Spirit Of York: Mixing With The Population
The Distillery District’s Spirit of York has taken Toronto by storm in producing world-class spirits for a world-class city.
The 80 per cent of Canadians who live in urban centres may not think about it often, but the close to four-billion-year-old, eight-million-square kilometre Canadian Shield is among this country’s most treasured natural assets. Even savvy urban tastemakers can benefit from its unique mix of minerals, such as those who frequent Spirit of York Distillery Company, located at 12 Trinity St. in the heart of Toronto’s Distillery District. The company has come to be regarded as Ontario’s premium distiller of Canada’s best-tasting spirits in the just over two years since its opening.
“We forget how privileged we are,” says Gerry Guitor, one of the founders of Spirit of York. “We are living in one of the most fortunate areas of the world, surrounded by an abundance of riches, with tons of natural resources. The water and ingredients we can source allow us to make our product as good as anywhere else and they celebrate who we are.”
Guitor is one of the proudest Canadians you may ever meet — he may even bleed maple syrup. He is also passionate about Toronto and says Spirit of York is a reflection of its diversity and its cultural growth.
“I think Toronto is the greatest city in the world,” says Guitor. “As Toronto grew, we all learned from each other’s cultures, which created a sense of adventure, and once you get a taste from that cup, you want more to experience the world. It’s made us that much more culturally aware and translates into wanting to try different things, and our products and flavours represent that broader community.”
Those liquid products were further enhanced this fall with the launch of Spirit of York’s kitchen, which introduced its new menu of elevated bar food to complement its premium spirits, such as gin, vodka, rye whisky and aquavit.
“We don’t want to be a restaurant, as our focus is on our spirits, but when people were coming in, they wanted some food pairings with their spirits,” says Guitor. “So we began small seafood platters with our aquavit, chocolates with our whisky and cheeses with our gin and vodka. We created something which enhances our spirits, all sourced from local suppliers to celebrate what’s great about Ontario.”
Spirit of York is recognized for its passion, care and commitment to its time-honoured distillation techniques fused with modern processes. And these are all on display via its entire back wall of floor-to-ceiling glass, part of the culture of transparency that lives within its dedicated staff and its entire manufacturing process, reflected in its logo.
Explains Guitor, “Our logo focuses on three spirits: the spirit of ghosts because we are in the very haunted Distillery District; the spirit to produce products which are world class; and the spirit of our community.”
That spirit of the community has lived deeply from Day 1 at Spirit of York, whose 35 shareholders in the venture all agreed to always give 10 per cent of all profits back to local community groups.
“We support many cultural groups, such as the LGBTQ community, local Jewish and Chinese community groups, the AGO Power Ball, the Canadian Opera Company and the National Ballet,” says Guitor. “Toronto is the sum total of all of these different social groups, which come together to contribute to the city. We give back to our community to be inclusive.”
Spirit of York is perhaps proudest of only using locally sourced ingredients from farming communities across the province. All of its products are 100 per cent Canadian, from grain to glass.
“We meet with vendors who are likeminded to us,” says Guitor about the care and attention to detail they take in sourcing local suppliers. “For example, our grain comes from southwest Ontario and a very passionate farmer who still uses a stone mill from 1847 in their process. Then we control the entire process on-site here where the rye is collected; we mash it and ferment it and distill it, proof it and it goes into your glass. And each bottle of our spirits is proudly filled and sealed by hand.”
It’s part of the bigger picture at Spirit of York, whose full-time staff of about 20 all share the same pride in their craftsmanship and in following the proper processes. It may take a little longer, but the end product is among some of the finest spirits in the world, which they will proudly put up against any other spirits from any other country.
“We produce a very high-quality product, as our consumers are the judges,” says Guitor in speaking about the immediate success of Spirit of York. “And that’s part of our values, too; [we’re] proud to showcase what Ontario and Canadians can do.”
Toronto has evolved into a world class city in the past two decades and is deserving of world-class spirits. Spirit of York’s success story reflects that spirit and will be proud to carry the banner high and forward.