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Mark Anthony Group buys Dillon’s Small Batch Distillers

By Rick VanSickle

Dillon’s Small Batch Distillers, a boutique craft distillery located in Niagara, has been acquired by the private beverage company Mark Anthony Group.

The acquisition was completed on Feb. 1 but is just coming to light now.

Niagara spirits

Mark Anthony is one of North America’s most diversified and successful private beverage companies focused on the alcohol beverage sector. Founded in 1972 by Anthony von Mandl, above, an entrepreneur known for his long-term vision and innovative ideas in creating brands and developing the North American market, Mark Anthony owns Mission Hill, Martin’s Lane, Check Mate, Cedar Creek, Road 13 and Liquidity wineries as well as White Claw, Bearface Canadian Whisky, Glendalough and many other brands.

Dillon’s, founded in 2012 by Geoff Dillon, below, produces four primary products: rye, gin, vodka (rye and grape based) and fruit-based spirits. It’s a noted craft distillery making distilled spirits in the age-old traditional methods in small batches using copper pot stills and locally grown ingredients. Their location in Beamsville in the Niagara Peninsula takes advantage of the popularity of the growing alcohol based-industry there as well as access to a skilled workforce and locally-grown ingredients.

In a story just this week on this website, drinks writer Stephen Beaumont wrote, “(Dillon) didn’t pioneer craft distilling in Niagara just to make spirits out of grapes. From the very start, he was distilling single-source rye grain, to be marketed first as The White Rye, since unaged spirits are not allowed to be called ‘whisky,’ and after an appropriate period of aging, finally appearing in 2016 as Dillon’s Rye Whisky. Both spirits are now distillery staples and mainstays of the Canadian whisky scene. Along the way, Dillon’s has diversified its product portfolio like few other Canadian craft distilleries.” Noting that ‘the fun part of distilling’ is experimentation, Dillon told Beaumont that there are “typically about 30 new products in various stages of development at the distillery at any one time, not all of which will see the light of day, of course.”

You can read Beaumont’s full story here.

Wines In Niagara spoke to Dillon today to confirm the sale. He has agreed to stay on with the company as general manager of the distillery he founded.

“We had been in discussion for some time and I could not be happier to be part of the Mark Anthony family and to have our brands join their growing spirits portfolio and the support of their national sales and marketing team,” Dillon said.

“As you know, the one thing I am passionate about is innovation and pushing the boundaries of creativity even further with our hand-crafted spirits.”

Dillon said that the leadership team at Mark Anthony is completely aligned with “my vision for Dillion’s and our talented team will continue to craft small batch releases under the Dillon’s name using fresh local ingredients that showcase the Niagara region.”

He noted that the distillery will remain in Beamsville and “we are committed to strengthening our ties to the local community, while we also look for opportunities to grow our presence nationally across Canada in the years ahead. I couldn’t be happier to be part of the Mark Anthony team.”

It was in 2012 when Dillon, a tall, strapping 27-year-old, who looked more like the star quarterback than a man who tinkers with high-octane booze all day long and his dad Peter (a professor at the time at Trent University who specializes in biogeochemistry) opened the doors to the distillery. Geoff Dillon is a master distiller with degrees in biochemistry and economics and planned all along to use the bounty of natural botanicals, herbs and fruit sourced from Niagara. The distiller has always focused squarely on small-batch spirits, hand-crafted at the production facility in Beamsville on the north side of QEW.

The location in Beamsville, in the heart of Niagara wine country, was chosen in part for its proximity to the local ingredients. “Niagara was such a natural fit for the distillery,” Dillon told Wines In Niagara when it opened. “Between the amazing fruit grown here, the abundance of wineries and the open spaces … it’s an amazing microcosm of food, landscapes and people and we hope Dillon’s can help play a role in its culture.”

The first products from Dillon’s were made from a base of Niagara grapes that would otherwise have been thrown to the ground during the annual thinning process. Instead, they are dropped into baskets, fermented and distilled at Dillon’s.

But the backbone of Dillon’s product line is its Canadian rye whisky.

“Most people don’t know that Canadian rye whisky can be (and often is) made with as little as zero per cent rye then coloured and flavoured,” says Dillon. “Our whisky is made with 100% Ontario grown rye (eventually 100% Niagara-grown), and I know people will be blown away when they taste it,” he said in 2012.

A big part of the program at Dillon’s is the use of seasonal spirits made from fresh Niagara fruit including peaches, pears and cherries, purchased and processed at Dillon’s with the pure juices added straight into the still for blending. The distillery also makes its own bitters, tonics, sodas and pre-mixed, high end cocktails.

At the centre of the experience at Dillon’s are the stills that are radically different than what you would find at a large distillery. “Most Canadian whisky is made in continuous distillation columns while we are returning to copper pot stills,” said Dillon in 2012. “We have built the first of its kind, a mashing-stripping still, as well as having two copper columns with variable plates that allow us to precisely create a whole host of spirits. A big part of Dillon’s is to show people exactly what we are doing and how we are doing it,” he said. “We will show you the grain coming in and the whisky going out. We are using traditional levels of quality while utilizing modern techniques and equipment to create authentic products, and I think people will love them,” Dillon said.