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Spirits of the Six: Toronto’s Yongehurst Distillery makes hyper-local booze

Two Torontonians keep the liquor strictly local at their small-batch Davenport distillery

By Adam McDowell| Photography by Dave Gillespie
Spirits of the Six: Toronto's Yongehurst Distillery makes hyper-local booze
Panacci (left) and Sacco in their Davenport distillery.

There’s a small-batch-spirits boom in Ontario right now, being fuelled by independent distillers selling local takes on whiskey, gin and vodka. Rather than chasing the same potential customers, Toronto’s Yongehurst Distillery is experimenting with niche spirits few other North American upstarts are attempting to produce, such as triple sec, shochu and amaro. Thirtysomething pals Rocco Panacci (a software developer) and John-Paul Sacco (a general contractor) launched the business last summer in a Davenport industrial unit, without quitting their day jobs.

A locavorist passion drives the pair’s project, with an emphasis on using ingredients grown and foraged in the GTA. Sacco’s apple tree provided the fruit for one of Yongehurst’s first efforts, an apple brandy. Panacci grows botanicals for infusing—such as wormwood, hyssop and anise—in the backyard of his home near Danforth and Greenwood, making him almost as much gardener as distiller. They’ve plucked elderflower, burdock and juniper from Crown lands in the 905.

There are easier ways to make money in the distilling business than by planting and harvesting your own ingredients. “It’s time consuming,” Panacci says, “but almost therapeutic.”

Yongehurst's cocktail-ready spirits.
Yongehurst’s cocktail-ready spirits.

 

What’s in the bottle

Yongehurst Distillery is currently the only place to buy its spirits, as the company does not sell through the LCBO

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Harbour Rum

The distillery’s rum is Toronto’s first since Gooderham and Worts went dark in 1990. Made with organic molasses and wild yeast, it’s funky and a little moonshiney.

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Lost Rivers Triple Sec

Few indie distillers have tried outmanoeuvring Cointreau on the triple sec front. Lost Rivers, as it’s called here, adds a warm undercurrent of cardamom and other spices.

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Acquavite di Vinaccia

Yongehurst’s pomace brandy (they don’t call it grappa because it doesn’t come from Italy) smells of pear, mint and basil, with a fruity nose and earthy finish thanks to Niagara vidal grapes.

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Elderflower Gin

Foraged elderflowers add a sweet floral note to this gin. The trick is gathering and infusing enough of them before the unpredictable, short-lived blossoms begin to turn brown.

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Kasutori Shochu

Japan’s traditional spirit gets a Toronto twist, distilled from koji-treated rice (koji is a type of mould) that has already done its duty for the Distillery District’s Ontario Spring Water Sake Company. 346 Westmoreland Ave., yongehurst.com

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