This is Jean-Philippe Bouchard, co-owner of Distillerie du Fjord.
Distillerie du Fjord is a family owned distillery. Six years ago, Jean-Philippe and his brother Benoît had the idea of making their own gin. Each had a career in different fields, but the more they talked about it, the more it made sense. Eventually, they decided to make their idea come to life and Serge, their father, joined the project as a retirement plan. Jean-Philippe quit his job at the bank to work full-time at the distillery, Serge is officially retired from his engineering career with Rio Tilto Alcan but works at the distillery too, while Benoit still works as a chemist in Quebec City while being involved at the distillery. Jean-Philippe and Benoit have always loved gin. When they told their father that they decided to make their own, Serge showed them an old still that was originally owned by their grand-father and explained to them that they were actually the fifth generation of distillers in the family. Like they say, the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.
What the Bouchard wanted to do was to create their own London dry gin. When they went to Kelowna to learn about distilling, their teacher told them three important things about making gin. First, you want to create a unique experience. Second, you want to showcase your local terroir. Third, you want to reflect the human side of making gin. It talked to them and they decided to found their business based on these three principles. It led them to create a gin resembling the London dry style, but made with the local boreal forest. The Saguenay region is located in the heart of the boreal forest and was developed with it. Both their grand-fathers worked at the local paper mill. Thus, it made sense for them to try and showcase that heritage.
That’s how they came up with KM12. Their gin is made with local botanicals that are hand-picked within 50 kilometers from the distillery. They partnered up with Fabien Girard, a famous biologist from their region, to find botanicals that could be used to make the style of gin they had in mind and that respected three basic criteria: it had to be sustainable picking, it had to be easy to find and picking the botanical had to not kill the plant. Fabien came up with 40 botanicals for them to try. The father and the two sons sat together and played a game they used to play when they were kids. They made a big board game and they associated each botanical with a wooden horse. They would experiment with the ingredients and every time one of them suited the evaluation parameters they had fixed (ie. aromatic profile, availability, cost, environmental impact, etc.) they moved the horse forward. Eventually, they made gin recipe experiments with the wining horses and came up with their very own KM12 gin recipe.
And it was an instant success. When they launched their gin, they managed to have 1500 bottles distributed in the Saguenay region and it all sold in 5 hours. Since then, they have grown to have 7 employees and now make two other products. They launched a Labrador tea liqueur called Lily, in honor of their mother. They also created as a new gin called 48 chemin Price, made with Saguenay blueberries base spirit, 48 flowers and spices hand-picked above the 48th parallel and bottled at 48%ABV.
The first time I heard of their distillery was at a bar in Montreal. I just finished a service shift and went for a drink at my neighborhood bar. The guy sitting next to me was from Saguenay and started talking to me about this new gin. To be frank, I just finished a 12 hours shift and couldn’t care less about a one in so many new Quebec gins, so I was polite but pretty much ignored him. With time though, my neighbour was so passionate by his local gin that he convinced me to give him my address so that he could send me a bottle at home. Of course, the bottle never got home because we were drunk late in the night and he probably lost the piece of paper that I wrote it on. Nevertheless, going all the way to Saguenay and meeting with these guys made me understand why that stranger was so intense about sharing the one gin from his region. Because that gin is genuinely tasty and made with passion from people that are very proud from where they are from and managed to bottle that passion to share it with others. Tasting it at the distillery with them, we understood. And now, we are the annoying ones at the bar convincing other people to try this Saguenay gin we carry around in our flask.