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Urban Cowboy: 'A summer day in a can'

Local drink sensation flying off LCBO shelves

Dixon’s Distilled Spirits’ newest LCBO product, a cooler-like drink called GinFusion, is making it onto shelves at the liquor store. But it doesn’t stay there for long – it’s quickly becoming Ontario’s runaway summer hit drink, selling out almost everywhere it appears.

Company President Jeremie Dixon says that although the artisanal Guelph-made product is regarded mainly as a summer drink, the initial 42,000 cans delivered to the LCBO in April flew out of stores as fast as the LCBO could stock them.

And summer hadn’t even started.

“It’s a nice problem to have,” he says.

Here’s evidence of GinFusion’s popularity. In some cases, individual outlets received only a fraction of the orders they placed – for example, one store asked for 10 cases, but only received one. Even LCBO stores in Dixon’s hometown of Guelph had to get in line with their orders, owing to strict provincial policies that prohibit the company from doing distiller-to-store deliveries.

In fact, as of last week, one Guelph outlet was still waiting for its allotment from the first shipment.

But the shortage should ease up soon, possibly over the next week or two, as a new order for another 76,000 cans is shipped to the LCBO’s central distribution warehouse.

In preparation, when I visited Dixon’s headquarters last week, the distillery was teeming with boxy five-foot-square plastic totes, ready to receive and temporarily hold the new product until it could be canned.

So there’s no question this cooler-like, five per cent-alcohol, thirst-quenching drink is catching on. And the reasons are clear.

First, it has only about half the amount of sugar as some of the popular hard lemonade coolers targeted for young drinkers. Its lack of sweetness is appreciated by gin fans who want a tasty, refreshing product. That surprised the LCBO, which initially wanted Dixon’s to add more sugar to it, to increase the uptake (Dixon’s refused).

Second, there are no artificial ingredients, or shortcuts in the distilling process. “We’re old school,” says Jeremie. Indeed, the recipe is as local as anything you’ve ever had from a can at the LCBO. Besides local water, the grain used to make the mash for the distilling process is blended from two area corn millers, Sharpe Farm Supplies just outside Guelph, and K2 Mill in Beaton.

“As distillers, we’re in the middle of an amazing hub for grains and water,” says Jeremie. “People are excited that we use so many ingredients from Ontario.”

Jeremie Dixon GinFusionJeremie Dixon and his GinFusion

As well, about one-fifth of the 50-litre mix of botanicals that give each batch of gin its unique taste is Ontario juniper berries. The rest is Ontario cucumbers and mint, along with coriander, ginger and lime, from abroad.

And when Dixon’s is done with the mash, it’s given gratis to a local cattle farmer to feed to his livestock. It’s alcohol free and high in protein; cattle love its warmth, especially on winter days when it’s loaded directly from the distilling tank to the farmer’s truck. It’s like feeding kids oatmeal when it’s freezing outside.

But now that summer’s upon us, Dixon’s main focus is on the people who have painstakingly waited for warm weather – people like Amy Carter from Guelph, whom I met at the Elmira Road distillery while interviewing Jeremie.

“GinFusion is like a summer day in a can,” she enthused. “I blend it in a slushie. All the flavours together are fantastic.”

GinFusion is Dixon’s second full LCBO listing, after its Silvercreek Vodka. But it won’t be its last. The company has applied to have three more products fully listed by the LCBO, including its citrus gin that won Best Canadian Gin at the World Gin Awards in March; as well as what’s called “Flaming Caesar” vodka, a brand that contains even more Ontario ingredients (celery seed, garlic, horse radish, and dill, as well as imported hot pepper).

But for now, bring on the summer. And please, more GinFusion.