BY TALIA MEADE
PHOTOS BY STEVE SMITH, VISIONFIRE STUDIOS
How one of Nova Scotia’s North Shore distilleries is becoming a leading gin hotspot in Canada.
Raging Crow Distillery in North River, N.S. might be named after the several crows cawing around the distillery, but we’ve come to find out they’re not the only ones raging about the booze.
When it was announced that Raging Crow’s Spruce Tip Gin had won the Best in Class Gold Medal with Distinction during the virtual ceremony for the Canadian Artisan Spirit Awards, distillery president Jill Linquist was asleep.
“The great moment of reveal, we kind of missed,” laughs Linquist.
Linquist was only watching the awards stream until the medals were announced. “We received a bronze medal, high-fiving each other thinking, ‘This is great, yay we won a medal’ and then we flipped over to watch curling,” says Linquist who had been watching the awards with her husband. She had no idea the big awards were coming, so when her sister sent a text the next morning saying Raging Crow had been mentioned again, Linquist was thrilled.
“We submitted six spirits and we won six awards,” says Linquist. Including the Highly Commended Whiskey Spirit Award.
The Spruce Tip Gin is a personal favourite of Linquist’s and it’s also their most popular. “We’re most proud of that because it’s so different — it’s a really soft gin, I call it the gin for people who don’t like gin,” Linquist says. A few years ago, Linquist saw an article on spruce tip simple syrup.
“So, I saw that, and thought it would be fun to play around with. We had just started work in the distillery and I thought, ‘wait a second, that might be fun to distill with,’” as she explains the origins of one of the favourite flavour profiles.
Linquist says, “It’s just flavoured vodka. The minute you add juniper to vodka, it becomes gin.”
Spruce tips felt like a natural fit for their brand. The spruce tips are handpicked on the distillery property and around their cottage on Earltown Lake during prime season in the spring when the buds are green. Raging Crow uses more than 11 pounds of spruce tips for every batch of Spruce Tip Gin.
“Who knew I’d be making booze, I mean really,” says Linquist when she thinks about her former career as a dietician.
Five years ago, Linquist and her husband came across a small distillery while on a wine tour in the Okanagan. The couple had already owned a hobby vineyard, but it was on the tour that they realized distilleries don’t have as many challenges as vineyards where weather conditions and pests can wreak havoc.
“With a distillery, you’re dealing with a finished product,” she says.
The little distillery inspired Linquist to go back home and do some research. Distilleries have become viable businesses and she saw an opportunity for another craft distillery in Nova Scotia and Raging Crow took flight.
Linquist’s previous education and career were a perfect flight path for her new passion of distilling. “I was working for food companies and was just looking to do something different,” she says. Her nutrition degree, which included courses in food science as well as chemistry courses, came in handy when distilling and blending. Distilling is now her full-time job and full-time passion.
This young distillery is only two-and-a-half years old but this year alone they have already doubled their production.
Gin wasn’t the only thing that helped bring attention to this North Shore distillery. When COVID-19 hit, Raging Crow saw an opportunity to help. They started making hand sanitizer and supplying it to several first responders on the North Shore.
“I think because we stepped up to support and supply that need, the community really responded. There’s a lot of people that weren’t even aware we existed until that point,” says Linquist adding that it’s one of those industries that has seen growth this past year. People aren’t going out to consume cocktails in restaurants and bars, so they’re doing it at home, she says.
“We’re thrilled with the response that we’ve had so far from the local community,” she says.
Linquist says that wherever they can support other local producers, they do. Whether it’s sourcing the honey from the local beekeeper, the coffee roaster, or the maple shack that’s just five minutes down the road, Linquist believes it’s what sets them apart.
“I think people want to support what’s in their own backyard,” she says.
In December of last year, Raging Crow started virtual happy hours for companies unable to have national conventions. It became a quick success and Linquist began couriering packages of 100-millilitre bottles across the country for employees to make their own cocktails.
What’s Next in the Barrel?
In lazy hazy days of August last year, Linquist and her North River Road team (a very large crane might have been involved as well) hoisted a crow’s nest up onto a eight-metre-long pole and placed a barrel full of rum on top. Another person was up on a ladder guiding the barrel into place and bolting the cradle to the pole. This tense moment lasted until they knew the cradle was securely in place, Linquist says.
Soon to be Crow’s Nest Rum, the barrel now sits overlooking the distillery, expanding and contracting with the unpredictable Nova Scotia weather. Barrels lose about five percent of their contents each year, but with this one being outside in the elements, Linquist isn’t sure how much will be left. Although, she does know that the flavour will make up for it when the barrel is ready to be taken down after a year of nesting.
Raging Crow is feathering its nest with additional product lines and is in the process of distilling tequila, but like their famous bourbon, Can’t Call it Brbon, they can’t quite call it tequila either, since it’s not from Mexico. Linquist says that she’s almost finished filling the first barrel. Hopefully, by next year, Raging Crow can submit their tequila, Can’t Call it Teqla to the 2022 Artisan Distiller Awards.
“The goal really is just to keep things small, manageable, and hands-on,” she says. Raging Crow will continue to play around and come up with new flavours and collaborate with local breweries and businesses.
“The North Shore can really be a food and beverage destination that the rest of the province, or even Atlantic Canada, should explore,” says Linquist who is thrilled that her little distillery in North River, Colchester County is better than she ever could have imagined.
Summer cocktails that are all the rage!
RECIPES BY JILL LINQUIST
North Shore Gin Fizz
2 oz Raging Crow Caw-Caw-Phany Gin
1 oz lemon juice, freshly squeezed
¾ oz Raging Crow Honey Liqueur
1 egg white
3 ½ oz club soda
lemon jest for garnish
• Add the gin, lemon juice, honey liqueur, and egg white to a cocktail shaker and shake vigorously for about 15 seconds. This is called dry shaking.
• Add three or four ice cubes and shake vigorously until well chilled
• Strain into a glass and top with club soda which will cause even more foam
• Garnish with a lemon zest
Haskap Gin Cocktail
1 ½ oz Raging Crow Haskap Gin
½ oz Raging Crow Honey Liqueur
3 ½ oz cranberry juice
Combine gin, honey liqueur, and cranberry juice in a small glass and add ice.
Spruce Tip Gin and Tonic
1 ½ oz Raging Crow Spruce Tip Gin
200 ml bottle of Fever Tree tonic water
lemon zest for garnish
Combine gin and tonic water in a glass and add ice. Garnish with a lemon zest.