Tag Archives: New Life

Victoria Distillers – A new life in Canada

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A warm welcome to Sidney BC, complete with totem pole

Two and a half years ago I left the banking industry for the last time not knowing where the distilling journey would lead. All I knew was that being part of the whisky industry is something that I would enjoy every day. I had no idea that I would end up 5,000 miles away in a little place called Sidney. The number plates on local cars proclaim ‘Beautiful British Columbia’ – and they are not wrong. The  west coast of Canada is blessed with gorgeous islands, stunning coastline and an abundance of incredible wildlife. Victoria Distillers (formerly Victoria Spirits) moved from their forested location in central Saanich to the seafront in Sidney earlier this year. The new owner has grand ambitions to grow the brand in Canada and the US. With such an interesting proposition and wonderful location I jumped at the chance to join the distilling team.

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Victoria Distillers production area

Craigdarroch whisky may not be familiar to you yet, but one day I hope my contribution will bring it international recognition as a malt reflecting the character of Vancouver Island. A small batch was released a couple of years ago and sold out almost immediately. The delectable whisky has a lovely banana note. With a new seaside location I hope maturation will bring further coastal complexity to the whisky.

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The distillery has a stunning waterfront location

The new role is a great opportunity to be creative in other areas too. The existing products include Victoria Gin, Oaken Gin, Hemp Vodka, Eau de Vie and a selection of Bitters. This week we have also begun production of a chocolate liqueur and trials of a spiced rum. With all these different spirits the head bar tender has done a great job of putting together a cocktail list to suit all palates for customers in the distillery lounge.

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Laid back Sidney

The lifestyle is very laid back, which suits me perfectly. I live a a simple life with hardly any possessions. I have no car and no bike, my sole mode of transport is my skateboard. I have no TV and no bills to pay as everything is included in my minimal rent. The team at work are great, fun and friendly. I have a free gym pass at work (which I sometimes use), but most of my free time is spent socializing in the local bars or exploring my new surroundings. All in all, life is good in Beautiful British Columbia!

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Having fun at the distillery with random bloke behind me working on still
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Ferris Bueller’s Day Off

“Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.” (Ferris Bueller, 1986)

Ferris was right, life does move pretty fast, it is almost a year since I left financial services to pursue a career in whisky. Here I reflect on a whirlwind journey into the unknown….

From this...
From this… (the office at Virgin Money HQ)
....To this! (Distilling lab at HWU)
….To this! (Distilling lab at HWU)

The adventure began in Pitlochry at Edradour Distillery. Entertaining visitors in the malt barn, nosing the angels’ share in the warehouse and packing countless boxes of Signatory Vintage bottles to be sent all over the world. It was very refreshing to spend a Scottish summer in a kilt and I was especially grateful on the hot days when the still house could reach temperatures of 38°C!

Then off I went to Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh for a master’s degree in Brewing and Distilling. I have so far completed 8 modules over 2 semesters, consisting of 7 exams and 14 assignments (totaling 29,891 words) and one class test. Just the small matter of a dissertation project to go….

Some of my favourite ‘learning’ experiences were the class visits to various breweries, distilleries, glass blowers and printing works. It has been like an episode of ‘How Stuff is made’. Alloa Glassworks has the largest furnace in Europe and the hot machinery and glowing gobs of glass made it feel like the closing scenes of Terminator 2. We also milled, mashed, boiled, brewed and distilled, with weekly tastings to hone our senses and enjoy the fruits of our labour.

But the best part has been meeting like-minded, enthusiastic people, whether they be brewers, distillers or maltsters. This is a small industry and already I have met some of the great names through various dinners and events. Everyone is approachable, friendly and genuine. I’m looking forward to becoming part of this great industry and seeing where all my class mates end up in the years to come.

Class of 2014/2015
MSc Brewing and Distilling – Class of 2014/2015