Nova Scotia’s south shore is a gorgeous mix of rocky crags, lighthouses, hiking trails and fishing towns and is well worth a visit by anyone travelling to the province. One of the most popular destinations on the south shore is Lunenburg, an historic fishing town that was put on the map as the home of the Bluenose, the famous racing schooner that graces the Canadian dime. The historic town has a beautiful waterfront and harbour, a fisheries museum, quaint shops and gorgeous European architecture dating from the 18th century. Lunenburg was also a hub of rum-running during prohibition, and small boats would travel offshore to meet with American vessels, delivering spirits to a thirsty nation.
True to that tradition, Pierre and Lynne started the Ironworks Distillery in 2009 and started by making vodka from local Nova Scotia apples. Today, the Ironworks Distillery produces a wide variety of liqueurs, rums and other spirits. Their still is a Bavarian hybrid pot still, and its design is different from what you typically find at a whisky distillery. The large ball structure in the ‘hat’ is designed specifically for eaux-de-vie to maximize the amount of reflux and flavour transfer to the final product. The column doesn’t use plates like a grain still, instead containing a spiral structure, also specially designed for fruit distillation.
As such, they mostly run fruit and molasses through it, double distilling everything. The tails are re-distilled and they use the heads for cleaning and as fuel in an alcohol burning firepot! All of their fruit is locally sourced within 150km (some botanicals are gleaned from bushes down the street!) and the cane sugar is imported from Guatemala and processed by Crosby’s Molasses of New Brunswick. They don’t currently sell any whisky but have distilled some grain spirits using a mash developed with a local brewery, which is currently aging in their facility. It will be very interesting to see the flavour impact of an eau-de-vie still on grain spirits!
Speaking of aging, Ironworks uses primarily new Hungarian oak to age their products, and have used some ex-bourbon and ex-wine casks as well. The ex-bourbon casks we saw included Jack Daniels and Buffalo Trace, and the ex-wine casks are from Blomidon, a local Nova Scotia winery. Ironworks has experimented with finishes and interesting casks as well, using Acacia wood to age their brandy, ex-wine to age rum and most recently aging rum both on land and at sea! Ironworks uses barrels up to 3 times, and then sells them to other distilleries or local breweries looking to make barrel aged beers. They currently have about 200 barrels in inventory.
Their facility is a former Blacksmith shop which brings with it some unique and interesting nuances. It has no heating, and instead they use the residual heat from the still to warm the building and heat the fermenters. Because of this, the still runs everyday except Christmas, and we had the opportunity to see it running and try the new make during the visit. There are signs of the building’s heritage everywhere, from the hearth to blacksmith tools. All of the products are hand bottled and labelled in-house, though we didn’t get a chance to see that part of the operation.
As for the spirits themselves, we were staying just a few blocks away, and sampled nearly the entire line-up! Sadly, the whisky barrels were aging in the basement and inaccessible, so there was no opportunity to taste the in-progress whisky. Here are some brief thoughts on each of those we sampled:
- Gin: very floral and less Juniper forward than most gin brands
- Apple Brandy: aged at least a year and typically more than two, very dry with light oak. quite pleasant
- Amber Rum: lightly aged, tastes quite young and spirity, but is at least a year old.
- Bluenose Rum: very sweet and molasses forward, not for someone without a sweet tooth, but would make fantastic cocktails
- “Marc”: like a grappa, and was very earthy and slightly bitter. Very interesting cocktail options and was very tempting to buy. They use different varietals in batches and last year used L’Acadie Blanc, Geisenheim, New York Muscat and Leon Millot.
- Liqueurs: tried strawberry, raspberry, blueberry, haskap berry, cranberry, and Saskatoon berry. All were fruit forward as expected and the haskap and Saskatoon were incredibly unique.
Ironworks, Lunenburg and the South Shore are all well worth visiting, and hopefully this little look at their operation entices some to plan a trip. If not, you can also purchase their products online, as they ship nationwide, and shipping is half off in November/December for the Christmas season!