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Newfoundland Distillery Co. launches new spirit distilled using only local ingredients

Newfoundland Distillery Co. co-owner Peter Wilkins enjoys a taste of aquavit, the company’s fourth product to be launched this year.
Newfoundland Distillery Co. co-owner Peter Wilkins enjoys a taste of aquavit, the company’s fourth product to be launched this year. - Kenn Oliver

Aquavit: water of life

There are few products in the local marketplace made entirely in Newfoundland. Whether it’s a food item, a piece of technology or even a sealskin coat, at least one component is usually sourced outside the province.

Not so for the Newfoundland Distillery Co.’s aquavit, the latest offering from the Clarke’s Beach-based company and the first spirit ever legally produced in this province using 100 per cent local ingredients.

“We wanted it as good and as pure as we could from the province, so we didn’t want to import herbs to put in it just to make it more like a traditional ones,” says Peter Wilkins, who co-owns the company with William Carter.

“We want everybody to be able to enjoy it and be proud of it, and I suppose the key thing we aim for is we want people to try it because it’s local, but then realize it’s good because it’s good on a global scale, not because it’s just local.”

The ingredients that make up aquavit — derived from the Latin aqua vitae, meaning water of life — include barley grown and dried in Cormac, honey from Tuck’s Bee Better Farm in Grand Falls-Windsor, spring water from Springdale, a dash of savoury from Mt. Scio in St. John’s, and peat and juniper that wasn’t just harvested from Clarke’s Beach, but smoked there, too.

“We’ve put it all together to get something that is truly and purely from the province and we think it’s a really exciting drink,” says Wilkins. “Very smooth with herbal notes and the honey gives it the roundness and a little hint of sweetness, but not that normal sweetness you get with mead or other honeys.”

Aquavit is found around the world, but its origin is based in Scandinavian countries where it’s still an important part of drinking culture, often consumed during Christmas, Easter and other celebrations. Historically, it was thought to have curative, almost medicinal properties, and some cultures to this day suggest it aids in digestion.

Unlike whiskey or rum, aquavit is considered a young spirit in that it doesn’t need to be aged. Once it’s triple distilled, the herbs and spices are added, providing it with its distinctive flavours.

While Wilkins enjoys it on the rocks — “I’m trying to be objective and I keep trying it and the glass empties, so I have to have another one,” he explains — it also works well with a drop of flat or sparkling water, or substituted into cocktails.
“Any sort of whiskey-based or rum-based cocktail, I think it will work really well. We haven’t had time to experiment too much yet because I can’t get past having it on the rocks.”

The only question now is whether or not Newfoundlanders and Labradorians — notoriously stubborn when it comes to their drink of choice — will give it a try. Wilkins is confident they will.

“We believe there are enough people who are genuinely interested in trying new drinks, particularly if they’re good,” he says. “A lot of people have tried our vodka and gins, and from what we’ve heard they’re really enthusiastic and really enjoy it, so we’re hoping they’ll do the same with the aquavit and then the word will spread.”

In this regard, Wilkins is being a tad humble. Since launching in May of this year, the distillery’s barley-based vodka is second in popularity in its size and price category, behind only Grey Goose. The bakeapple and seaweed gins, meanwhile, are third and fourth behind Bombay Sapphire and Tanqueray since debuting in June.
“I suppose it’s what we always wanted, but to actually be competing with the big brands and things we’ve always drank is slightly surreal,” Wilkins said.

The first bottles are set to arrive on Newfoundland Liquor Corp. shelves in the St. John’s region Friday, with distribution throughout the province — including Labrador — by next week.

It’s also available at the Newfoundland Distillery Co.’s shop and tasting room, where there will be a special tasting event on Saturday from 3-6 p.m. It’s also available for order online, with shipping anywhere in Canada.

Twitter: kennoliver79

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