The Top Distilleries in Toronto and the Surrounding Area
Fairly recently, I completed an article on Toronto breweries, and it occured to me that someone really ought to write something about the top distilleries in Toronto. All of a sudden, “someone” became me.
I adore the opportunity to write about my hometown, and I’m always looking for an excuse to create more content about Toronto, so the stars seemed to align on this one. While I’ve seen the Toronto brewery scene explode in recent years, the same can’t necessarily be said of Toronto distilleries, but that’s not due to a lack of quality by any means. I’ve been fortunate to visit many distilleries around the world, and I’m always struck by what a delicate process it is, and how much attention and dedication it takes to produce a high quality whiskey, gin, vodka, or any spirit.
Toronto distilleries (and Ontario distilleries) don’t get enough love, and I’d like to, in small part, shift that paradigm. First, I’ll cover distilleries in Toronto (ie. the city proper), then I’ll namedrop a few distilleries in Ontario which are within relatively easy driving distance of the city.
I’m also all for getting off the tourist track as it were, so I do think that visiting a collection of Toronto distilleries is one of those unique things to do in Toronto that can make for a fun, different sort of day in this city.
So, What Are the Best Toronto Distilleries?
In Toronto proper, we’ve got a handful of distilleries which are worth the visit, but there are also plenty of distilleries that are located in Toronto’s surrounding area. As such, I’ll first name the top Toronto distilleries, and then I’ll basically talk about some Ontario distilleries that are within driving distance. As you’ll read, there are a few particular distilleries that are superb, and, if you’re an alcohol enthusiast, you might want to take the trip.
For one reason or another, visiting breweries is really in right now, but the idea of visiting distilleries hasn’t quite caught on in the same way. I can understand that in some regard, but I also think visiting our distilleries is one of those interesting things to do in Toronto that not enough people consider, whether they’re visiting the city, or call the city home.
Spirit of York Distillery Co.
As Toronto Life noted in their article from September 2017, “what was once the world’s largest distillery is making spirits again.”
For those who don’t know, Toronto was once called York, so the name "Spirit of York” deliberately harkens back to Toronto’s proud distilling history, while looking clearly forward towards the future. It’s relatively new to the scene, but they’re trying to make up for lost time with their emphasis on quality.
Spirit of York has reclaimed the old famous malting room from the Gooderham and Worts Distillery to make vodka and gin. Funny enough, Spirit of York sources their spring water from Springwater, Ontario, which seems fitting enough, and, on a practical level, the water is supposed to be ideal for distilling.
I’ve mentioned this frequently throughout my posts, but I’ve often felt that Toronto’s historical buildings (and stories, for that matter) can often be pushed aside for the newest, flashiest condominium, or some other building with little to no merit, so call me enthused at what Spirit of York is up to. They’re adding to Toronto’s culture by ensuring that we’ve got a functioning Toronto distillery in Toronto’s Distillery District.
Nickel 9 Distillery
In many ways, I think of Nickel 9 Distillery as a “community distillery.” They’re based in Toronto’s Junction neighbourhood, and they feel very much a part of that neighbourhood’s social fabric. Firstly, they source their ingredients from local distributors, which means they’re supporting the city as they grow. They also aim to host events which support the surrounding community, whether that be with local artists or anything in between. I haven’t seen any events recently, but hopefully that’ll change soon!
They’re primarily known for a few distinct products. Their “Northern Temple,” for example, is their spin on vodka, which is essentially vodka, but with a hint of apple sweetness that’s imbued from their mash. I also appreciate their “Hidden Temple Gin,” and that’s because I adore gins that have a bit of a botanical kick to them, and that’s precisely what you’ve got with the Hidden Temple.
They’ve got a brandy and bitters on the way, and some syrups to play around with as well. Nickel 9 Distillery seems to be in an ever evolving process of experimentation, and that’s what makes it one of the top Toronto distilleries.
Yongehurst Distillery Co.
