Where I work: Arla Johnson and Julie Shore | Food | Halifax, Nova Scotia | THE COAST

Where I work: Arla Johnson and Julie Shore

Halifax Distilling Co. brings a waterfront building to life with small-batch rum that’ll give the Captain a run for his money.

Where I work:  Arla Johnson and Julie Shore
Meghan Tansey Whitton

Almost a decade ago, Arla Johnson and Julie Shore became Canada’s first producers of potato vodka, using PEI potatoes at the Prince Edward Distillery in Hermanville. This summer they opened Halifax Distilling Co. “It’s really my partner, Julie, who is the master distiller and the brainchild behind all this. We do it together,” says Johnson. “Her name is Julie Shore and the line of rum we have is called J.D. Shore after her. She came from a line of distillers that started in the 1700s.” Shore’s Swiss ancestors made Kirsch, a cherry brandy. After immigrating to the US, her great-great-great grandfather, Irvin Calvin Shore, started making bourbon in the 1800s. “His whiskey was called I.C. Shore,” says Johnson. “So we did J.D. Shore as a way for the legend to continue.”

Nothing sells better than rum in the Maritimes. So it felt like the natural fit for Halifax. “Julie wants to take a bite out of Captain Morgan. We feature four rums: everything the Captain has but better,” says Johnson of their white, gold, spiced and black rums. “All at a price point that is exactly the same as Captain Morgan, but it’s made locally and it tastes a heck of a lot better, I think people, if they have the opportunity to buy local at the same price that they are used to buying something, but it tastes so much better and it’s made here, they would support it. They just don’t know it yet.”

They import Fancy grade molasses (originating from Guatemala)from Crosby’s in New Brunswick for the base element of the rum. “The spiced rum is warm spices, the kind of spices you’d use to make pumpkin pie or apple cider. In the black rum you have that burnt caramel and the molasses,” says Johnson. “Julie ages the gold in used bourbon barrels so you really have that vanilla oak character. And the white is just a beautiful, clean, nice white with little hints of banana. It’s very smooth: You could drink any of them straight if you want to, but they mix really well.”

“In order to build a distillery, there are some restrictions: you need a free-standing building and you need a building that is less than four storeys in height,” says Johnson. “There has been this thumbprint of something of substance that was here for a long time: It was Mother Tucker’s. We feel like we are bringing something back in here that will be a staple. We gutted everything, but the old bar from Mother Tucker’s is still here.”

The Distillery is also a bar, and a bookable venue for parties and private events. The bar is open daily from 10am-8pm, serving Nova Scotian beer, wine, cocktails, and, of course, their rum. “We want to encourage people to come here before they go for dinner: we don’t want to be the last bar open, we want to be the first place you go to,” says Johnson.

Johnson decides, on the spur of the moment, to host a pumpkin-carving contest. “We’ve got maybe 20 tables, each could have their own pumpkin,” she says. “So throw that in there: There’s going to be a pumpkin carving contest on Halloween from, let’s say, 6 to 8pm. And should we have a costume competition? Let’s do both. And let’s make it even better and do a haunted walk through the distillery. OK, print it and we’ll stick to it.”

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