Spirit of York

Once upon a time in 1860, in the lovely industrial city of York (now Toronto), there was a giant Distillery, the biggest in North America and allegedly the whole world. Founded by Gooderhem and Wort, the distillery’s location was considered ideal. Spread out on the bank of Lake Ontario and at a Canadian National Railway hub, the Distillery benefited from unlimited water supply and the best transportation imaginable at the end of 19th century. Production flourished, marking the Golden-era of the Canadian whiskey.

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Painting by Canadian illustrator Arthur Hider

The time passed by. WWI, dry laws, tax disputes and deindustrialization led to a decline in operations and an eventual shutdown. As a result, an enormous collection of Victorian-era industrial machinery and architecture was left unattended to the mercy of the Canadian climate. The extension of the shoreline further south didn’t help either.

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Current map, Google

In 2003, after a massive renovations, the Distillery Heritage District reappeared on Toronto’s social map, eager to face the soon to rise generation of millennials, hipsters, Instagrammers and other daring folk.

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Photo credit: The Distillery Historic District

While investors were keen on keeping the name and transforming the rusting equipment into museum exhibits, they favoured start-ups (OhYeah!) over established chains like Starbucks, Tim Hortons or Swiss Chalet as tenants. The subsequent transformation of the Distillery District evolved into a collection of various businesses like theatres, limited edition art, dance studios, local designers, craft beers, a sake brewery but surprisingly no distillery. The historic district of distillery featured no distillery except in the name. Right until May 2017.

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The Spirit of York opened in a former malting facility with the collective effort of 35 shareholders with a similar vision: “Make Canadian Spirits Great Again” (I’m joking, or am I?). The Spirit of York Distillery consists of a production area and spacious lounge for tasting, mixing, shopping and celebrating. The state-of-the-art distillation facility is well hidden from the eyes of general wanderers, but not from the curious visitors to the lounge area.

The realization of how incredibly sharp this place is hits you right at the entrance. The Spirit of York designers accomplished a very rustic urban look with a prevailing vibe of masculinity and Wild West type of adventure. Look at the ceiling for example:

Not a bottle wasted! The same feeling is applied across the space, making it worth spending a sunny afternoon indoors. Take your time walking around staring at the old exposed brick, fortress like windows, infinity, coded into symmetrical symbols, beautifully polished copper and shining glass. Not to mention a peculiar looking bar on the right reserved for events and parties with a large resemblance to the one in “The Shining”.

A cool heritage building feature is floors made of from an old concrete mix that is no longer used, but sadly coated in parts with a rubber-like layer to comply with modern safety standards.

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The production area is designed as an open concept space seperated from the retail area by just a glass wall. The entire production cycle from mashing to labelling is facilitated in-house. Quality was the first word that popped into my mind.

I was very lucky to spend two hours with Mark Harrop, in the production area, “entertaining” him with questions like: “How many hours at the Distillery does it take to get high on vapors?” or “During tasting do you follow the rule of sommeliers or do you feel sorry wasting a good rye?”.

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While Mark talked passionately about locally sources ingredients (rye and spring water), added botanicals and a new recipe for aquavit he was working on, I couldn’t resist the urge of tasting. So I headed to the bar to investigate if the Spirits of York were worth the hype.

Oh, yes they were! With the floral hints of lavender, citrus, spicy coriander and a warming taste of rye, the Spirit of York gin was absolutely delightful sipped alone or mixed with a tonic. The aquavit impressed me with a distinguish taste of dill and rye, a combination that many a chilly Northern person appreciates.

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Looking through the wonders of the little gift shop I realized how complicated the art of beverage making actually is. Next time I will a way more generous tipping my favorite bartenders whoes hard work and hard listening skills are often underestimated.

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More about Spirit of York or The Historic Distillery District

My Big Ontario Affair

In an attempt to uncover the mystery behind Canadian migration up north to cottage country every spring/summer, I decided to trace their movements right from the beginning. My trip from Toronto to Manitoulin Island started around 6am with a light breakfast, extra strong black coffee, last minute packing (think chain-saw parts, propane cylinders and a fur coat – out of a looong list) and setting Google Maps for the road ahead. And what a road! A scenic four hour drive is followed by two breezy hours on the MS Chi-Cheemaun, the legendary ferry that connects Manitoulin Island to the Bruce Peninsula since 1930. Total time from Toronto to the cottage – 8 hours.

Speaking of the trip and duration – Canadian roads deserve special praise. They seem to be improving yearly with picnic sites, beautiful scenery and Tim Horton outlets within an hour of one another. Being used to driving on 6 lanes in one direction with a speed limit of 120 km/h (plus 20) in Dubai, it was challenging to adapt to “one lane for all” highway standards where speed will drop from 90 km/h to 50 km/h around small towns. Plus I had to watch out for horse drawn carriages managed by men in black. In Ontario “Adopt a Highway” is a common traffic sign to which people seem to respond rather positively – no garbage, but flowers, greenery, wind turbines and occasional bear jaywalkers greeted me along the road.

