By Patricia Noonan
When you’re in the business of mixing drinks, there are loads of supporting acts to make cocktails or mixed drinks as good as they can be. When I heard that Dillon’s Distillery, out Niagara way, had a whole new line of liqueurs, I was excited. Having worked and been educated in hospitality besides writing about spirits for quite some time, the options on mixables, as some liqueurs are called in bar parlance, are, well, mixed.
Depending on what a bar is slinging, you may very well see the usual low-priced and artificially flavoured suspects or be lucky to enjoy higher end brands like Briotet, from France. Now, we get our own locally crafted liqueurs to add to the cocktail mix at home, or hopefully, at a bar or restaurant near you. I had some questions for Geoff Dillon, proprietor and distiller.
Good Food Revolution: Your first spirit production was Dillon’s Gin. Now there are several gin styles, vodka, whiskey, bitters…what made you decide to do an entire liqueur line?
Geoff Dillon: If there is one thing we want to be known for – it’s experimentation. We want to push ourselves to create unique spirits from the ingredients growing around us and have built an incredible team at the distillery which does just that. This line of spirits came from a decade of that ethos while working hand-in-hand with some of the best bars and bartenders. We saw a real need for high quality, locally made liqueurs that could be used in cocktails and we had the ingredients around us to do it.
GFR: What base spirit is used for all the liqueurs or are some different?
GD: Both rye spirit and rum were used as bases in this line. Some using only one, some using both as a base; we let the spirit do the talking and just tried to listen as to which brought out the best flavours of the botanicals and fruits.
GFR: Obviously, this is seasonal, or have you created your own fruit flavourings from Niagara to keep your brand specifically focused on local fruit?
GD: For most of these liqueurs, we get one shot to make our batch for the year. Something like black currants, which we source from a local farm in Milton for the Crème de Cassis are only ready once a year. Luckily for us, alcohol does an incredible job at preserving fruits, so the goal is to make what we need for the year when the ingredients are ripe, but we make no promises we won’t sell out.
GFR: Which classic method of liqueur production are you using?
GD: This line uses a big mix of pre-macerating, distilling, vapour distilling, and post-distillation maceration. We’ve been experimenting for years with these and are using whatever method gets us the best flavour for each liqueur.
GFR: Some liqueur production relies on flavour houses for large production and consistency. Do you need to do this, or is everything local?
GD: We opt not to use any synthesised products from a flavour house. All the flavour comes from the fruit or from the base product (in the case of chocolate or coffee). It’s not the easiest way, but we believe it’s the best way.
GFR: You’ve published one cocktail book, so this new liqueur line should mean there’s another one coming, right?
GD: You never know! In the meantime, we will keep posting our recipes online and directing people to the amazing bars that have already begun serving delicious cocktails using them.
The liqueurs are available directly from the distillery or via dillons.ca and range in price from $40.00 to $56.00 per 750 ML bottle.
Dillon’s Peach Liqueur (24% ABV)
Nose: Grappa- Grappa like, surprising notes of slivovitz, with distinct peachy, apricot aromas.
Palate: Mouthfeel is velvety with ripe peach/apricot flavour.
Finish: Lingering, with stone fruit replays straight through.
A bit of peach nectar with this liqueur, topped with prosecco and you have a lovely Bellini.
Dillon’s Orange Liqueur (40% ABV)
Nose: Intense spicy orange peel
Palate: Flavours of spice and a tight walk of peel and slightly bitter fruit with sweet edginess.
Finish: Mouthwatering and lengthy finish.
This is great on the rocks or in a 50/50 mix with the chocolate liqueur for a liquid dessert.
Dillon’s Gentian Liqueur (17% ABV)
Appearance: Soft straw yellow
Nose: Herbaceous yet lemony, there are also earthy notes from the gentian and angelica root and of celery from the herbs used like lovage.
Palate: Slight peppery notes, celery flavours, mild quinine bitterness, with a silky mouthfeel.
Finish: Very long lingering finish replaying the aromas and flavours.
Just add soda to spritz this up and you’re off to the races with impressive flavour for a low ABV drink.
Dillon’s Black Currant Liqueur (18% ABV)
Appearance: Deep magenta
Nose: Light berry aroma, slight medicinal
Palate: Lightly sweet blackberry flavour, mild medicinal cherry notes
Finish: Mouthwatering finish.
Good for a low ABV spritzer with soda and some blackberries to garnish, and of course, the more obvious kir or a kir royale.
Dillon’s Amaretto Liqueur (27% ABV)
Appearance: Deep gold
Nose: Intense aromas of peach, apricot, and marasca plum pits
Palate: Sweetly mouth coating with similar flavour replays of the aroma on the palate.
Finish: Lengthy mouth-watering finish.
I would try this with a blended scotch for a Godfather, on the rocks.
Dillon’s Coffee Liqueur (23% ABV)
Appearance – Dark coffee colour
Nose – Fresh coffee bean aroma
Palate – Sweet flavours of coffee mixed with cocoa, notes of vanilla wrapped up in a velvety delivery.
Finish – Big, long lasting finish.
Go for an espresso martini or jack up a latte with an extra shot of this.
Dillon’s Chocolate Liqueur (23% ABV)
Appearance: Light chestnut
Nose: Sweet cocoa, vanilla notes, even estery floral notes.
Palate: Big cacao with spicy rye flavours from the rye-rum baseline combo.
Finish: Bitter dark chocolate with vanilla replays
My personal recommendation is go retro; White Russian with a mix of the coffee and chocolate liqueurs with Dillon’s Vodka and float a layer of cream for a liquid dessert.
(All of these are rated out of a possible five apples)