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Guelph micro distillery taking it one drop at a time (7 photos)

Dixon's Distilled Spirits a popular stop on this year's Doors Open Guelph event

It was some idle chatter over drinks late one night a few years ago that led to the creation of Guelph's first craft distillery.

JD and Vicky Dixon were talking about how it would be interesting to own their own distillery.

"When we sobered up and started talking about it some more, we started looking into it and doing some reading," Vicky Dixon said. "Now we don't have time to drink. We're too busy making it."

Longtime friend Kevin Patterson came on board a shortly after.

Many bank meetings, lawyer chats, trips to Chicago and Kentucky and sleepless nights later, Dixon's Distilled Spirits was born.

They began producing moonshine, gin and vodka at their Elmira Road North location last August.

On Saturday Dixon's Distilled Spirits was one of 13 stops on this year's Doors Open Guelph tour.

As is usually the case, the event, organized by the Guelph Arts Council, offered an eclectic array of historic, important or just plain interesting locations.

Everything from 150-year-old Victorian Homes to Guelph Hydro to Sleeman Breweries made up this year's event.

So while a place like Dixon's Elmira Road location may not be historically significant (it's been there less than a year) it did offer people a chance to get a close-up look at a space they might not usually get to see.

Starting a distillery was not - and is not - a business for the faint of heart.

Licensing and other red tape saw the Dixons have their location rented for a year before they could turn the sign to say "open."

"It's a long-term thing," Vicky Dixon says. "We wanted to throw in the towel a few times. I was ready to sell the place for about $5 the week before the open sign went on.

"It's been an uphill battle, but we're getting there."

The three partners have kept each going through the ordeal, supporting and convincing one another it was worth it.

Government involvement in the liquor industry is also much firmer than it is in beer.

Craft breweries pop up all the time in Ontario, with Patterson estimating there are 360 in the province now, selling and delivering their products straight to the restaurants and bars and stocked on store shelves.

He said there are only six micro distilleries in Ontario and commercial establishments have to buy Dixon's from the back room of the LCBO, non-commercial customers at the distillery. They don't even have shelf space at the LCBO yet.

Around 20 local establishments carry Dixon's three products: moonshine, gin and vodka. A rum is on the horizon.

So while there is hope regulations will ease, and Dixon's will be on LCBO shelves at some point, the Dixons and Patterson all maintain day jobs.

The distillery is a labour of love, not a get-rich-quick scheme.

"It's absolutely a labour of love. We're making something with our own hands and there's something to be said about that. Not many people get to do that," Patterson said.

There is a business plan that would see Dixon's blossom and expand, but it's a slow process.

"We are heavily, heavily taxed. About 50 per cent of a bottle sold is tax," Patterson said.

There was a lot of trial and error initially as the partners, none of who had any experience in distilling prior to Dixon's, figured things out.

"But we make a really good product now," Patterson said.