To get to Toronto, start in Buffalo, New York and take the two-hour drive on Queen Elizabeth Way, skirting scenic Lake Ontario.
Just north of Niagara Falls is Wayne Gretzky Estates Winery & Distillery. While whisky distilled on-site by master distiller Joshua Beach is aging, the distillery offers No. 99 Red Cask whisky (named for the hockey legend’s number), a sourced blend that’s finished in the winery’s red wine barrels, as well as whiskies finished in its ice wine and cabernet sauvignon barrels. In addition to an ice skating rink (open weather permitting), visitors can take advantage of multiple daily tours, a cocktail-making class, and the on-site Whisky Bar.
Just half an hour to the west sits Forty Creek Distillery, founded in 1992 by one of Canada’s trailblazing whisky makers, John Hall. Free tours are offered daily in the summer and early fall (weekends and holidays from October through mid-May), but the best time to visit is in late September when the distillery hosts its annual Whisky Weekend. The two-day event features tastings, seminars, live music, games, and the chance to buy a bottle of Forty Creek’s annual limited-edition whisky. But if you can’t make it, don’t worry: Forty Creek’s other whiskies, like Copper Pot, Double Barrel, and Confederation Oak, are available for tasting and purchase at the distillery. Nearby, Dillon’s Small Batch Distillers makes 100% rye whisky on a pot still using locally grown grain.
Situated just north of Toronto in the suburb of Concord, Still Waters Distillery makes Stalk & Barrel whisky, including single malt, rye, and blended expressions. The distillery is open Monday through Friday (10 a.m. to 4 p.m.) and sells bottles on-site. In addition to its whiskies, Still Waters offers BarChef Project bottled cocktails, including a Toasted Old-Fashioned made with its Red Blend whisky.
East of the city, Kinsip House of Fine Spirits in Prince Edward County makes gin, rum, brandy, shochu, and several whiskies: Crimson Rye, a 100% rye whisky finished in red wine barrels; Wild Oak, a blend of corn, wheat, rye, and malted barley; and Maple Whisky, a blended whisky finished in barrels that previously held maple syrup. Other craft distillers in Ontario that are currently aging whisky include King’s Lock, Junction 56, North of 7, Last Straw, and Dixon’s Distilled Spirits.
In Toronto, let the in-house Canadian whisky expert at Char No. 5 lead you through a customized private tasting, complete with education on different whiskies and Canadian whisky history. The bar also offers a range of signature and classic whisky cocktails, Canadian whisky flights, and pours from its list of more than 275 whiskies. CC Lounge showcases 450-plus bottles in a “whisky tunnel,” where a historian hosts tours and tastings customized for each guest. And, with nightly musical acts from hip-hop DJs to bossa nova quintets, The Emmet Ray is the perfect place to pair great whisky and tunes.
Dillon’s Small Batch Distillers 4833 Tufford Rd., Beamsville
Dixon’s Distilled Spirits 355 Elmira Rd. N., Unit #106, Guelph
Forty Creek Distillery 297 South Service Rd. W., Grimsby
Junction 56 45 Cambria St., Stratford
King’s Lock 5 Newport Dr., Johnstown
Kinsip House of Fine Spirits 66 Gilead Rd., Bloomfield
Last Straw 40 Pippin Road, Unit #9, Vaughan
North of 7 1733 St. Laurent Blvd., Ottawa
Still Waters Distillery 150 Bradwick Dr., Unit #26, Concord
Wayne Gretzky Estates Winery & Distillery 1219 Niagara Stone Rd., Niagara-on-the-Lake