If Marye Anne Chisholm ever wondered whether she could bottle the bean-to-bar chocolate she makes in her spare time, she got her answer during her final term in Niagara College’s Artisan Distilling program.
Chisholm, with class partner Sujith Naveen, produced a Chocolate Porter Liqueur for their capstone project during the Spring term. The spirit is one of four student-distilled creations recently released for sale under the College’s Spirits 101 label.
“To see it, finally, and have it in my hands was exciting,” Chisholm said. “I ran down to the store and bought it right away. The girl who helped me said, ‘Do you want to taste it first?’ No, I just wanted to buy it.”
Getting something into bottles that was inspired by her chocolate-making hobby required some serious planning and experimentation. Chisholm was encouraged by Head Distiller David Dickson to channel her love of chocolate into a capstone project that was a grain-to-glass production similar to bourbon or whisky.
The process started with macerating ethically- and sustainably-sourced cacao nibs, which Chisholm uses in her own edible creations, with the College’s corn, malted barley and rye-based spirit, Southern Hospitality. This gave Chisholm and Naveen a baseline for their recipe, which they tweaked further by adding chocolate malt and a Crystal 60 malt, typically used in porter-style beer, to bring out caramel flavours in the spirit. The results were aged in a barrel and on oak chips before being finished with more cacao nibs and vanilla beans.
“There was a lot of experimentation so we got to see what worked,” Chisholm said. “For me, it was exciting when we actually did the distilling and seeing the flavours come together because they didn’t compete with each other.”
Using grains usually reserved for brewing beer to produce a liqueur was a first for Dickson.
“The grains together give some really cool chocolate flavour,” Dickson said. “I’ve never distilled with chocolate malt before.”
The three other spirits joining Chocolate Porter Liqueur for sale on the shelves at the College’s Wine Visitor + Education Centre are:
- Apple Brandy: This is the first College-produced brandy. It features locally pressed apple juice that was double-distilled and barrel-aged for six months, and boasts fruit-forward flavours ideal for the fall season. Dickson recommends drinking it over ice or using it in a seasonal spin on the classic Old Fashioned.
- Rabarbaro Amaro: This Italian-style aperitivo is another program first. It combines 12 botanicals and spring rhubarb for light, fruity characteristics in a traditionally bitter spirit. At 30% ABV, the Rabarbaro Amaro is ideal for sipping straight or in place of other aperitivos in classic cocktails, Dickson noted.
- Twisted Berry Gin: The student creators produced their own base gin recipe for a citrus-forward spirit that stars strawberry, raspberry and blueberry “for a really nice flavour profile and colour, especially in a cocktail,” Dickson said. “Once you have it in your glass, it looks amazing.”
Each spirit was made in small batches that produced about 200 bottles. Together, they demonstrate the talents of the students enrolled in the program and their willingness to push themselves to create something unique, said Steve Gill, general manager of NC’s Learning Enterprises.
“It’s always exciting to see the creativity of our students come to life and result in something tangible like these latest releases,” Gill said. “These spirits, like others before them, are a showcase of the vision and skills of Canada’s future distillers, honed by our Head Distiller David Dickson. They’re proof of incredible things to come for the industry.”
The new spirits, along with staples from the School Spirits line, are for sale in-store at the College’s Wine Visitor + Education Centre (135 Taylor Rd., Niagara-on-the-Lake). They’re also available online at ncteachingwinery.ca for curbside pickup or shipping. Sales of the spirits support student education.
Niagara College’s Teaching Distillery is a 2,500-square-foot facility equipped with six stills, four mash tuns and 10 fermenters. Home to the College’s Artisan Distilling program, students produce a variety of distilled products including vodka, gin, brandy, rum, whisky and other spirits. It opened in September 2018, completing the trifecta of beverage fermentation sciences at NC’s learning enterprises, following the footsteps of its Teaching Winery and Teaching Brewery, which were also the first of their kind in Canada.
Niagara College offers more than 130 diploma, bachelor degree and advanced level programs; as well as more than 600 credit, vocational and general interest Part-Time Studies courses. Areas of specialization include food and wine sciences, advanced technology, media, applied health and community safety, supported by unique learning enterprises in food, wine, beer, distilling, horticulture and esthetics. For more information visit niagaracollege.ca.
Photo caption: Four new spirits produced by students in Niagara College’s Artisan Distilling program have been released for sale at the College’s Wine Visitor + Education Centre and online.