Craft Distiller Takes Roots In Nova Scotia

Meet Jarret Stuart

Johanne Mcinnis

I had the pleasure of meeting Jarret Stuart at a whisky festival in 2016.  He is the owner and mastermind behind Nova Scotia’s newest distillery – Caldera Distilling. Although he is originally from Alberta, he has firmly transplanted his family in the heart and soul of a small community called River John. His wife Tracy is a Nova Scotian and it was during a weekend getaway visiting family that he fell in love with the untapped beauty and good natured people from the north shore.

There is a huge distillation boom taking place on the east coast and Jarret saw this as an opportunity for growth by recognizing it had the immediate potential and perfect setting for a distillery.

When I asked how he foresaw the region becoming a food and drink destination he replied, “I completely lucked out. It was all about perfect timing that coincided with a recent influx of extremely creative people. The result was an inspiring community spirit which I am honoured to be a part of”. He is doing his bit by building an estate distillery on the east coast.

The first goal: Grow the grains and create the spirits on the property. Jarret hopes that the quality of the north shore soil as well as the climate will contribute to a heartier grain and he thinks that if this comes through during distillation, it should create a unique spirit whose DNA will consists of what he coins “hyper local quality”.

So what you are saying is that my corn planting sucks…

In the spring of 2017, he planted the first of his crops which ended up being a very interesting learning experience. Instead of 4 to 5 ears per stalk of corn all that grew was about 2 to 3 stubby little guys. When the seed supplier visited he examined Jarret’s fields and said, “Look I won’t ever fault a guy for rolling up his sleeves and trying something new.”  To which Jarret replied, “So what you are saying is that my corn planting sucks”. The supplier replied without hesitation, “Yep, but don’t worry, we will get you fixed up.” He was referring to the fact that Jarret had used a grain seeder because he didn’t have a corn one which resulted in anything but straight rows. This ended up being a bit of a nightmare during harvest. Lessons learned!

While he waits for his own crops to grow and mature he also has a Canadian whisky that he sourced from out west that he further matures in barrels on site. It is called Hurricane 5, named after a really bad storm that devastated the area On October 18 1939. He found the inscription in the barn on site and it seemed to be a great fit to the local history. Caldera’s reputation is already reaching beyond the Nova Scotia borders. Not only did Hurricane 5 garner two bronze medals from the San Francisco World Spirits Competition in March of 2016, it also came home with a silver from the UK.

Just so happens that Jarret is also as passionate and enthusiastic about rum.

To the best of his knowledge he is the only Canadian distiller attempting to make a non-molasses based rum by using Panela, which is an unrefined sugar cane product from Columbia. It has been a fairly tricky experiment to get the fermentation period consistent as he has discovered that the local water is high in minerals. But he is patient and feels that he’s mastering the art of rum making and will keep working on solutions because the Panela he is sourcing is from a small local farmers Co-op in Columbia that has fought hard to keep their fields DDT Free.

Jarret’s vision is to get people to realize where the spirit comes from.

When I asked Jarret why he decided to go with an estate approach for his distillery he said he felt that it will give him a competitive advantage because it truly gives the ability to play with the grains and create Canadian style spirits that will really shine. “Our corn, for example, is always going to be year older in our blend just because of crop rotation. This will add a nice depth to the smoothness”. He loves that Caldera Distilling is organic in practice and is now looking into what needs to be done to be considered certified. Jarret’s vision is to get people to realize where the spirit comes from. “Making whisky and rum takes time so you start with great quality products, use small batch operations and then let people see where the grain comes from. That is easy to do when you are standing in the field with a few visitors and you say: Do you remember that crazy snow storm 2 years ago? Yep, that was a heck of a long winter, they answer. It not only connects us as people, it connects us to how the spirits were made”.

Hurricane 5 is available in Nova Scotia and Alberta for the moment but Jarret is working with other provinces to try and bring it to market there as well. He is hoping his Panela rum will be for sale in about 12-18 months. I for one, can’t wait.