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Distilling Tech

Georgian Bay Spirit Company combines tech and craft at new Collingwood distillery

Q: What do Wayne Gretzky and the Georgian Bay Spirit Company have in common? A: Joshua Beach, Head Distiller & Blender.

The Georgian Bay Spirit Company is Collingwood’s newest distillery, raising the count to a total of three in a town of 22,000—thirsty people, apparently. Head distiller Joshua Beach came to Georgian Bay about nine months ago from Wayne Gretzky Estates Distillery in Niagara-on-the-Lake, where he was the founding distiller for the franchise.

With a degree in Computer Science and a professional background as an automation expert, Beach’s story is quite a bit different from most distillers’…and one that makes him particularly well qualified to set up a large craft distillery here in Collingwood.

After graduating with an MSc in Brewing and Distilling from Heriot-Watt University (Scotland) in 2010, Beach took a job with ProLeiT, a Munich-area automation company. There, he set up brewery automation systems for the Guinness distillery in Dublin as well as tier 1 brewers in Israel, Namibia and other far-flung locales. Returning to Canada, the Waterloo native opened up Odd Society Spirits, a Vancouver distillery, with a friend. From there it was just a hop, skip and a jump to becoming founding distiller for Wayne Gretsky Estates—and now Georgian Bay.

A medium-tech distillery

When asked just how automated and high-tech is the new Georgian Bay Spirit Company facility on Raglan Street in Collingwood, Beach’s response is ‘meh, medium’. “You can go fully automated,” he explains, “but volume-wise we’re craft, so hand bombing makes sense for a lot of what we do. The most important role that automation plays here is to ensure consistency.”

Beach goes on to explain that at Georgian Bay, he uses automation more to control distilling and less so for logistical processes like washing, bottling and packaging. “When I’m blending spirits with water I do it very, very slowly,” he says. “That’s where automation comes into play. It’s called volumetric dosing. You measure your flow and make sure you blend over time.” Dump water into spirits quickly and you get savonification. Gin, as an example, becomes a bit soapy. There is also an exothermic reaction when alcohol is combined with water too quickly. “That can destroy aromatics,” explains Beach.

Quality above all else

Georgian Bay, which has won multiple gold awards for its gin, its vodka and several of its ready-to-drink (RTD) products, emphasizes quality above all else. The company, which to date has been distilling in Vaughan with a co-manufacturer, will continue to draw water from the Alliston Aquifer in Springwater Township, a groundwater source of what is reputed to be the purest water in the world. Other ingredients are selected with the same care. “We had a team go up north and do the juniper picking for the year a few weeks ago,” notes Beach. “Luckily we can source some great-quality ingredients locally.”

Georgian Bay’s focus is on developing spirits that are well balanced. “With a gin, if the lemon peel is really at the forefront, it’s not a great cocktail experience,” he observes. “But if the lemon peel, the orange peel, the juniper are all in balance, you can pull out those little tastes as well.”

Phase 1 opening soon 

At time of publication, Beach was busy directing the placement and connection of tanks, stills and controls. He hopes to be in full production (Phase 1) by the end of November 2020. Phase 2 will involve opening up a tasting room and outdoor bar area for middle-to-end 2021, by which time the coronavirus pandemic will hopefully be under control.

On a personal note, Beach couldn’t be happier. “For me, Collingwood is quite a draw—it’s a beautiful place to relocate to,” he says. He points to the other distilleries in the area, and in fact one in the same building. “That’s a nice coincidence and good for the local industry,” Beach enthuses. “When we have our tasting room open, I’m looking forward to collaborating more with other distilleries, bars and restaurants in the area. Cideries, breweries, distilleries—Collingwood has it all right here.”