Entrepreneur couple relocated from U.S. to P.E.I. to Nova Scotia in pursuit of distilling dream
Three years ago I drove my little red rental car around Prince Edward Island in search of the Prince Edward Distillery, which I had heard made vodka out of P.E.I. potatoes – as it turns out, it takes 18 pounds (8 kilograms) of them to make each bottle.
The outfit also distilled delicious gin and blueberry vodka from local ingredients. While there, I had the honour of meeting, touring and tasting with the distiller and co-owner, Julie Shore.
Jump ahead a few years: I was visiting Halifax and stopped in at the new Halifax Distilling Co. After chatting with the team, I discovered that the amazing women behind the Prince Edward Distillery had opened a second distillery and tasting room in a fabulous space in the Nova Scotia capital.
And since the new venture is located in the rum-drinking capital of Canada, this time the focus is on spinning molasses into gold.
Julie Shore and Arla Johnson, both originally from the United States, fell in love with Canada a decade ago – especially the Maritimes. They originally settled into the calm of Prince Edward Island. In addition being the founders of the Johnson Shore Inn, they began creating fantastic spirits for East Coasters to enjoy.
“We want to be stronger than Captain Morgan.”
But how does one move to Canada and decide distilling is the thing to do? For Shore, she just had to look back a few generations in her family history. Her great, great, great grandfather was I.C. Shore, a distiller who made whisky before (and during) Prohibition down in the South Carolina. She figured distilling ran in the blood.
For Shore and Johnson, P.E.I. was a great place to start and hone their craft. But after almost 10 years in P.E.I., Shore says, “We saw that there was not the traffic and population to grow the business.”
An opportunity to grow and develop awaited in Halifax, however. There’s a larger population many of them tourists and postsecondary students.
(Meanwhile, though the partners have moved to Halifax, their Prince Edward Distillery is still open and producing potato vodka, among other products.)
Nova Scotia has a long and deep history with rum, one that includes tales of rum runners during Prohibition. Today, Shore says, “Captain Morgan is the number one rum in P.E.I. and Nova Scotia. And we want to be stronger than the Captain.” Johnson and Shore are calling for a mutiny against the Captain as they fight for a spot in local bars.
As most tourists in Halifax do, I was down walking along the bustling waterfront area when I stepped through the doors of the Halifax Distilling Co. It was a grey and rainy Halifax morning but the warmth of the wooden walls and happy staff welcomed me. I could smell the aroma of the rum ingredients working together and knew I needed to literally drink all of this in.
As a visitor you can enjoy a tour of the distillery, do a little shopping in the retail store, which includes swag, spirits and other products, such as Halifax Distilling Co. influenced jams and syrups.
Or like me, you can head right to the tasting room.
The beautiful and ornate bar comes with its own story. The space was once a Mother Tucker’s restaurant; the owners at the time had brought the bar over from the U.K. With a little elbow grease, the beautiful bar was brought back to life.
As a rum lover, I was ready for some morning drinking to warm up, and there was no question what my choice was: the flight of rums, which are branded with the name J.D. Shore and range from a smooth white through more complex amber and spiced rums, to a strong, gorgeous “black rum.”
If you still have room for a cocktail, try the “stormy weather.” It’s a take on the classic dark ‘n’ stormy with J.D. Shore black rum, local Propeller ginger beer and your choice of lime juice or a float of porter beer, also from Propeller.
Remember that when you’re down along the Halifax harbour these day, the only rum running you need to be concerned about is all the visitors rushing to sample some local spirits.