SPIRITED AWAY IN LUNENBURG - Second annual craft spirits festival connects industry's past and future, October 14 - 16
It seems historically fitting that a craft spirits festival is taking hold in Lunenburg. In the 1920s and 30s, during and after American Prohibition, rum-running was big business along the South Shore. Special ships built in Liverpool, Mahone Bay and Lunenburg were stocked with the banned booze and sent to “Rum Row” off the U.S. east coast, where the underlings of gangsters like Al Capone would wait. Today everything’s above board, of course, but the spirits business is booming again — and not just on the south shore. In 2014, there were three distilleries across the province; now there are 12, each pouring everything from single malt whisky to fruit liqueur.
It’s no wonder then that the co-owner of one of those distilleries, Pierre Guevremont of Ironworks in Lunenburg, thought it was time to make a toast last year. “We really just wanted to draw attention to the growing industry of craft distilling,” says the founder of the festival. “And we wanted to do it in Lunenburg because it’s the perfect place. Accommodations are so close to the bars, restaurants and venues that you can park your car on Friday and not drive again until you leave on Sunday.”
Program not a “drunk-up”
Though you should definitely park your car and leave it for the weekend, don’t expect some booze-chuggers’ marathon at Spirited Away. Think instead of events ranging from a make-your-own-gin workshop to drink-related book readings to special dinners. There will also be a special gala on the Saturday night with multiple distilleries present from across the province and plenty of gourmet eats.
“This isn’t just a big drunk-up,” says Guevremont. “We really want to do more participatory workshops because we learned last year that people love getting their hands dirty and love coming away with something they helped create.”
Visitors should be able to do just that at the bitters workshop hosted by bartender Jenner Cormier, the man behind Halifax’s The Middle Spoon and Noble who was also named Diageo World Class bartender of the year in 2013. Cormier says that while he’ll talk about different producers and their subtleties at the workshop, as well as how to use bitters inside and outside of the glass, there will also be a blind tasting and likely a chance for attendees to build their own bitter to take home.
Another hot ticket should be the make-your-own cocktails seminar. Led by a Nova Scotian mixologist, it’ll accommodate between eleven and thirteen people. Each participant will have their own station stocked with a shaker, strainer and everything they’ll need to learn how to craft cocktails fit enough for Don Draper.
The Saturday night gala will likely entice the most people, though. Like last year, many of the province’s distillers will be on hand, offering up samples and chances to learn about their craft. Mixologists will also be there to concoct drinks made from Nova Scotia spirits, and students from the culinary arts program at Nova Scotia Community College (NSCC) will cater the event. Their menu will include plates featuring local spirits, including breast of duck on dark rye with duck confit, chestnut and rhubarb liqueur, and pear cake with apple pie moonshine sabayon.
Impact beyond Lunenburg
While the festival is inextricably tied to Lunenburg and its history with booze, the hope is that its impact is felt far beyond the town limits. Judging from last years’ attendance numbers alone, it seems to be working. Over 300 people were at the gala, about 200 attended at least one workshop, and about 125 participated in a cocktail competition. And many of those attendees weren’t just Lunenburgers, but they were from across the province, the Maritimes and the world.
That exposure is vital to the growth of the spirits industry in this province, says Jenner Cormier. “The more that we support events like Spirited Away, the more our industry will continue to grow. Consumer education or knowledge development is so incredibly crucial to our industry; the rising tide lifts all boats.”
Co-organizer of Spirited Away and Ironworks shop manager Marianne Downey agrees, adding that Nova Scotia is world renowned for its food and drink, and that craft distilling is starting to be mentioned in that conversation, too. “We’ve got some of the most fantastic wineries, and people travel from all over the world to come here to eat and drink. Now craft distilling is sitting right there alongside, and that’s something to be super excited about. This festival is just one way to highlight it.”