Five years ago, Caitlin Quinn could be found jotting down notes and studying the periodic table in her chemistry class at the University of Glasgow. Now, she’s working at Eau Claire Distillery in Calgary, crafting gin and vodka, and leading the growing Alberta distilling industry.
Quinn was born in Canada, but moved to Scotland when she was 18 months old. She lived in Scotland for 24 years and is the first of her family to become a distiller.
“I have no family background in this trade. My mom owns a liquor store back home but that’s it … she sells the booze, but I make the booze,” said Quinn.
Growing up in Scotland influenced Quinn to get her master’s degree in Distilling and Brewing. The only place in the world to get your master’s in Distilling and Brewing is in Edinburgh at Heriot-Watt University – very close to where she grew up.
Quinn attributes her decision to pursue a distilling career to her education in chemistry.
“After doing five years of chemistry, I decided I didn’t want to be chemist. Which is one of those moments in life where you’re like, ‘I have no idea what I want to do,’” Quinn said. “So I started looking into the different courses and I found this one at Heriot-Watt and figured there was no better way to use my science.”
Even though Quinn may not have had a childhood dream of becoming a head distiller, she said she has gained a love for creating new blends and recipes for flavoured spirits. Namely gin, which has become a favourite among consumers of her brand.
“You can play around with the ingredients and tastes a lot … so you never really know where it’s going to go, you just have to taste it.”
Quinn has produced many different styles of vodka and white spirits and is working on a whiskey blend. Her unique style of gin remains at the forefront of her distilling accomplishments.
Canadian laws and regulations state whisky must sit in barrels for at least three years for it to be considered a genuine whisky.
Because of this waiting period, Quinn has been able to focus primarily on her white spirits now, such as her world-renowned Parlour Gin.
Parlour Gin is one of Quinn’s highest accomplishments which won multiple awards in 2016, including third best gin in the world at the Berlin International Spirits Competition.
Eau Claire Distillery set up its roots in the town of Turner Valley, Alta — an old hub for moonshining and distillation during the prohibition days. The town is known for producing some of Alberta’s best barley, which makes it an interesting and fun place to visit, according to Eau Claire Distillery owner David Farran.
Farran petitioned Heriot-Watt for recent graduates and found Quinn to be the most qualified.
“[Quinn] was top of her class and is amazing at what she does. She has a really good sense of taste and ability to be creative — which we need in craft distilling … we’re just very lucky that we got her.”
With so many craft breweries in the province, Quinn believes craft distilleries will soon gain popularity.
“I think it’s just easier to make beer. A couple places are starting to buy stills to turn the beer they make into spirits … I think it’s just a matter of time,” said Quinn.
Bryce Parsons, head distiller for Last Best Brewery and Distillery and a fellow Heriot-Watt graduate, also agrees the craft distilling industry is growing.
“I know in Alberta [craft distilling] is picking up, for sure. There’s already about six of us in the province. I hear more rumblings of new projects coming on board, so it will definitely be picking up.”
The editor responsible for this story is Tayari Skey,