Just right after Toronto, I noticed the disappearance of large glass / concrete condominiums. Houses grew bigger, front lawns lusher and households got busier. The further north I went, the more confusing the Canadian accent – all super friendly comments from folks wearing “I love haters” hats were completely lost on me: “Oh hey, eh”. “It’s really weathering outside, eh”. “Got yourself in a kerfuffle? Go talk to Doug”…  I accidently got myself into further trouble by ordering a cup of tea. “Excuse me, a cup of white tea please”. “Sorry, you want it black?” “No, white”. “No double-double, eh?”. “Just white!” “Oh, boy…”

Charming little towns spread along the route casually feature the usual Ontario architecture (churches, clock towers, barns, brick houses) and the two most successful local businesses: gas stations and Tim Hortons (Always Fresh!). I was never a big fan of the latter until I tasted it in Canada. It was a love from the first sip with a dark roast black coffee paired with Maple Pecan Danish. “Tasty, eh?”

A trip on a local celebrity – the MS Chi-Cheemaun, meaning a large canoe, requires a commitment to show up not later than 1 hour (sharp) prior to the departure. Being late, even for a minute as my past experience has proven, results in loosing the reservation and queuing to be boarded on a “first-come first–serve basis” (not a delight, unless you are a fan of Russian roulette). The queue can be long as well as the vehicles in it. Chi-Cheemaun is capable of carrying 638 passengers and 240 vehicles. However, once your reservation fate is locked – it’s time to discover the little port city of Tobermory.

Tobermory is a fun place to explore, just like Dubai. It’s all about entertainment, shopping, food and the joy of a short stay. Start at Foodland for last minute supplies shopping (avocados, crackers, mature cheddar and marshmallows in our case). Continue with crowd watching from the comfort of the Tobermory Brewing Co. and Grill while sipping Russian Imperial Stout beer and spooning Vodka Smoked Salmon Roulade. That place is seriously delicious and should not be missed. On the way to the car, stop to get a scoop of locally made ice cream, fudge and a serving of beaver tail (delicious, beavers like it too).

Sailing the MS Chi-Cheemaun is an adventure in itself. As passengers are not permitted to re-enter cars during the trip, it’s important to carefully select a pile of layers to snuggle into and remember to carry a camera. I was told that a photo with a lighthouse on the background brings luck. The Chi-Cheemaun proudly features two outdoor decks, an indoor lounge, a playground, an information kiosk, a little museum display, a cafeteria and a boutique. Good news, she’s air-conditioned!

Once the Chi-Cheemaun reaches land and the final round of driving is done, it’s time to open the cottage, turn the electricity and the water on, dispose of spent mice traps and open a bottle of Cab to cheer the sunset on the wooden dock. The overwhelmingly fresh air, edgy smell of a distant fire and 50 shades of red spread across the sky reflected in the waves made me think that the trip is a total success already.

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City Chick gone Wild

Good girls go to Pataya. City girls go to the Wild Wild North.

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Beginning of June, +14C, partly cloudy and windy. I love Canadian summers!

Or – just a girl, me. Like a survival reality show, I’m competing with the grumpy Canadian weather, bears, beavers, and lovely deer-flies for food, entertainment and decent photographs. Set in isolation with minimum outfit options and… (say what!) – limited WiFi, I’m challenging my wits, biceps and questionable sense of fashion to prove that a city chick is the best type of a chick.

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One learns very quickly that country living is about hard rough work – chopping, lifting, splitting, fixing (you name it). Equipped with a basic tool – Mr. Axe, I’m armed and dangerous to any dead tree in the way.

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Being a fitness freak is paying off. A quick warm-up, stretches and chop, chop, chop… My personal trainer ( Leo ) loves to repeat: today’s pain – tomorrow’s gain.

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Have you ever wondered how Thai-Chi was invented?

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Thinking of what was going through Geppetto’s head when he created Pinocchio, I generated a super swing that any country boy would envy:

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Like in business, it seems that behind every successful project stands a pair of well-trained and qualified individuals.

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Where the iron rusted and broke, I pushed further and further and further. If only those awesome shades could reveal the tears of joy sparkling in my eyes.

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As the day progressed my KPI’s were booming. I attacked every milestone of country living and successfully carried out every bit of it. My biggest accomplishment was laundering bed sheets in a boiling hot water using nothing but a stone, a piece of soap and bare hands.

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The country wisdom says: it takes a craftsman to carve a beautiful canoe.

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But it takes a fearless City Chick to sail it.

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A bientôt!

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