When you buy gin or other spirits, you never really think about how they get into the bottle before going into your cocktail glass. Big batch spirits are made in large distilling factories. The taste is consistent and there is no messing around with the formula. Small batch spirits, such as Mill Street Brewery’s Craft Gin Spirit, are actually produced on-site at its Toronto Beer Hall location by mastermind Martha Lowry. Each bottle is hand labelled by Martha on-site and with only 619 bottles available, it is in very limited supply. With a passion for food, horticulture and science, Martha is in a unique position, as one of only two female distillers in Ontario. We had a chance to catch up with Martha and find out more about everything from her favourite cocktail recipe to how she got into this unique career.
What is the difference between small batch gin and typical spirits sold at a liquor store?
There is no legal difference – the only requisite for gin is to be 35% alcohol with juniper. Small batch gin is made on hot stills which are only able to produce 600-700 bottles at once. Large batch are definitely less expensive, but may just be vodka with juniper essence poured in. Smaller quantities mean that it has been distilled and there are different, more distinct flavours.
How did you get into gin distilling?
I have a horticulture background which helps. I’ve always been excited about agriculture. I wanted to create something that is made to stay that way forever and spirits are! You can truly capture the taste profile that you want and it will have that same flavour no matter how long you have the bottle. My actual start was as a brewer making beer and cider at Mill Street and I still love it, but I wanted to expand into spirits.
How common is it for women to become distillers? How do you support one another?
It’s still not very common. I’m the only one in Toronto and I think that there is only one other in Ontario and maybe 10 across Canada. I went to a lunch at a distiller’s conference in the States that was targeted at women in the industry and only about 30 people showed up and some of them were in marketing. It’s a very small community and we always are there to bounce ideas off of.
What would you tell the Divine reader who is thinking about getting into distilling or any other type of unusual or male dominated profession?
I would say to look up women’s distilling groups – it doesn’t just have to be gin, it can be any spirit. I got my start by talking to everyone at the event and I eventually met Kaitlin Vandenbosch at a Women’s Whiskey Event which led to the start of my career as a brewer at Mill Street. I never thought I’d ever use calculus after high school, now it’s an everyday event. There is science and math behind distilling, so it’s important to have a good grasp of each. No matter what your career path, it’s always good to speak with people and network. There isn’t just one way to get into your chosen career. Ask questions and connect with people. You can do it!
What is the ideal way to do a gin tasting?
Ideally, it’s early morning, before you have had any other flavours in your mouth, but that’s not practical for most people. You should do a tasting with friends and each of you can bring a different bottle. Use a tulip shaped glass. Do not swirl the gin; the alcohol has already evaporated and that is all that you will detect. Smell the gin from both sides of the glass and try to identify the different notes – each nostril may pick up another scent. It’s similar to wine tasting – take a sip and put a little over your tongue to get the flavour while breathing through your nose. I want people to try and get excited about craft spirits – there are just so many flavours out there that even people who normally don’t like gin may find one that they love.
We know it doesn’t have gin, but we know that you like a good Manhattan. How do you make the perfect one?
I like a Rye Manhattan.
Step 1: Make your own bourbon soaked cherries
Step 2: Have a 2:1 vermouth to whiskey ratio – I’m a big fan of vermouth
Step 3: Add bitters to taste
Step 4: Chill mixing glasses (I leave mine in the freezer)
Step 5: Strain the mixture over ice, pour and serve
What’s next for you?
I have a whiskey coming out this fall. Interestingly, whiskey is quicker to make than gin, but it has to be aged, so you need years to actually release the product. I’m also thinking about adding a second gin to the Mill Street label.
The Fast Four (4 questions with answers in 4 words or less):
- Your favourite mix? Just have it straight.
- Favourite spot to enjoy a gin? Outside on a patio.
- Favourite food pairing with your gin? Smoked Salmon.
- If you had to do everything all over again, would you still be a distiller? Absolutely, I love it!