Centre Wellington natives open area’s first craft distillery in Guelph

After more than a year of hard work and determination, Dixon’s Distilled Spirits is open to the public.

The craft distillery, the first of its kind in the Guelph and Wellington area, is the result of one couple’s curiosity.

“My husband … was thinking how hard can it be to make [alcohol] … so then we got into a conversation of there’s all these micro-breweries and micro-wineries, why not a distillery?” explained co-owner Vicky Dixon. “So we looked into it and here we are.”

That was three years ago.

Since then Vicky and her husband Jeremie, both Fergus natives now living in Guelph, reconnected with high school friend Kevin (Chevy) Patterson, another Centre Wellington native.

“Jeremie called me about … a year and a half ago just to hook back up, never brought any of this up, what he kind of had planned,” Patterson said.

“And just as the weeks went on we started hanging out again and then he finally showed me some pictures of [the distillery] and at that time I’m like ‘what the hell is that.’”

After talking with the Dixons, he jumped on board.

In the beginning, the trio, though enthusiastic to take on the venture, didn’t have any experience in distilling spirits.

Even courses they took in Chicago and Kentucky didn’t give them a firm foundation for taking on the task; much of their success is from trial and error.

“I’ve always been the kind of person that you know you can put me in a classroom and I’m probably not going to retain a whole lot … I learn from doing,” Patterson said.

“And yeah, our first couple mashes we screwed up and we had to toss them out, but you know … we’ve gotten really, really good at what we’re doing.”

Not only did they need to develop the perfect recipe, they also put all of the distilling equipment together, except for the steam boiler.

“We actually had one drawing to work from,” Patterson said. “It was just a picture so it was kind of ‘okay get at it.’”

Entering the distillery, one would never know the owners learned on the fly. The entry is filled with whisky barrels, a bar counter and merchandise for sale. A little beyond the bar counter visitors are treated to a full view of the distilling equipment and the owners are happy to provide tours.

In fact, even though they haven’t been open to sell the spirits, Patterson said many members of the public have stopped in periodically to check in on the progress.

“We’ve had people that have come back, they were here six months ago checking out what we’re doing and they’re here every Saturday seeing what we’re doing,” he said.

“And it was that first day when they came in we spent the time and we explained to them what we were doing and they were interested in the progress.”

Now the distillery has perfected recipes for vodka, gin and moonshine, with whiskey in barrels to age for three years and a rum recipe on the way. Despite the rum-running connotations of moonshine, Patterson said it’s really just un-aged whisky.

But the smooth spirits didn’t come right away.

“We were thrilled when [the spirit] first came off that we made alcohol and then we were like ‘you know what, this kind of sucks,’” Vicky recalled.

Though the first batch didn’t make it to bottle, the team learned and worked to create smooth and drinkable spirits.

An alcohol run takes about five days at Dixon’s Distilled Spirits. The first step is to cook the mash in the mash ton, which for a spirit like vodka is milled corn, but Patterson said they also use rye. At this stage all of the starches turn to sugar and once it’s cooled it is moved to a fermenting tank and left for about three days. Ideally, when the fermentation is complete the alcohol content will be anywhere from eight to 13 per cent, he said.

The mixture is then moved from the fermenting tank to the pot still, where it is heated and the alcohol vapour moves through the distillation process.


One distillation involves the vapour turning to a liquid and back to a vapour, Patterson explained. To do this the distillery uses copper plates, which clean the spirit and remove any sulfur, producing a clean taste. The vapours move up through distillation columns and the number of distillations it undergoes depends on the spirit; for vodka it takes 16 distillations.

“You have to get it to its purist form,” Vicky explained.

Once the team is happy with the taste of the spirit it is moved to a finishing tank where it’s reduced to the desired proof by adding water treated with reverse osmosis. This could mean taking an 85% spirit down to 40%.

“We actually spent quite a bit of money on [reverse osmosis] because it’s kind of good in good out, quality in quality out, so we actually have a very good water system here for reducing,” Patterson said.

“If you were just straight city water, there’s minerals in it and you mixed it with a vodka, your vodka would become cloudy.”

Carbon filtering is one of the last touches that really sets the mico-distillery apart from larger companies like Smirnoff. Once the spirit is reduced it runs through the carbon filter until the bitterness is removed, Patterson said. Bottles are then filled six at a time and the labels are put on by hand.

Though the process takes almost a week, there is very little waste.

The remaining mash solid, after the distillation process is complete and all the alcohol has been removed, is given to a local farmer to feed to his animals and the spirit at the end of run, often low in alcohol, can be added to the next run for another distillation.

The team is already putting in long days and working weekends to get the business up and running, but Patterson said the next step is to buy more fermenters.

“Our constraint right here is fermenting,” he said. “It’s the longest process, so if we could double our fermenters you could essentially cook every day and you could distill every day and that’s a lot of alcohol.”

Patterson said the eventual goal is to have the product in LCBO stores in Ontario, but the micro-distillery doesn’t yet have the capacity to make the volume required to carry the product on LCBO shelves.

Before its opening on July 31 the distillery prepared about 1,000 bottles of vodka, 500 of moonshine and about 600 to 700 bottles of gin – all in 750ml volumes.

Though Dixon’s is the first of its kind in the area, Patterson and Vicky agreed more craft distilleries would be a benefit rather than a detriment.

“It’s only going to help us,” Patterson said.

The Ontario craft distillers are a close knit group and he said if a big enough group could work together, they could buy bulk bottles or work together to change legislation, which currently makes it difficult for craft distillers to succeed.

The distillery is now officially open and it will host an opening celebration on Aug. 15 from 12 to 7pm. Everyone is welcome.

Despite the hard work, launching the business wasn’t a guaranteed success.

“There were a lot of times where we wanted to just walk away, but we made it,” Vicky said.

Patterson added, “And there’s been a lot of long, long, long nights, a lot of sacrifices that had to be made with family and stuff like that. There’s a light at the end of the tunnel and I think we’re all going to do very well from it and we’ve had a lot of fun doing it too.”