Behind the Still: Lynne and Pierre of Ironworks Distillery

Mark DeWolf

Lynne Mackay and Pierre Guevremont’s Lunenburg-based Distillery ushered in a modern era of craft distilling in Nova Scotia since it opened in 2010 in a converted old blacksmith’s shop. Their committed approach to creating spirits based on the highest quality standards has won them admiration and accolades, from near and far.

Occasions: Can you tell me about your career before you decided to start up Ironworks Distillery?

Ironworks: Pierre owned a company for years in Toronto representing photographers and videographers in the stock imagery world. Lynne was a freelance costume designer in the film industry, working in film and television for more than 30 years. We were ready for change and moved to Halifax around 2005, with no exact idea of what that change would entail. Distilling came up as a serendipitous event that just clicked.

Occasions: How has your previous business experiences benefited you as distillery owners?

Ironworks: Both of us have been self-employed and entrepreneurial in nature for our entire working lives, so we find new unfamiliar business exploits endlessly fascinating. Taking on a completely new enterprise and learning the skills that went with it were tasks we enjoyed. We’ve always thrived in environments that tested our ability to think on our feet and adapt when needed but we also benefited from, shall we say, a certain maturity in our approach to business! We’re old enough to know exactly what we are good at.

Occasions: You decided to locate your business in one of Nova Scotia’s most popular tourist destinations? Why?

Ironworks: I firmly believe that distilleries are excellent tourist destinations. Even more so with the burgeoning area of culinary tourism, folks are seeking excellent, local food and beverages and they want to hear the stories that go with them. Look at the Bourbon Trail in Kentucky which is a thriving tourist attraction.

Think about the island of Islay, Scotland with their significant number of fine Scotch distillers. Or the area of Alsace-Lorraine in France where the tiniest of distilleries produce such fine eaux-de-vie, or Normandy and their numerous Calvados Distillers. Even Portland, Oregon, where there are almost a dozen artisan distilleries right in the downtown area.

All of these places encourage people to come and visit — to tour their facilities and see how their products are made. When we opted to start a distillery that focused on using local fruit to distill brandies, eaux-de-vie and vodka, we knew we wanted to invite the public into our working space and share the work with them. Finding the old blacksmith shop in Lunenburg, which was already a registered heritage building and situated in such a picturesque environment, in a town that boasted so many fine eating establishments — well we knew we would get great walk in traffic from all those factors alone.

Once we knew we could make fine spirits as well, we knew we had a recipe for at least modest success.

Occasions: When did you decide to produce Bluenose Rum?

Ironworks: We began to make rum almost as an afterthought.

We were planning on concentrating on the use of local fruit and berries for our spirits and liqueurs but it quickly became apparent that we would be foolish to ignore the Maritime love of rum. Eight months before we opened in 2010, we distilled our first batch of fermented molasses and poured it into Bourbon barrels that we had imported from Kentucky. By the following Christmas we brought it out and bottled it up.

Some folks still have their bottle from the first barrel!

Two years later in 2012, Bluenose 2 had completed the first stage of her re-build and was being put back into the water.

For that event we came up with a recipe for black rum — once again based on the advice from our customers. It proved to be such a popular product that we have kept it on the shelf ever since.

Occasions: You’ve made a very strong commitment to producing spirits using local ingredients. Given rum is made from cane sugar or its by-products, how did you keep the local-ness of this spirit?

Ironworks: Admittedly, Nova Scotia is a long way from being a producer of sugar cane so we were challenged to make a local connection with the base product. This is why we chose to use Fancy Table Molasses from Crosby’s Molasses Co. in New Brunswick.

The long-time tradition of molasses on the Maritime kitchen table at breakfast seemed appropriate and the length of time that the Crosby family has been importing and packaging the product in the area we felt kept us in the spirit of local as far as the ingredient was concerned.

But in truth, the best part of the “local-ness” of Bluenose Rum is the fact that it is entirely made here by us. It is, at the moment, the only rum that is actually made completely in Nova Scotia.

We use an imported base product, but the fermentation of that molasses, the double distillation of the mash, the aging of the distillate, filtering, blending and bottling of the aged spirit, all these processes are done right here in our facility in Lunenburg. Folks can come in and meet the distiller. Watch the process. Ask us questions. That’s truly local.

Occasions: There is a lot of new distilleries in Nova Scotia. What would you say to someone looking to get into the distillery business?

Ironworks: You’re right. There are a lot of new distilleries in NS, but more is not necessarily a bad thing. Take as an example the situation in Portland, Oregon that I mentioned earlier, with all those craft distilleries in one city.

It works because everyone has a different vision of what they want to create and they all bring a passion for their work and their product to the customer.

This is the kind of energy that makes for a vibrant network of distillers. For someone new to the business, I would advise them to be ready for a few years of very hard work with little remuneration while getting established.

Craft distilling is not for those who want to make quick, easy money and it requires a hefty amount of cash for capital investment. You need good business skills, a talent for great customer service, a good nose and finely honed set of taste buds. Add to that the patience to gain the expertise needed, the determination not to compromise quality and a commitment to sharing your story with your customers in a forthright and honest way. Then have a go.

Next Week

We interview the folks from Steinhhart Distillery.

Occasions Recommends

Ironworks Bluenose Rum, 750 ml $43.01

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