I’ve been following Yongehurst for a while, and it never ceases to amaze me just how many different products and spirits they’re dappling in. To me, Yongehurst is one of the distilleries in Toronto where you just know that the foundation of this place was built on passion.
Located north of Dupont between Dufferin and Dovercourt, Yongehurst Distillery Co. was founded by two old friends who set out to add some unique and intriguing flavours to the Toronto distillery scene and, by proxy, add to Toronto’s culture at large. As they note on their website, “the selection of interesting and available spirits isn't keeping up with the demand. As big supporters of independent craftspeople, from brewers to bartenders to baristas, we saw an opportunity to fill a void and share some of our knowledge and skill.”
They’ve got rum, white rum, vodka, shochu (pressed rice and koji after it’s been fermented into sake), dry gin, triple sec, and a whole bunch of small batch releases that push the boundaries and, to me, that’s what it’s all about.
Yongehurst is an important part of the Toronto distillery scene because they’re so innovative, and that forces other Toronto distilleries to consider what’s possible and, ideally, shoot for the stars.
It might be a bit strange to include a distillery which is literally brand new on a top distilleries in Toronto list, but hear me out. I’ve been following their story on Instagram since the beginning, and this is truly a family run distillery. Martin, Calvin, Jacqueline, and Graham are out to ensure that Reid’s Distillery is a new shining light in the Toronto distillery scene.
The Reid family originally hails from the UK, and they were struck by how much gin was thriving (especially craft gin distilleries) in the UK, yet not in the Great White North. And so, they wanted to bring the “gindustry” to Canadian soil and, more specifically, Toronto. They’re literally just opening this spring in Leslieville and the buzz around them is palpable.
No, I haven’t tried the gin just yet, but I will very soon, and, quite honestly, I want to reward a family who has taken a gamble, shared their story, and is trying to do something worthwhile. If their website, social media, and attention to detail in launching is any indication, we’re in for a treat.
I’m sorry, but I love a food family story, so the Reids have my blessing on this one. The upcoming month is sheer madness for me so not sure when I’ll be able to pop in, but hey, perhaps they’ll kindly send me a bottle to give it a taste so I can confirm what I already firmly suspect - that this place is a Toronto distillery to keep an eye on.
Last Straw Distillery
Okay, before someone calls me out, I know this isn’t technically in Toronto (it’s in Vaughan, Ontario), but it’s awfully close, or at least close enough that I want to include it in the list of top distilleries in Toronto, and not in the next section which will be on the top distilleries in Toronto’s surrounding area. I literally just did a little Google Maps action to make sure this is warranted, and it is, as it’s about 30 minutes from my place in central Toronto.
That last time I was at Last Straw was in the fall, and the people who run this place just have a heart of gold. There’s a line on their website that sums things up pretty well - “we value friends, good times, and great spirits.” I mean, that sounds like a lineup of what I’d like to see in heaven to be honest.
I was personally on a tour, and tried a handful of their spirits that all piqued my interest, but you might want to start with their “Gin Twenty One,” which packs a mean punch in the best kind of way. If you, like me, are a fan of free pouring gin and tonics, just note that this comes in at a whopping 46%. Their “Darker Side” whiskey is also delightful, but I honestly haven’t tried anything from them I didn’t appreciate in some regard.
It’s a small batch, small workforce, get your hands dirty sort of distillery, and I love that. So add it to your list of distilleries in Toronto to pop into, but do remember that it’s not right in the core. Also, if you’re driving, please be cautious not to overindulge, as drinking and driving is no joke, my friends.
Let’s Look at Some Ontario Distilleries Very Near to Toronto
No, these aren’t distilleries in Toronto, but they’re also not far. Basically, I thought about what Ontario distilleries I appreciate which are within in an hour of Toronto, and worked under that framework. So, they aren’t “Toronto distilleries” per se, but they also aren’t all that far either. Basically, I just thought I’d included these in case you were trying to do a comprehensive Toronto distillery tour, and have a designated driver who was fine with mixing it up and seeing a bit of Ontario along the way.
