Nova Scotia's Steinhart Distillery Wins World Gin Awards
by Jennifer Wood
Photographs: James Macdonald, Shauna Marshall, James Smeaton, Thomas Steinhart
Set along the Atlantic shoreline and in the sleepy, albeit breathtaking community of Arisaig, Nova Scotia (a 25-minute drive from Antigonish) is the home of Steinhart Distillery, which among other award-winning spirits, distills a World’s Best Classic Gin.
At the helm is the owner, Thomas Steinhart, who created his enterprise using distilling knowledge passed down through generations of his family in rural Germany.
“I first came to Nova Scotia for a meeting in 1997 when I worked and travelled the globe as a mechanical engineer,” recalls Steinhart. “I fell in love with the area immediately. I eventually decided to put engineering aside and build a distillery of my own. When choosing between Germany and Nova Scotia, it was a nobrainer. I built Steinhart Distillery in 2012, and our first production was two years later.”
And the awards quickly followed. Most notably, at the 2019 World Gin Awards they received a World’s Best Classic Gin prize and Gold and Silver for Flavoured Gin. Most recently, their Maple Vodka was named Best Canadian Flavoured Vodka at the World Vodka awards. They remain Canada’s most-awarded craft distillery, producing not only classic spirits but also Habanero Vodka, Cranberry Vodka, Wild Blueberry Gin, Strawberry Vodka, the list goes on….
Coupled with his forte of distilling is Steinhart’s attention and commitment to using quality, fresh, local ingredients like maple syrup, strawberries, rhubarb and lavender whenever possible to create his award-winning products.
“Everything that we use is natural; I don’t use chemicals. It drives me crazy to hear about maple spirits that are made with anything but maple syrup. Eighty percent of the products that I use for my gin are organic. I know that when I buy from local farmers, they will in turn buy my products and tell people about them. Sure, my spirits might be a bit more expensive, but there is a lot of thought put into their quality and the ethics of how I run my business.”
In Canada, his spirits are available for purchase online and are shipped across Canada. They are sold at liquor agencies in Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island, Saskatchewan, Ontario and Alberta, and Steinhart is confident that other provinces will soon follow suit. He sells directly to restaurants and has even been known to personally deliver his products to doorsteps. Customers can also purchase his goods throughout Europe (he has set up a warehouse in Germany to hold and ship his products) and in China, and he is hoping to add the United States to his roster later this year.
For patrons visiting his establishment, distillery tours are on offer, along with an authentic German and “made-from-scratch” culinary experience in their quaint restaurant, where you can purchase items like their famous schnitzel or schnitzel poutine. In two years, Steinhart is hoping to make his restaurant a three-season venture by building on-site.
“As far as I know, this is the only place outside of the town of Antigonish where you can grab a bite and have a cocktail, and you can also enjoy a million-dollar view. We have customers who come three or four times per week, and to keep them from getting bored with our menu, we will be adding things like pork roast, a charcuterie board and authentic sauerkraut.”
And as the accolades roll in and the fame of his distillery grows, Steinhart is also being recognized by his peers. He was recently asked to join The Gin Guild, the only distiller from the Americas invited to the prestigious club. “I was asked to join the guild after they tried my gin — it’s a huge honour. We meet twice a year at exclusive locations in London to discuss the industry and new practices. It’s very fancy-schmancy, and of course… there’s lots of gin.”
Steinhart Distillery found themselves in a unique position with the onset of COVID-19. After seeing the rapid spread of the virus in China and in Europe and the unprecedented demand for hand sanitizer, Thomas Steinhart (who worked as a mechanical engineer for decades) quickly retrofitted his distillery to produce the highly coveted product. He now produces upwards of 10,000 efficacy-approved bottles daily, and his clients include hospitals, the RCMP, the government of New Brunswick, Canada Post, Service Nova Scotia, Loblaws and countless pharmacies.
Remaining true to his brand, Steinhart insists on using only high-quality ingredients in his product. He is not a fan of over-the-counter brands, which are dehydrating and laden with chemicals, so he adds olive and canola oils to his sanitizer, which serves to soften the skin. He denatures the alcohol by adding lemon and orange citrus oils.
But adapting so quickly has come with its own set of snags, including locating additional alcohol. After discovering that alcohol supplies were sold out throughout the country, he turned to Cuba. “We have a still with a fifteen-hundred-litre -capacity that can produce three to four hundred litres of 95 percent alcohol per day, but I knew early on that I would need more,” he says. “I wanted to get up and running quickly. My contact in Cuba was great at getting me what I need.”
While this new venture has been a rewarding experience and an opportunity to meet a new demand in the marketplace, the global suffering brought on by COVID-19 is not lost on the philanthropic entrepreneur. He donates approximately 20 percent of all the hand sanitizer he produces (30,000 bottles as of July 30) to food banks in Newfoundland and Labrador and to Feed Nova Scotia, who then distribute the bottles to food banks, shelters and soup kitchens throughout those provinces.
“I know purchasing hand sanitizer can’t be a priority for people that use food banks,” he says. “We are happy to provide complimentary bottles to this community, and we will continue to do so until the imminent need for it is over.”
For spirit lovers keen on learning the art of distilling, Steinhart Distillery offers a unique weekend package that includes a two-night stay at one of their chalets, meals and cocktails galore, and two bottles of the custom spirits that you produce.
5963 Highway 245 Arisaig, NS