A well-stocked bar, when outfitted with top shelf bottles and top of the line tools, is among the greatest pleasures we can enjoy in our own homes. It’s a debonair sign of class, we can pride ourselves on not only how well our home bar stocks all the essentials, but by the brands we collect as well.
There is, however, an alternative to them all. Not to knock the world’s iconic and time-honored ingredients for cocktails like Lillet, Fernet-Branca or Chartreuse, but across Quebec alone, there is a craft distillery scene overflowing enough to entirely stock a home bar—right down to aperitifs, digestifs, and even some simple (maple) syrups.
Draconian laws leftover from prohibition used to prevent Quebecois distilleries from selling their product to their own province less than a decade ago—even if they were accumulating international accolades elsewhere, like Ungava gin. Now that the governor’s been taken off the liquor scene hundreds of bottles are on offer.
Let’s dive in.
There are six essential primary spirits to acquire for a bar: Gin, rum, tequila, vodka, whisky, and brandy. These alone form the basic staples for a myriad of drinks with nothing more than a muddled herb, citrus, and/or a splash of mixer.
Gin: A well-rounded home bar should have both a versatile and a botanical gin at hand, and—lucky you—this is where Quebec got its start. Montreal’s Cirka and Distillerie BluePearl make superb middle-of-the-road gins (and more), while the lion’s share of gins in the province are rich in botanical blends from Saguenay–Lac-Saint-Jean’s Distillerie du Fjord to Montérégie’s Distillerie Noroi. You can’t go wrong anywhere.
Rum: Bars are best equipped when sporting both light and dark options. Distillerie de Montréal has all but cornered this market with five different kinds both light and dark, but Bas-Saint-Laurent’s Distillerie Mitis makes an exceptional Nordic amber and Québec City’s Distillerie de Québec’s British-inspired St-Roc Fondation will knock Sailor Jerry fans off their stools.
Tequila: It may be a technicality, but Distillerie de Montréal makes El Chapleau, an agave eau de vie, that hits all the right notes when you want to make all the margaritas, palomas, sunrises, and more.
Vodka: Every self-respecting country known for its spirits has a vodka worth both a martini and a chilled shot glass. Quebec has many, from the clear and crisp Kamouraska from Station 22 to Artist In Residence Distillerie’s eponymous distillate and Distillerie de Québec’s Cap-Diamant.
Whisky: A broad category to consider, this includes whisky, bourbon and scotch. This is where Maison Sivo from Montérégie shines brightest with its single malts and rye whiskys, but Montreal’s Cirka Distilleries also makes a carefully aged whisky of their own as well. All that being said, bourbon is the only thing lacking in Quebec to date—but judging by the scene’s rate of growth? Not for long.
Brandy: Fruit and apple brandies are popping off thanks to the province’s robust showing of cider houses; among them, Domaine Lafrance’s Georges-Étienne brandy is great both aged and not, as is Michel Jodoin’s whether right out of the cask or aged in one for more than 20 years.
Apéritifs, digestifs & more
These are the ‘secondary’ staples of liqueurs. No less valuable, it’s a catch-all term used here for aperitifs like vermouths, cassis, and sherry, as well as digestifs including but limited to amaretto, coffee liqueur, orange liqueur, and Irish cream.
A wide range of classics can be concocted from a small selection of liqueurs, if not great to begin or end a meal with on their own, and many bottles here are comparable to standards like Campari, Aperol, and Cointreau, in addition to a multitude of bitter liqueurs good for a Manhattan, a Negronis, some spritzes, and more.
Vermouth: Both dry or sweet varieties are available when sticking to Quebec; the Eastern Townships’ Val Caudalies cider house makes great dry vermouths for martinis, while Montérégie’s Entre Pierre et Terre does that and more with its apple vermouth.
Amaretto and Cream: When it comes to amarettos, Distillerie Mariana from the Mauricie will undoubtedly be a star of your bar. They’re also the source of a good cream liqueur named Saint-Crème that tastes of maple fudge, but even better is BluePearl Distillerie’s Aléa and its rich taste of crème brulée—and that’s just scratching the surface.
Liqueur: It’s a wide category to cover, but even newcomers to Quebec’s distilleries will find a wealth to choose from after poking around on the SAQ’s website for a few minutes. Montreal’s Distillerie Oushkabé mixes a lipsmacking triple sec; Les Îles’ eponymous liqueur and Distillerie Mariana’s Zeste will put a twist and then some on your summer spritz; and La Société Secrète from the Gaspé Peninsula make an amaro from fruit pomace and wild botanicals makes for a great sour.