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Photos: Colin Noden

North of 7 Distillery: It’s all about the taste

By Colin Noden on October 15, 2018

I had to laugh. I had just asked Greg Lipkin at North of 7 Distillery who their typical customer was. “There isn’t any typical demographic. It’s more about when a person reaches a certain level of discrimination in their taste.”

Then, as if on cue, a young guy in a white T-shirt and jeans rushes in, holding a grocery bag from the Caribbean Market a few doors down. He nods toward the display shelf as he digs in his pocket for his cards. “Another bottle of Whiskey please.”

The whiskey is tossed in the bag with a big thank-you smile, and he’s off to the Latin Market next door. Proof that you can never stereotype a cosmopolitan palate.

Greg is a bit lost for words. “That wasn’t a typical sale. Usually, I line up a taste selection and help the buyer find the flavour profiles that match their preferences. You can’t just go by the names we’re obligated to use.”

As we head into the production area, I begin to understand what Greg is talking about. A craft distiller manipulates ingredients to create unique flavour profiles. This separates their products from the uniformity of a factory operation.

A craft distiller manipulates ingredients to create unique flavour profiles.

Toasted corn gives a caramel flavour.

The first thing I see is a bin of corn which has spent two days getting toasted to a deep caramel tinge. Greg nods. “That’s where the caramel flavour comes from. We don’t add any flavourings. And we source all our ingredients from local growers, which gives our product true local flavour. We keep the flavour concentration high and the water content low.”

As we walk to the distilling area, Greg casually closes the door to the Gin Botanical storage area. The ingredients may be local, but those are not for my eyes.

Around the corner, a vat of mash is bubbling with a life of its own, and the rye aroma is unmistakable. “We use a varying mix of grains depending on what style we are going for. That’s why we encourage people to come in and have a taste.”

We encourage people to come in and have a taste.—Greg Lipkin, North of 7 Distillery

“The taste also changes depending on the cask that’s used and the amount of charring it’s given. We work with the cooperage to target certain flavours.” Greg started to chat about tannins and terpenes, charring, surface exposures, and Ottawa’s unique evaporation rate. I nodded and was glad this was his passion and not mine.

But now I understand how important the Barrel and Batch numbers are on the label. And why that young guy was so smart to grab another bottle while he could.

My hunch was confirmed when we got to the cask storage area. It was a lot smaller than I expected. Mandatory three-year aging, and a passion for flavour means very small bottling runs as select casks are left to age as long as possible. Greg points up to one cask. “That one’s six years old. I’m thinking of bottling it for Christmas season. November and December are our biggest brown spirit sales months, so I’ll need to have more product on hand.”

I hear the regret in his voice. And as we walk back to the front shop I notice a guitar propped on a chair across from the distiller unit. It fits in. This is a business for someone with patience and creativity.

North of 7 Distillery is located in the St-Laurent Metro Center strip mall at 1733 St Laurent Boulevard, where Innes Road becomes Industrial Avenue. It opens at noon from Monday to Saturday. Tastings and purchases of their complete line are available in the store. Information on closing hours and other sales venues is available on their website. North of 7 is one of the featured distilleries pouring at the Whiskey Ottawa Festival on Saturday October 20. Tickets are avaialble online