This is Distillerie du St-Laurent, from Rimouski, Québec. Earlier this summer we had the pleasure to visit the distillery and meet with Joël Pelletier and Jean-François Cloutier, the owners and founders.
We are very happy to introduce you to their story since they were one of the very pioneers of the micro-distillery movement in Quebec. Like most good ol’ gin stories, it all started with very limited resources and a lot of creativity in someone’s basement. Eventually, the duo travelled to Chicago and took a distilling course at a local distillery. It was after that trip that distilling went from a hobby to a tangible business plan. They opened Distillerie du St-Laurent in 2015.
The owner’s philosophy is pretty straight forward. They don’t pretend to be reinventing the wheel. Given that Quebec has lost its distilling tradition with prohibition, they take what other people have been doing for a long time and adapt it to reflect the terroir and specific identity of their region. Rimouski is located in the Bas-St-Laurent region, about five hours drive North-East of Montreal. It runs along sea water and is the home of many ocean studies centres.
When the duo developed their first gin recipe, they used traditional aromatic gin as their starting point and consulted with ocean studies specialists to find an algae that could be incorporated to their recipe. They opted for laminar algae, that grows off the shore close from the distillery. The result is a gin where the traditional aromatics come through, but on top there is a strong minerality, saltiness and umami flavour to it. When Jean-François and Joël had that idea, it was pretty much unseen in the world to use sea weed in gin. With time, they developed two other gins. One is their Gin Vieux, their original gin aged in barrel for one year. The other one is gin citrus, one that is a flamboyant exercise of creativity and vibrant flavours. It is made with vacuum distilling technique and is packed with the vibrant flavours of different citrus fruits from Vietnam. They established a business relationship with local producers over there that harvest and dry the fruits upon order. Can’t really get fresher than that.
The same philosophy applies to their whiskies. Both of them love bourbon, rye and scotch. So they decided to inspire themselves from these three styles, while adding their own twist to it and creating new traditions. A good example is their single malt. While malted barley is smoked with peat in Scotland, they decided to keep the same tradition but to adapt it to Quebec’s resources and savoir-faire, so they smoke it with maple instead. Their bourbon style whisky (called “trois grains”) is made primarily with corn, with 15% rye and 10% malted barley and is inspired by American whiskey distilling. They make it grain in, use the mash bills and age it in new American oak. They also have a 100% rye in the making…
If Jean-François and Joël sure inspire themselves from existing traditions, the duo is also innovative in many ways. They joined forces with other distillers to create “Acerum” as a new spirits appellation in Quebec, one that would reflect the terroir, savoir-faire and identity of the region. Acerum is a spirit that is made from distilled maple products (whether it be maple syrup or osmosed maple), that can be aged or not, without anything added to it after distillation. Just like scotch is made from malted barley and mezcal from agave, the duo believes that Quebec has an extraordinary resource that should also be treated with nobility. Furthermore, the next big move for the distillers is to move the distillery to a new location in Pointe-au-Père, right by the sea. Part of the relocation project is to build a permeable warehouse for them to age their spirits directly under the influence of the sea wind. Which also means that the inside temperature will correspond to the outside one, even when it’s -20 degrees outside. Once again, this has not really been seen before.
Overall, Jean-François and Joël are clearly a very passionate duo that curate artisanal spirits made with care that are not only tasty and precise, but that carry a very strong regional identity. The Bas-St-Laurent is one of the most beautiful regions we have seen travelling across the entire country. Their future distillery, which will have a café & bar space by the sea, is sure to be an exquisite attraction for tourists. We wish them all of the best the luck for the new project and highly recommend to anyone travelling in Quebec to make a fun trip out of going to see them, if only to taste some truly delicious Québécois products made by truly passionate people.