If you were asked which Canadian province had the most distilleries per capita, Nova Scotia likely wouldn’t be top of mind. However thanks to a government seeing the value in this industry, it has that distinct honour. Nova Scotia has created a tax environment where entrepreneurial spirit lovers can follow their passion and be profitable, while providing attractive prices to consumers. They introduced graduated mark-ups based on volume produced, cut annual license fees and provided further mark-up reductions if the spirits are made from Nova Scotian agricultural products.
Compass Distillers is one such distillery taking advantage of these tax benefits. They have just recently started on Agricola Street in Halifax’s North End. They’re so new, in fact, that upon my visit in September, they were still a weekend away from opening their doors and had only been distilling for about three months. Their building is gorgeous, with a towering modern look and attractive tasting room. The Tower itself houses living quarters for out of town employees, and AirBnB rentals.
I stopped in and poked my head under the garage door to find the master distiller Ezra Edelstein plying his stills. Ezra is passionate about his craft and loves to talk about the intricacies of his spirits and the innovative and unconventional ingredients used in his products. He was also happy to grab some fermenting wheat straight from the fermenter for me to try.
The stills are Kentucky-made by Vendome, and theirs is named Tess. They run it entirely manually, and find they’ve been lucky with Tess, as she gives long hearts. The small still is their experimental set-up, and the baby still is no longer used but makes a nice conversation piece!
The Compass Distillers white spirits are made from local Red Winter Wheat, an atypical base grain. The gin includes unusual botanicals such as cucumber and cilantro. Their Rhumb (spelled as such since at less than a year it can’t be called Rum yet), is made from Canadian molasses. The Vodka is wheat-based as well, and is distilled to a lower proof than most common vodka, as they want to keep more of the grain character intact. Their moonshine is 100% corn spirit.
The whisky is not yet whisky of course at three months of age, and they have corn spirit, wheat spirit and organic locally malted rye aging in virgin oak currently. They distill to approximately 160 proof before barrelling.
Big thanks to Ezra and Alex for the discussion and preview of what’s to come from this brand new distillery! Any spirits lover living in or travelling Halifax should visit the distillery and try their line-up. You can also follow their progress on their instagram. The attention to detail and innovative approach Ezra brings to the craft has already led to some great white spirits, and should make for some great whisky as well! It’s our hope that Ontario and other provinces will see the great impact Nova Scotia’s tax changes have had on the industry and follow suit.