Supplier Series: Yongehurst Distillery Co.
We make a deliciously boozy Maple Rum Raisin as part of our Classic flavours. It wouldn't be nearly as tasty without the amazing local rum made by Yongehurst Distillery Co. in Toronto, Ontario. We spoke with co-founder, Rocco, to learn more about what makes them unique in a tough industry.
When was the Yongehurst Distillery Company born?
"We started officially distilling in January 2015, but we were working on the idea many years before that. So it was born in our hearts probably back around 2012 or 2013. Starting a new business isn't easy, and starting a business that's so heavily taxed is even more challenging thanks to a lot of red tape. But we are persevering with every new challenge".
Your website mentions that both you and John-Paul have family histories in distilling. Can you tell me more about what your families did and how it influenced the beginning of Yongehurst?
"Can't confirm, nor deny either owning, using or even seeing a still prior to 2015 when we were legally licensed in Canada. How that grappa got onto the tables all those years is still a mystery. We definitely have a long history of wine-making in our families though, that was always something we grew up around. Italian basements always smell like fermenting-something, which is strange as a kid, but you really appreciate as an adult.
Just seeing our parents always making things by hand was inspiring. It was never because they were trying to save a buck, but instead they believed in fresh ingredients and using the highest quality standards - that was what develops the best output and in turn, the best experiences. My wife's grandfather says (roughly translated from Italian) "what you put, you eat", meaning if you use the best ingredients and methods, you'll yield the best results. I always liked that saying, and it's appropriate to us even more so now".
What were your backgrounds and experiences as craftspeople before Yongehurst began?
"My distilling partner, John-Paul is a tradesperson, in a number different roles. He's so good and being hands on and pushing us to get things done and propel the company forward. My background is in software development and digital product design, so I tend to be a little more about the science of it all - geeking out on numbers and constantly experimenting with flavours and new ways to get things done.
Every life experience adds something to your future projects. We have both had the opportunity to have worked on a number of incredible projects with incredible people, both successful and not so much, and each one informs the way we move forward with Yongehurst every day. We're always hungry to learn something new, which I think is the most important trait for a business owner."
What makes your spirits unique? How does your making process compare to those around the world?
"Agriculturally, Ontario is such an interesting place to live, and there are so many flavours that grow right here in the province that help make the terroir here a big part of the products we make. What I think is most unique about us vs. all other distilleries is that we put a lot of focus on foraging or growing our own ingredients. Juniper, angelica root, walnuts, whatever we can get our hands on. Obviously being in the city limits our ability to grow grains, but we buy those through local mills, who source them from local farmers. But anything we can get our hands on ourselves, we get out there and get it. Fresh ingredients make the difference, and if we can get them locally, we will".
Is there one thing you want your customers to know about spirits or the industry that they may not know already?
"Gosh, how much time do you have? People understand the beer they're drinking really well these days, that's something you couldn't say as recent as 10 years ago, even 5 years ago! It's easy for the consumer to identify a real "craft" beer from a phoney macro-brew. But in spirits, it's not like that. There are still a large enough majority of people that say, "whatever, as long as it's cheap and does the job" when it comes to spirits, that we're not yet at the point where people can tell what's real from what's being marketed to them.
There are a hand-full of companies that own all the spirit brands in the world, and most of those spirits are doctored with sugar, flavour, glycerin, colour, you name it. We are slowly seeing a shift, but what I would want people to know is that ingredients matter, process matters, people matter. When you have a chance to experiment and make it yourself, you really see the difference. As independent distilleries come of age in the next 10 years, and the product in barrel continues to mature, you're going to see some stuff that will knock your socks off. It will be an exciting time for spirits, which is long overdue".
What excites you about partnering with a small business like Four All Ice Cream?
"Partnering with other small and medium sized businesses is part of what makes this so enjoyable. As I mentioned, my background is in technology, so collaboration and the concept of "team" is so important and something I have been immersed in for so many years. When you're able to work with people who are so good at their job, it elevates you in so many ways, creatively, spiritually and intellectually. It's exciting to work with people who are excited about what you do as well, you only really get that opportunity with small businesses who can lean on each other for support. We all have visions of being grand and reaching the widest audience, and it makes it easier and more enjoyable to do that with friends like Four All".
If you could create any ice cream flavour from your product, what would it be?
"Gosh, tough one. We grew up around gelato of course, so the distinct flavours I remember as a child aside from the typical ones were nutty, like pistacchio and nocciola, as well as creamy, like fiore di latte and custard style flavours. We have a limited release of Italian liqueur coming out soon called "nocino" that is made from macerating walnuts and resting for close to two years. So I can envision a nocino-custard-crema style ice cream. I also love the idea of doing something with our spent botanicals. We throw away so much juniper and orange rind, it's sinful. Maybe a triple-sec and cream, or a gin-flavoured ice cream with a hint of mint, or even a gin-and-tonic flavour? Jonh-Paul is more of the sweet-tooth than me, but I can see myself going at a pint pretty hard on a late night of distilling".
Keep an eye out for the debut of their new Fiveward Dry Gin, an aged version of the Harbour Rum used in our Maple Rum Raisin ice cream. Yongehurst will also be officially launching their potato-based vodka as a main product named Liberies Vodka. And last but not least, they will have some Limoncello, Nocino and Shochu coming out before the end of this year too.