About the Author

Whitney Rorison

Books by this Author
Craft Cocktails

Craft Cocktails

Seasonally Inspired Drinks and Snacks from Our Sipping Room
edition:Paperback
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Excerpt

I knew from an early age that I wanted to forge my own path. By the time I was in my early twenties, I had finished a degree in biology and economics and was looking for a career that could use both. You might be surprised to learn that distilling immediately came to mind.

My interest in distilling had humble—and not so palatable—beginnings. I began dabbling in home-brew beer, and our student rental made its own house wine. It was terrible. Ask my wife. But that didn’t stop us from drinking it by the gallon and serving it proudly to our unsuspecting guests. In the end, we knew our fermented grape drink was never going to make it beyond the doors of our dorm, so my engineer roommate and I decided to try our hand at something a little different. We learned the physics and mechanics required for building a still so that we could make our own spirits, and what started out as a fun experiment quickly turned into serious business.

This first foray into making distilled spirits awakened an appreciation of rare and fine spirits that was fostered by my father. When I would return home for the summer during university, we’d sit in his living room and taste and review the newest additions to his spirit collection. In his extensive travels as a chemistry professor, he collected countless one-of-a-kind whiskies from Scotland, elusive sloe gins from the United Kingdom, incredible eaux-de-vie from France, and unique liquors from all over the globe. When he worked with graduate students from around the world, he always had one requirement of them—that they bring him a bottle of an unusual spirit from their home country to help him build his collection. I remember sampling a ginseng spirit with the root of the plant floating in the bottle. Now, ten years later, I can still taste it. In many ways, my dad sowed the seed for a father-son duo to take the craft distilling world by storm.

Suddenly, I wanted to learn everything I could about spirits—the styles, the ingredients, the equipment. But mostly, I wanted to make them. The spark had been lit and I knew distilling would become my lifelong passion. The more I learned about distilling, both formally and informally, the clearer it became: distilling, to me, was so much more exciting than making beer or wine. There was so much freedom with distilling. You could take merlot wine and distill it intogin. A distillery can transform an alcohol-based liquid (beer or wine) into a clear 95% alcohol with no flavour that can then be used to craft flavourful gins, vodkas, liqueurs, or whatever else you dream up. It was this freedom and the possibilities for exploration that drew me in.

The idea of starting a craft distillery was daunting, but my bigger fear was waking up in twenty years only to realize I had missed my calling. I knew this was my time, so I decided to go all in. I earned a Master Distiller certificate from the Institute of Brewing and Distilling, in the United Kingdom, and gained hands-on experience working in craft distilleries in Scotland and the United States. I soaked up all the distilling techniques and know-how I could. By the time my tour was over, the only thing I needed was a distillery.

My timing couldn’t have been better. In the 2000s, small distilleries were beginning to pop up in greater numbers across North America. Small family-run distilleries in other parts of the world had been making spirits for generations, but the idea of pure experimentation—of creating anything you want from whatever ingredients are on hand—was a newer one.

I spent some time getting to know the industry and sampling some of the amazing spirits coming out of distilleries in California, Colorado, Utah, and Washington, and I could feel the momentum building. Consumers expected more from the products they were going to put into their bodies, and there was a clear difference between the quality of what the big companies were producing and what smaller operations could achieve with more care and attention. These consumers cared more than ever where the ingredients came from and who was making the product. They were also looking for a real connection to the producer, an honest story. A movement was beginning to take hold, and there was no way that I wasn’t going to be a part of it.

At the time, I was newly engaged, and my fiancée’s father, Gary Huggins, was paramount in making my dream a reality. He is a lifelong entrepreneur and dreamer himself. Lucky for me, he liked my dream, and he also believed that I could make it a reality. He would listen to my crazy ideas about making booze and not only would he take me seriously, but he would go on to convince me and the rest of the team that starting a craft distillery was possible—and that wecould make it successful. After some years of hard work, the distillery began to emerge in brick, mortar, and copper. Dillon’s Small Batch Distillers was born.

As we quickly approached time to open the distillery, we knew that we needed someone to help direct the hospitality side of the business, an area we had no experience in. We were lucky enough to meet Whitney Rorison. She had years of expertise under her belt in hospitality in the Niagara area, having helped in the successful openings of many wineries and even a brewery. She came on board in late 2012 to help guide us and build the visitor experience side of the distillery, and has grown to do so much more. It’s thanks to Whitney that you’re able to enjoy this book, because she helped write it.

In the evolution of the distillery, my father has remained an important player. While my dad spent his career studying freshwater lakes as a renowned environmental scientist and chemist, his passion has always been spirits. Today, he lives on a beautiful ten-acre hobby farm just outside Bowmanville, Ontario. He grows all kinds of botanicals, herbs, and fruit, and has become the “mad scientist” behind our flavours. His lab is his lair where tinctures are tweaked and botanicals are boiled to create the lush spirits we sell today.

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