Again, I’m really only covering Ontario distilleries here that are near Toronto, so I’ll have to do a “Top Ontario Distilleries” post that covers the province in a more comprehensive way another time.
Dillon’s Small Batch Distillers - I’ll be up front, I adore Dillon’s. If the traffic isn’t too bad, you’re only looking at roughly an hour to get too Beamsville, where Dillon’s is located - and I’ve yet to hear of anybody saying they regretted taking the trip. I’ve almost always got a bottle of something of theirs kicking around my place. Everything they make, from white rye to absinthe, is spot on, and I’m comfortable saying that Dillon’s is in the running for one of the best ontario distilleries out there! Their branding is also spot on, I must add.
Junction 56 Distillery - They call Stratford home, and Junction 56 sure are making a name for themselves out there these days. What I appreciate is that they’re an Ontario distillery that is very up front about the fact that they only use Ontario grown grains to make their famously high quality spirits. Tours are 15 bucks (running on Saturday at 11am), and you’ll get a guided tasting of everything they’ve got. I personally like their Black Raspberry Gin, so give that a try while you’re there.
Willbard Farm Distillery - So, Willibard Farm Distillery is quite a hike, seeing as it’s about an hour and a half outside Toronto, but my goodness they’re doing some interesting stuff up there. I’d strongly recommend visiting on Saturday and making a reservation for lunch. I’d recommend trying their “Pink Gin,” if they’ve got it on offer, as it’s made with all Ontario grains, with added botanicals, then aged in Niagara wine casks. People are talking about Willbard, and the hype is well deserved.
Dixon’s Distilled Spirits - Located in Guelph, just about an hour outside of Toronto, Dixon’s Distilled Spirits has been making a name for themselves since 2013, but has only recently garnered some of the attention it deserves. They’ve got hour tours, as well as tastings, but are also known for being a spot to host events. They do it all really, so pop on by and check it out. If you’re a gin fan, you’re going to fall in love with their “Wicked Citrus Gin” and “Wicked Liquorice Gin.”
Black’s Distillery - Black’s Distillery calls Peterborough home, which Torontonians will know is about an hour and a half from the big city. This is an Ontario distillery that very much encourages you to come in when you can and see what all the fuss is about. As a scotch lover who doesn’t mind a high proof alcohol, I’m into the “White Barley.” They’re an Ontario distillery that, like others on this list, supports the province. They note, “we’ve established Black’s Distillery, so we can lovingly produce a collection of spirits from the heartland of Central Ontario.” Hey, you can feel good about getting a bottle, you’re supporting the local economy, right?
From this list of Ontario distilleries, you’ll likely notice a trend. I love to prop up and recognize the establishments that are buying local and selling local. I noted this in my post on breweries in Toronto, but I feel there’s a real community element to all this, and one I love to support and be a part of.
With So Many Toronto Distilleries and Ontario Distilleries to Choose From, Where Should You Start?
The first thing you should do is figure out what makes sense from a location perspective. If you’ll only be in Toronto for a short visit, then you might want to choose one that’s near where you’re staying, and go and take a peak. If you’ve got a bit more time in the city, then hitting a few is always nice as you’ll have some context.
That being said, if distilleries are your thing, then renting a car and checking out some of the best Toronto distilleries, then perhaps spending the next day seeing some Ontario distilleries would a lovely idea. Just ensure that you’re not drinking and driving. What I like about distilleries is that you can just take a sip here and there and get a feel for the spirit. At breweries, I feel inclined to get a pint at each one and, well, that can get a touch messy if you’re on a big brewery tour.
The distillery scene in both Toronto and Ontario is on the rise, and if you’re in Toronto, you may as well be a part of the fun. If this post can in some small part aid with that adventure, well then I’ve done my job. Feel free to reach out on Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter and let me know which was you preferred! It sounds awfully lame, but Toronto is a place that I hold close to my heart, and I do genuniely want you to enjoy it.
So, cherish your sips and conversations, and enjoy the spirit of Canada’s largest city through its spirits!
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