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Stellarton-based distiller expanding distribution, plans to start brewery

Alex Rice president of the Nova Scotia Spirit Company stands in what will eventually be the bar area of the company’s new production facility and bar. The company purchased the old Scotsburn building at 230 Foord street in Stellarton. ( Mark Goudge/SaltWireNetwork)
Alex Rice president of the Nova Scotia Spirit Company stands in what will eventually be the bar area of the company’s new production facility and bar. The company purchased the old Scotsburn building at 230 Foord street in Stellarton. ( Mark Goudge/SaltWireNetwork)

Dizzyingly fast-growing distiller Nova Scotia Spirits Co. is already ranked as one of the top start-ups in the country – and now it’s planning to expand even more by distributing its products coast to coast and setting up a brewery.

Say hello to the Painted Boat Beer Company.

Alex Rice, the company’s president, said in an interview Thursday the new brewery will craft an as-yet-unnamed lager it will unveil next May with other beers to be launched later.

That brewery is being set up in Nova Scotia Spirit Co.’s newly acquired digs at 230 Foord St. in Stellarton, the former Scotsburn distribution plant.

The Trenton-based maker of gin, rum and vodka is expanding into the 30,000-square-foot space, roughly 20 times the size of its existing location, after two years of explosive growth. They expect to double their growth this year.

Thursday, the company announced it has been ranked 13th on the 2017 Startup 50 list of Canada’s fastest-growing new companies. In its first two years in operation, the distillery in the 902 area code grew by a staggering 902 per cent.

“It’s a milestone for us as a company and we’re definitely proud of what we’ve accomplished as a team,” said Rice. “It’s a big motivator for our people.”

He and Alex MacEachern started the business as a two-man operation in June, 2015 with a deal to supply the privately owned Bishop’s Cellar wine, spirits and beer store in downtown Halifax with about 3,000 bottles of rum, vodka and gin.

“We hand-filled every single bottle and capped every single bottle and labelled every single bottle by hand,” said MacEachern, the company’s director of sales, in an interview Thursday.

Think 16-hour days for a week.

By the time that first shipment was ready to go, the fledgling business partners were exhausted.

“We were almost in the hospital by the end of the week,” said MacEachern. “We could hardly walk.”

Fast forward a little more than two years, and the company’s three owners now employ 16 people full-time and another seven part-time.

The quality of the company’s products is turning heads with its Willing to Learn Gin taking a double gold medal at the American Distilling Institute’s 2017 judging of craft spirits earlier this year. Last year, that same gin and the company’s Blue Lobster Vodka also won silver medals at the San Francisco World Spirits Competition.

And Nova Scotia Spirits Co.'s products are now also available throughout the province at Nova Scotia Liquor Corporation outlets and on Prince Edward Island.

“The goal is to go national by the end of 2018,” said MacEachern. “We’ve started the conversation (with liquor corporations in Alberta and New Brunswick). It’s just a matter of timing for us.”

Booming sales, the addition of equipment and a growing workforce has led to cramped quarters for the start-up now operating out of about 1,500 square feet. It's that need for space that is driving the expansion into the former Scotsburn plant.

There, the company plans to continue to make its award-winning gin and vodka and much-enjoyed rum even as it opens its brewery and develops new products, including a wild blueberry liquor to be called One Wild Pint. The company is also planning to start offering its Blue Lobster Vodka in larger-format, 1.4-litre bottles starting in early October and its rum in the same-sized bottles a few weeks later.

Thursday, the Nova Scotia Spirits Co. execs divulged neither their revenues nor the size of the investment in their new plant in Stellarton. But MacEachern did say it will be “around the $2 million to $3 million mark.”

The Trenton location, though, is staying put.

“We’re going to keep our current facility for our water treatment,” said MacEachern. “That’s the secret as to why our spirits taste so pure.”

In Stellarton, Nova Scotia Spirits Co. is also planning to put in a restaurant and offer tours of the operation.

“We’re hoping to pull 100 cars a day off the road for 100 days (to come and tour the Stellarton plant next year),” said MacEachern.

Although he no longer works seven days a week, the entrepreneur said he still puts in long hours and a strong work ethic is a hallmark of Nova Scotia Spirits Co.'s corporate culture.

“It’s been a whirlwind for a few years,” he said. “We just put our heads down … and everyone was responsible for their own deliverables … and super-proud to be a part of the company.”

Winners of the 2017 Startup 50 ranking are to be featured in the October issue of Maclean’s magazine and online at CanadianBusiness.com.

“This year’s Startup 50 winners are truly remarkable,” said Deborah Aarts, the program’s manager, in a statement. “Not only have they brought new offerings to market, they’ve earned enough traction to grow their revenues exponentially in a very short period of time. Any aspiring entrepreneur should look to them for insight into how to create, and grow, a thriving startup today.”

But where did Nova Scotia Spirits Co. come up with the whimsical names for its products? 

True to form, it sourced that inspiration locally, from a news story in The Chronicle Herald and a help-wanted ad.

As the partners were setting up the company, they came across an ad for a fisherman’s helper – the company rum is now called Fisherman’s Helper White Rum – and that ad noted applicants needed to be willing to learn, the name of the company’s gin.

The Chronicle Herald story was about someone catching a rare blue lobster.

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