Whether you’re shopping for spirited holiday gifts, booking a private party or imbibing some seasonal cheer, there’s no cozier time to visit a Toronto distillery tasting room. Here’s a flight of three you could even knock back all in one fun day.
Where: 90 Cawthra Ave. in The Junction, a half-hour walk or quick Uber from Keele TTC station.
What: Even when there’s a chill in the air, tropical vibes might guide you here, to the home of Island Diaz: a deliciously dry, naturally spiced rum that’s taking the Toronto bar scene by tropic storm. It’s the latest hit from a booze factory that’s been turning it out since 2017 (and previously in the same location, as Toronto Distillery Co., since 2012).
You can tour the production line, sip at a guided tasting bar and shop a full periodic table’s worth of house-brand Ni9 cocktail bitters (try the very umami, chaga mushroom-kissed Sacred Earth), syrups, cocktail kits and bar equipment.
Insider secrets: Snap up a bottle of the limited-edition Christmas Tree Spirit released around this time every year. And, oh year, there’s a separate operation in the back that just happens to be bottling and kegging batched cocktails from Canada’s Best Bar.
When to go: Cocktail classes happen the third Thursday of the month (November 16, December 21) at 7 pm, but you can book a tour any Friday or Saturday afternoon, from $25/person and up, depending on what, and how much, you want to taste.
Where: 32 Logan Avenue, tucked between a leafy Leslieville residential ‘hood and the lakeshore, a short walk south from the Queen East streetcar.
What: A visit here means gin, gin and more gin — Reid’s Signature, Spiced and Citrus gin tastings, gin cocktails, bottled Ginfusions (in flavours like Lemon & Clove or Rosemary & Thyme) — sipped around a dramatic horseshoe-shaped bar, in the cozy lounge or purchased to take home. A jewel-box of a tasting room has colourful vintage velvet furnishings, and a fine view of the gleaming Kothe still gleaming behind glass. Book a Signature Experience and get not just a G&T and a tour, but the entire history of gin, the Reid family, the building and neighbourhood, likely delivered by Graham Reid or another one of the founding clan.
Insider secrets: Little 50-mL gin bottles or delicious cans of pre-mixed Reid’s Gin & Tonic make ideal stocking stuffers or secret Santa gifts! If you’re lucky, you might nab a bottle of Reid’s Blood Orange Aperitivo (think: the spicy-not-sweet love child of Campari and Aperol) for festive spritzes. Don’t forget to order your own custom-labelled bottles of gin!
Where: 12 Trinity Street in the Distillery District, a short walk west from Reid’s.
What: The Distillery District, the bricks-and-mortar cluster of restored buildings, which almost two centuries ago housed the legendary Gooderham & Worts, still boasts a legit distillery: find this elegant, wood-beamed and exposed-brick spot just inside the gates. Slick museum-quality signage self-guides you around the distillery and through the production process (this is a rare distillery that works only with rye grain, requiring some technical wizardry!). Then gather under a gallery of greenery to sip (and snack: there’s a fun menu) at the huge central bar, where flights of spirits start at just $15. Guided tours are available on Saturdays, with advance booking. The Spirits Hub shop not only has luxe swirled-glass bottles of the vodka and gin, but a botanicals wall, a bitters library and beautifully curated cocktail supplies.
Insider secrets: Become a distiller in a day (well, sort of…) with Spirit of York’s Make-Your-Own-Gin Master Class. Learn the history of gin, master the art of distillation, taste gin styles and ultimately craft, bottle and label your very own botanical masterpiece.
When to go: The Distillery District is a seasonal paradise, transformed by tiny white lights, trees and plenty of evergreen and red swag into the Distillery Winter Village, which runs from November 16 through the end of the year. Social media-ready photo spots, market-style vendor cabins and all the great year-round restaurants and shopping all take on the holiday gleam of carollers, live entertainment, roaming elves, Santa and much more.
—by Charlene Rooke