Craft liquor is becoming a big business in Canada, with new distilleries popping up in big cities across the country. Despite the popularity gain, it’s still very much a male-oriented field, even in Toronto where is seems as though there is a beer or spirit festival every month. Meet Martha Lowry, the only female distiller in Toronto, who recently launched Mill Street Brewery’s first ever Small Bach Gin.
Women’s Post sat down with Lowry to talk about how her work with Mill Street and how she became a distiller.
Q: Congrats on recently launching the first ever Small Bach Gin at Mill Street Brewery in Toronto. Tell us what the process was like for you?
A: Thank you! I am very excited about the gin. The gin was a long time in the making with many test batches on my trial still. When thinking about how to make the gin I started by thinking about what botanicals I would want to use. Gin always contains juniper and typically has coriander. I knew I also wanted to include hops because they have so many different flavour possibilities. I was sure I could find one that would work with the bright and fresh gin I was dreaming of and I thought it would be a great connection to our brewing roots here at Mill Street. After I found my favourite hops I experimented with all kinds of botanicals, wanting to create something complex but not muddled. I settled on my ten botanicals after many trials and combinations of flavours.
You are the only female distiller in Toronto – how does make you feel and was it difficult to follow your passion?
It makes me very excited for the industry. I think we are only going to start seeing more women in distilling. I can’t wait for the day when I see a whole crew of women running a distillery. So far, I have been really fortunate in that I have, for the most part, been met with people who want to help me on my journey. Sometimes I get a bit of surprise, and not full understanding, but not too much has really stood in my way.
You are a handful of female distillers in Canada what would you say to someone who wanted to follow in your career footsteps?
Reach out to women’s industry groups and connect with as many women in the industry as you can. The women I know in the industry are amazing, strong, passionate, and we tend to look out for one another. Do a lot of research and reading, and tasting (the fun part)! Try to get yourself into a distillery to see it all in action and decide if it is something you love. There are a million different ways to get yourself into distilling. See what others have done and figure out if that is a path that can get you there.
What kind of skill set does one need to be successful in what you do?
One of the best parts and craziest parts of my job is that you are doing a million things at once. So you must be good at multitasking and prioritizing. A small distillery means that you get to do everything, which keeps it wonderfully fun and wonderfully busy. You must have a good palate and confidence to make decisions on product flavours. A love of people is a must. I work alone, but I am constantly interacting with the public on tours and tastings. A strong science background is necessary to understand distilling. Although I do know distillers who are more artistically-minded than science-minded and make great products. It’s all about the balance between science and art for creating flavours.
Tell us about the type of craft gin you make? Is it for everyone and which food pairings does it taste well with?
Mill Street Small Batch Gin is new distilled gin. It is smooth, citrusy, and fresh and a real crowd pleaser. It has the classic juniper, but it is dialled back to let the other botanicals shine through. This is the kind of gin that can convert gin haters. At first taste, the craft gin is very fresh, like zested citrus, reminiscent of lemon drop candies, accompanied by floral notes of violets and rose. The gin is smooth and sweet, with a top note of grapefruit zest. A peppery spice comes in the middle, along with a bottom note of angelica and hops giving an earthy, celery note. The juniper comes through as a fresh pine note and the gin finishes leaving a lingering floral note. The gin has ten botanicals: Juniper, Coriander, Citra hops, Lemon zest, Grapefruit zest, Angelica, Liquorice, Orris root, Rose petals and Grains of Paradise.
I would recommend pairing this gin with sushi, smoked salmon, waxy baby potatoes, grilled chicken, and soft cheeses such as buffalo mozzarella or goat cheese.
How did you come with the popular citrus flavour for summer?
I love a citrusy gin in the summer. All I crave are bright fresh flavours in the summer. I eat a lot of salads out of my garden in the summer, sipping a fresh bright gin alongside a caprese salad is probably my favourite summer evening.
Is there a typical day and what do you like most about your job?
I don’t have typical days. Which is one of the best things about my job. My favourite thing is definitely coming up with new recipes. I have a blast exploring flavours and running test batches through my lab size still. It feels like the world is your oyster when you are making something new.
When people ask you what you do as a career is it an unique title to have as head distiller?
It is. Often people do not know what “distiller” means. Most people assume it has something to do with beer, a fact that is confused by the fact that I did work as a brewer for a time. Being a distiller leads to many interesting conversations after the question “and what do you do for a living” at dinner parties.
What is next for you?
I want to keep expanding Mill Street’s Whisky program, putting down more barrels and playing with different malts and yeasts to create really unique casks.
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