Inside the old Garfield Ralph Ltd. building in Clarke’s Beach, the pair founded The Newfoundland Distillery Co. This spring, the company expects to have its first bottles of product available for sale.
“We’re starting with vodka, then gin, and then aquavit, which is a Scandinavian drink, sort of a young whiskey,” explains Wilkins.
Wilkins, an Englishman who moved to Clarke’s Beach in the late 1990s after meeting a local girl from this side of the Atlantic, knows Carter from his earliest days in Newfoundland, and was aware of Carter’s fondness for distilling whiskey. Wilkins is a big fan of gin himself, and when Carter moved back to Newfoundland after spending a couple of decades working as a chef in Ottawa, their discussions about starting a local distillery became serious.
“I think it was always out here,” Wilkins said when asked about the choice of location, “because I live around the bay and I didn’t see the point in having it anywhere else, and luckily Bill was very happy being around the bay as well.”
With a license to distill in their back pocket, Wilkins and Carter got to work. Carter’s first attempt at gin and vodka hit the spot, and from there they secured funding, purchased alcohol stills and reached an agreement to rent commercial space. Now they’ve moved into full production, with Carter in the process of getting a house in Clarke’s Beach.
Whiskey is very much at the top of Carter’s priority list, though it will be a few years before the company can sell a legitimate one. That’s because of the aging process, which involves storing the spirit for at least three years. Aquavit has all the same ingredients as whiskey, but it’s not aged.
“That’s what Bill really wants to make — this sort of perfect, great Newfoundland whiskey,” said Wilkins. “And then whiskey aficionados will be able to drink whiskey from Newfoundland all the way to British Columbia, because every province has some form of whiskey.”
Local ingredients are a must, with the company’s gin set to use Newfoundland and Labrador juniper berries, bakeapples and savory. They’re also experimenting with a gin that would make use of seaweed.
Rock Spirit, a division of the Newfoundland Labrador Liquor Corporation, will handle bottling, with the final product sold at NLC outlets and the distillery in Clarke’s Beach. The distillery will feature a tasting room that also serves smoked meats, smoked fish and cheese. Wilkins expects the operation will employ anywhere from five-to-eight people.
“We’re not aiming to take any big slice of the market,” he said. “We want to get into the market (and) be a small local player providing really good product at quite competitive pricing. Because most craft distilleries charge about $45-$50 for their bottles (750 ml), and ours we’re trying to charge $35 a bottle.”
If all goes according to plan, the first 2,000 litres of vodka will be available for purchase in late March or early April. The Newfoundland Distillery Company’s current production capacity is 100 litres per day, which Wilkins hopes will increase over time.
“We’d love to be able to grow and increase our capacity, because that’s what we’d ultimately want to do, and then to export across Canada and to the U.K. and the rest of the world. But we’ve got to start small, prove we’ve got a product we can make and sell and that people like.”