy be­ing around the bay as well.”

With a li­cense to dis­till in their back pocket, Wilkins and Carter got to work. Carter’s first at­tempt at gin and vodka hit the spot, and from there they se­cured fund­ing, pur­chased al­co­hol stills and reached an agree­ment to rent com­mer­cial space. Now they’ve moved into full pro­duc­tion, with Carter in the process of get­ting a house in Clarke’s Beach.

Whiskey is very much at the top of Carter’s pri­or­ity list, though it will be a few years be­fore the com­pany can sell a le­git­i­mate one. That’s be­cause of the ag­ing process, which in­volves stor­ing the spirit for at least three years. Aqua­vit has all the same in­gre­di­ents as whiskey, but it’s not aged.

“That’s what Bill re­ally wants to make — this sort of per­fect, great New­found­land whiskey,” said Wilkins. “And then whiskey afi­ciona­dos will be able to drink whiskey from New­found­land all the way to Bri­tish Columbia, be­cause ev­ery prov­ince has some form of whiskey.”

Lo­cal in­gre­di­ents

Lo­cal in­gre­di­ents are a must, with the com­pany’s gin set to use New­found­land and Labrador ju­niper berries, bakeap­ples and sa­vory. They’re also ex­per­i­ment­ing with a gin that would make use of sea­weed.

Rock Spirit, a di­vi­sion of the New­found­land Labrador Liquor Cor­po­ra­tion, will han­dle bot- tling, with the fi­nal prod­uct sold at NLC out­lets and the dis­tillery in Clarke’s Beach. The dis­tillery will fea­ture a tast­ing room that also serves smoked meats, smoked fish and cheese. Wilkins ex­pects the oper­a­tion will em­ploy any­where from five-to-eight peo­ple.

“We’re not aim­ing to take any big slice of the mar­ket,” he said. “We want to get into the mar­ket (and) be a small lo­cal player pro­vid­ing re­ally good prod­uct at quite com­pet­i­tive pric­ing. Be­cause most craft dis­til­leries charge about $45-$50 for their bot­tles (750 ml), and ours we’re try­ing to charge $35 a bot­tle.”

If all goes ac­cord­ing to plan, the first 2,000 litres of vodka will be avail­able for pur­chase in late March or early April. The New­found­land Dis­tillery Com­pany’s cur­rent pro­duc­tion ca­pac­ity is 100 litres per day, which Wilkins hopes will in­crease over time.

“We’d love to be able to grow and in­crease our ca­pac­ity, be­cause that’s what we’d ul­ti­mately want to do, and then to ex­port across Canada and to the U.K. and the rest of the world. But we’ve got to start small, prove we’ve got a prod­uct we can make and sell and that peo­ple like.”

“We’re not aim­ing to take any big slice of the mar­ket. We want to get into the mar­ket (and) be a small lo­cal player pro­vid­ing re­ally good prod­uct at quite com­pet­i­tive pric­ing.”

— Peter Wilkins

AN­DREW ROBIN­SON/TC ME­DIA

Peter Wilkins, pic­tured, and his busi­ness part­ner Bill Carter will soon be sell­ing gin, vodka and aqua­vit dis­tilled in Clarke’s Beach.

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