The Story of Heretic Spirits’
Do you remember your first bite of cotton candy? As you held it, you may have contemplated why anyone would put a cotton ball in their mouth, but as the cloud-like treat touched your tongue and melted into sugary crystals that coated your mouth, your doubts would be transformed into wonderment and the slight feeling that something magical had just happened. Throughout one’s life, there are a limited number of moments like this that will exist, and as we grow older, we often stop trying new things and forget that these magical moments of discovery are still possible. To escape this complacency, one must be willing to engage with the unknown and to become infinitely curious about the world around them.
This exact pursuit is what has defined the success of Collingwood’s first craft distillery, Heretic Spirits. Led by Scott Morrison, Heretic Spirits opened in 2019 and has since seen success across many contexts – from the shelves of the LCBO to the world stage of international Spirits competitions. As self-professed alchemists, Scott and his team have tried to exemplify what it means to be a heretic. Throughout the development of all their products they have aimed to challenge beverage consumers’ understanding of what a craft spirit can taste like. By combining unique hand-selected ingredients with precise distilling techniques, and more than a little creativity (read: alchemy), they make gin and vodka that is so smooth and well-produced that you can sip it straight out of the bottle. The team at Heretic Spirits has made it their business to reintroduce consumers to the sense of wonderment that comes from being exposed to a new tasting experience.
“When we’re developing a new product, our goal is to produce something that you’ve both always had, and yet never had at the same time. We know that you need to appeal to people’s pallets in a way they can understand and enjoy, but at the same time, we have to create a distinctive enough flavour profile that you won’t mistake it for anything else you’ve ever tried before” explained Scott.
Scott’s commitment to the heretic philosophy has brought him and his team significant success in their first two years of business, but it is also what brought Scott to the world of distilling in the first place. Prior to opening Heretic Spirits, Scott had worked in the advertising industry for 28 years, beginning his career as a designer and working his way up to creative director, and finally owner of two ad agencies in Toronto. Over nearly three decades in the advertising world, he represented countless brands and products, but never had a chance to make a product of his own. And so, even though Scott had several ideas of what to do when he retired from the advertising industry, one idea stood out from the rest.
“I was playing around with a few options when the idea to start a distillery came to me. And the more I thought about it, the more I realized how perfect the fit was for me. I love great food and alcohol, I like building things, and I’ve always been interested in chemistry, and it was like every skill set I had was perfectly suited for this,” explained Scott.
And so, in the true spirit of the heretic, Scott decided to forego the well-known, in exchange for a more challenging, but infinitely more rewarding path. Scott pushed ahead with the idea in 2016 and spent three years building his business plan, securing the location for the distillery, and getting the licensing for the distillery. During this time, he immersed himself in his distilling education and started building his team. He recruited his brother, Chris Morrison, to help with the financial planning, and later brought on Brad Mear to work on recipe development and lab work in the distillery. Finally, in June of 2019 the team launched their products at Collingwood’s “A Taste of the Town” event, and by December of the same year they had been accepted by the LCBO.
Unfortunately, just a few months later the pandemic began, and the team was forced to rewrite many of their plans. In the months following the shutdown, Scott and his team were contacted by numerous organizations who were in desperate need of hand sanitizer. In response, they shifted their focus, and over the course of the following year, Heretic Spirits helped product over 400,000 bottles of hand sanitizer to help prevent the spread of COVID-19. Despite the significant challenges that were brought on by the lockdowns, Scott and his team have started to find their footing again and have seen significant interest from local restaurants who have opened their doors again, as well as an increased presence in LCBO stores across the province.
Over the course of the last year, Heretic Spirits has won nine international medals, including a gold and silver at the San Francisco World Spirits Competition. They have also begun development on several new products, including a dark vodka, a rum, and a savoury gin. “In the end, we’ve really been very fortunate, despite all the unforeseen challenges, to have the tremendous support of the excellent team that we’ve assembled, the assistance of the local LCBOs, and the support of the Town of Collingwood’s staff. We’re just very fortunate to have so many awesome people rallying behind us and helping us achieve our goals” explained Scott.
Heretic Spirits has also worked extensively to support other businesses in their community, from developing collaborative relationships with businesses like Collingwood Kombucha, to their continued efforts to connect with local suppliers to purchase ingredients. Scott has also made a point of consistently connecting with the Town’s Business Development Centre to received support from the early planning stages of the business to more recent conversations about collaborating on a craft beverage festival in Collingwood. Scott was also able to connect with the Centre for Business and Economic Development to help secure funding for the Distillery during the pandemic and continues to seek out further opportunities to work with the Town and other local businesses.
Scott’s connection to Collingwood goes beyond his business ties though, as he was first introduced to the town as a child. Scott’s family owned a condo and a boat in Collingwood when he was growing up, which meant he spent many summer weekends on a sailboat on Georgian Bay with his family. Since Scott spent most of his career working in downtown Toronto, he and his family lived in Woodbridge so he could commute, but when they decided it was time for a lifestyle change, Scott knew exactly where they would go.
“We made the move to Collingwood, and it turned out to be the best thing that could have ever happened.” said Scott, “All of my friends in Toronto ask what I do up here and I have to explain that every day is something new. Every day you ask yourself, do you want to go sailing tonight or boating or swimming? Do you want to go to 1 of 40 world class restaurants in town, or maybe you could hit up the Collingwood Brewery, Black Bellows, Sidelaunch or Northwinds and have a beer? There’s just a million things to do and I’m still discovering stuff all the time that I’ve never even heard of, let alone gone and done yet”.
Scott intends to add to this growing list of local activities and events that take place in Collingwood by putting together a craft beverage festival next summer that would include wine, beer, cider, and spirits, and even kombucha. “We want Ontario to think about Collingwood’s relationship to craft beverages in the same way that it considers Niagara’s relationship to wine. We have a lot to offer here, and I think if we work together, we have the ability to make that vision a reality” explained Scott.
Heretic Spirits also looks forward to the highly anticipated opening of their retail store and tasting room, which they plan to introduce as soon as it becomes feasible to, under current pandemic conditions. Until then, Scott encourages curious sippers to check their local LCBOs for Heretic Spirits products, or order through the LCBO online portal.
To learn more about the Heretic Spirits’ story, and read about their products, visit www.hereticspirits.com.