There’s no better time to explore the Ontario Craft Gin Trail than right now, when it’s blooming with fall colours and seasonal spirits
The Ontario Craft Gin Trail, formed in the summer of 2022, rounds up six Ontario gin-stitutions on a self-guided trek around the province’s southwestern distilleries. It’s a perfect weekend getaway or staycation, with stops as little as an hour west of Toronto (in Guelph). Here’s what we saw, tasted and loved.
Junction 56 Distillery, Stratford
Where: Named for the year the railway came to town, the distillery is located in a former construction company warehouse (a part of the building was once a church!).
What: A London Dry style gin with a lovely lavender note, plus Blackberry, Rhubarb, Lemon and Elderflower gins. For those who mix cocktails by colour versus flavour, there’s a vibrant Pink Gin (gooseberry gives it colour and tartness) and a colour-changing Purple Gin with berries and butterfly pea flower, which turns vibrant pink when mixed with tonic, citrus or anything acidic.
Who should go: Fans of all things local, as Junction 56 also collaborates with local candy maker Rheo Thompson Candies on a Mint Smoothie Liqueur that tastes like an after-dinner chocolate and the tasting-room store is packed with regional treats and cocktail supplies.
Try: Gin & Juice, a ready-to-drink bottled cocktail available in three flavours.
Where: On the van der Hayden farm in rural Ayr, where a hip gang transformed a century-old bar into a modern production facility, plus a casual restaurant with killer pizzas and sandwiches.
What: Famous for its Barrel Gin aged in oak casks, Willibald now bottles a Pink Gin lightly sweetened with their own honey, plus seasonal flavours like Strawberry Rhubarb and Gingerbread Gin. The boldly striped Dry Gin stands out as much for its label as for the unique touch of Mosaic hops.
Who should go: Farm-to-table fans, families (dogs are welcome too!) and weekend shoppers.
Try: Willibald canned gin cocktails, like a Gin Mule or Hibiscus Limeade, from the on-site shop.
Silver Fox Distillery, Arthur
Where: The northernmost stop on the trail in the agricultural town of Arthur, Ontario (north of Fergus).
What: A lovely London Dry plus several unique gins flavours flavoured with botanicals from Rose and Lavender to Cucumber Mint, Anise and Citrus. The huge product line also includes many flavoured liqueurs, moonshines and vodkas.
Who should go: Fans of Dr. Who and other sci-fi/fantasy, as the distillery is loaded with props fabricated by distiller Mark Townsend.
Try: Winter Solstice Gin, flavoured with Ontario cranberries and local apples.
Elora Distilling Company, Elora
Where: In one of the prettiest little Ontario towns, with a cute, shoppable main street and the luxe Elora Mill Hotel & Spa nearby. This distillery has a shop packed with must-have cocktail items and a luxe, vintagey upstairs bar.
What: With much local bounty harvested from their own nearby market garden, the distillery has Strawberry and Citrus Pink gins. Its three main bottlings are all great cocktail mainstays: Great Expectations Ontario Terroir Gin (with sumac, gale and burdock, in a bottle that looks like a vintage book), Juniperus Maximus for evergreen fans and a full-bodied Martini Gin No. 1.
Who should go: History buffs, as the cocktail classes held in the heritage-building King George Bar next door are rich in bar tales and drink lore.
Try: A premixed can of Gin & Tonic or a mixed six-pack of the distillery’s own tonic in three flavours.
Dixon’s Distilled Spirits, Guelph
Where: The location is a strip mall in Guelph, a busy local hub with everything from Dixon’s Whisky Mustard to distillery merch in the tasting-room shop.
What: This little distillery pumps out a staggering array of vodka, moonshine and whisky in an array of styles and flavours, plus canned cocktails under the Fusion line. Under the Wicked brand, Raspberry, Blueberry, Citrus and Licorice gins come in 750-mL and 200-mL sizes.
Who should go: Women’s hockey fans, as Dixon’s is a proud sponsor of the Professional Women’s Hockey Players Association.
Try: A pack of 50-mL minis that allow you to sample the four gins, plus three vodkas.
Spring Mill Distillery, Guelph
Where: In a historic circa-1835 building on the Speed River, a location that just might have been used for bootlegging operations back in the day.
What: A classic Gin that’s distinct for its touch of tart seabuckthorn berry, plus a line of Sipping Gins matured in X-Wine, Whisky and C.O.A.C.H. (Canadian oak, ash, cherry and hickory) barrels.
Who should go: Gin fans who also love whisky, as fine Scottish stills and washbacks plus one of Canada’s only distillery cooperages for barrels are turning out corn and rye whiskies.
Who should go: Happy hour seekers, as the onsite Ward Bar has not only great cocktails but great shareable charcuterie and cheese boards plus dips and snacks.
Try: The Dellemere house cocktail, a gin sour with honey, lemon and mint crowned with egg-white foam and a dusting of nutmeg.
—by Charlene Rooke