IRONWORKS DISTILLERY - A devotion to craftsmanship
In the summer months, Lynne MacKay at Ironworks Distillery likes to talk about how her workspace stays cool with what she calls the “Lunenburg air conditioning system.” The old building has a door in the ceiling that allows the hot air to escape, something that would’ve come in very handy when the distillery used to operate as a forge in the seaside town of Lunenburg.
But Ironworks Distillery is forging its own path—as an award-winning producer of rums, brandies and eau de vie. In February, their Bluenose Rum and their Apple Brandy won gold for Best Dark Rum and Best Apple Brandy, while their Aged Pear Eau De Vie won gold for Best Brandy and Best Fruit Brandy at the World Drink Awards in London, England. “We were gobsmacked,” says MacKay, joking that her partner, Pierre Geuvremont, “sat there with his chin on our keyboard. We were so thrilled. It’s a profound uptick in peoples’ interests.”
But MacKay and Geuvremont aren’t in this business of distilling for awards. Theirs is a devotion to the craftsmanship involved in making small batches of well-made spirits. It all started in the late 2000s, when Geuvremont read an article on micro-distilling in a magazine. “The idea of making it appealed to us, having a product that was created by us,” says MacKay. The duo did copious amounts of research, as well as attended classes at Cornell University. They went to various micro-distilleries in British Columbia and New York. But Nova Scotia was where they wanted do this. “We knew that no one was doing something like this here. We knew that if it was interesting and appealing in a quirky way, that people would want to know more about it.”
And they did. Since their opening in June of 2010, the duo and their staff have been producing and selling vodkas, liqueurs, rums and eau de vie. In fact, it’s because of the fruit liqueurs they produce—including cranberry, Saskatoon berry and blueberry—that help them in producing their true love: eau de vie. “As a business model, it pays to have both,” says MacKay. “Eau de vie is a hard sell, a bit esoteric.” What at first glance may be understood as a simple fruit brandy is actually a painstakingly produced distillate that captures the essence of the fruit it is made from. Ironworks have gone on to bottle a strikingly beautiful pear eau de vie with an actual pear grown inside the bottle, an old custom from France. “To be a fruit and eau de vie distillery was our goal,” says MacKay, noting that they don’t plan on limiting the types of eau de vie in their production. “We started wanting to make one thing and then we saw all these variations, and thought, ‘Let me try that.’” MacKay hints that more types of eau de vie are on the horizon, including an eau de vie de sapin, made from spruce tips.
If anything, experimentation is where it’s at for a small operation like this one. Recently, the crew at Ironworks has been experimenting with barrel-aging various products, including their eau de vie, and ageing some of their rums. “It’s a really neat part of our journey,” says MacKay. “We have only really just discovered it because we’re only getting old enough to get to taste barrel aging. We recently discovered what happens to our pear eau de vie when we aged it for a few months in a small Hungarian oak barrel. It became such a treat, and we never would have discovered it if we didn’t have the time.” That same barrel-aged eau de vie is the one that won awards in February of this year.
In the end, it’s experimentation and dedication to the craft of distillation that makes all of the work and effort worthwhile for Geuvremont and MacKay. “I don’t want it to be routine or a factory,” says MacKay. “I don’t want to get that big. I don’t want to be to the point where people expect that it would taste the same all the time.”