Updated: Nov 26, 2020
By Silvia Pikal, Courtesy of Culinaire Magazine — www.culinairemagazine.ca
At 27 years old, Caitlin Quinn has an impressive title for a young professional — she’s the master distiller at Eau Claire Distillery in Turner Valley.
Quinn was born in Winnipeg and raised in Scotland, where she completed a degree in
chemistry. After graduating, she came to the realization that working as a chemist
wasn’t quite what she wanted. To pursue a new career, she completed a master’s in
brewing and distilling from Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh.
“It’s way more entertaining being able to drink what you make at the end of the
day,” Quinn says.
In August 2015, she moved to Canada for the position of master distiller for Eau
Claire Distillery. Quinn likes that she gets to do a little bit of everything at work,
including planning out when products will be produced and released, managing a
team of distiller assistants, blending spirits, trying out barrels used for aging spirits,
and her favourite part of the job — recipe development.
“Being able to go into a liquor store and see a product you’ve made from start to
finish, I think that’s the most satisfying part.” She loves that she can read the handwriting of the batch number on a bottle on the shelf and know exactly which team member bottled it.
In her time at Eau Claire Distillery, award-winning Parlour Gin, Prickly pear EquineOx
and Three Point Vodka have all been released. Quinn’s creativity has brought unique
and tasty products on the spirits market, from a seasonal Christmas gin that made
use of frankincense and myrrh spices, to a limited edition dill pickle vodka.
Eau Claire Distillery’s most recent release, Cherry Gin, had a limited run for
Valentine’s Day last year and quickly sold out. Now the London dry-style gin, infused
with sour cherries and more than 12 unique botanicals, is back as a permanent
product (and is also Quinn’s personal favourite of the white spirits).
She’s particularly proud of their single malt whisky, which was a first for Eau Claire
— and Alberta — and sold out in less than 2 weeks. (You can still get a sample from
the bottles reserved for the distillery’s tasting room).
“It’s busy but I like being busy. There’s never a dull moment. Being in
craft distilling, things are happening all the time.”
Quinn predicts we’re leading up to a major craft distilling boom in Alberta, similar to
the craft beer boom, following changes to legislation in minimum production
requirements in 2013. She notes more and more distilleries are opening in Alberta (if
you just look at the numbers of an organization like the Alberta Craft Distillers
Association, they currently have 28 members), “It’s great to see the industry is growing and people are interested.”
While working at the first craft distillery in Alberta has been exciting, she says it also
means being subject to more scrutiny.
“We were the first to do everything, so when we bring out products there’s a lot
more questions and people expect more from us. It’s good in a sense because we
get to set the tone and put a benchmark for the industry.”
For those who want to work in distilling, Quinn recommends getting an education,
whether it’s completing a master’s degree or pursuing a certificate or diploma from
the Institute of Brewing and Distilling.
“It helps to give that background knowledge that a lot of people can’t get - it’s not
like with brewing where you can homebrew and open a brewery. And make as many
connections as you can. It sounds like a cliché but it’s really about who you know.”
Quinn says as a young woman in distilling, she stands out a bit, so she’s eager for
more women to join the field.
“It’s strange being young and female in a sea of male faces,” Quinn says. She points
to when she was a student in her master’s program; she estimates that out of 60
students in the program, there were only about six women.
“More and more women are getting into it now, which I like seeing. I hope they’ll see
people like me or female brewers, and think of it as a career option. People don’t
think being a distiller is a real job — but here I am.”
Silvia Pikal is a writer and editor based in Calgary. She recently won a 2018 Alberta
Magazine Award for her feature writing.
Courtesy of Culinaire Magazine Culinaire Magazine www.culinairemagazine.ca