Jill Linquist fell into the distilling business by chance, and found a love she didn’t know existed.
She now runs Raging Crow Distillery in North River, N.S., but she would have never expected to end up in the industry.
“My husband and I have a small hobby vineyard. We grow grapes and sell to Benjamin Bridge for their Nova7. We took wine tours each year, and in June 2016 we went on an Okanagan wine tour,” she said.
“We stopped at Legends Distilling, and a young lady from Lunenburg gave our tour. We were pretty amazed at everything,” she said.
By July 2017, Linquist wanted to make a go of it, and called retiring Dal professor Kris Pruski to be a business partner.
“He taught small fruits, and he jumped at the chance. We looked at equipment and the costs, formulated a business plan, and incorporated in September 2017.”
The Canada Revenue Agency granted them with a license in February, and Linquist and Pruski then went to a master distilling course in Kelowna, B.C. before opening.
“I always had a great love and interest in fine food, and I’m a dietitian by trade. I had worked for food companies and had that business background. I knew that all distilleries were different, and we felt that there was room in the industry,” she said.
“We kept it small, had a building on the property that my husband and I own, and we went into it with manageable startup costs.”
She said the biggest trouble was her unfamiliarity with the regulatory aspects of selling a controlled substance.
“The NSLC and CRA were such a fabulous help. It was definitely a learning curve, but we got the hang of it pretty quickly. Other distilleries in Nova Scotia were also very helpful. They’ve been so supportive even though we are competitors in some ways,” she said.
“It’s the same for the wine and craft beer industry in Nova Scotia. They are all different, but try to help each other out.”
She can’t say ‘support’ without mentioning the community around her.
“We support other businesses and they support us. The coffee in their coffee liqueur comes from Aroma Maya in North River, and their grains from Horton Ridge Malt and Grain Company. Our honey in the liqueur comes from our own beehives. The spruce in our spruce-tip gin comes from our cottage. The maple comes from the MacRae’s five minutes down the road,” she said.
“By supporting each other, we make sure everyone around here benefits. We give credit to those around us who help make our product great, and we help grow other small businesses in the area.”
She said they mostly advertise through social media, and she’s thrilled with the support they have seen.
“We have had a number of events recently and we’re getting excellent exposure. We’re seeing repeat customers and restaurants are carrying us too. We are happy people are buying, trying, and telling their friends,” she said.
She’s proud to say their products are also all natural and chemical-free, and she feels this is important with people focusing on clean eating.
“We wanted to make sure we were all-natural. Some sedimentation occurs because of that, and people may need to shake the bottles. But it goes back to people wanting to know where their food and drinks come from,” she said.
“They know what they’re getting here isn’t artificial. It makes for better taste and has a uniqueness to it.”
They’re not making your everyday liqueurs in North River either.
With their Spruce Tip Gin, Honey Liqueur and Cajun Chocolate Liqueur, they’re keeping things innovative.
“We also have a dill pickle vodka. It goes fabulous in a Caesar. When we took the master distillers course, there was one there and we loved it,” she said. “We just want to be a little different, and keep on innovating down the road.”
Their signature vodka is a potato vodka which is the only one produced in Nova Scotia.
“They advised us at the course not to do this. It’s difficult, has a lower yield, but it’s also really good,” she said. “Kris is Polish, and traditionally their vodka is made from potatoes. It has a nice, silky, smooth feel to it. We persevered, and we managed to produce it.”
The company is at a point where each batch is 100-200 bottles.
“We see that as manageable, and we have a single-bottle filler and we hand-label. Small batch is great because we can try out flavours. There’s only one employee besides us,” she said.
She has high hopes for the next year for the business.
“We will continue to develop new flavours. Traditional gin is hard to develop and takes a lot of trial and error, and we have started on that journey,” she said.
“We have also started barrelling. We took a trip to Kentucky in October and we were inspired by what they were doing there. We are currently aging vodka, rum and organic rye in barrels.”
But she also has some broader visions for the company.
“We want to do more events, expand our exposure and just keep people coming here and enjoying what we do.”
By Jordan Parker