Spirits

‘Nerdy’ trio bringing craft distillery to North End

Business owners hoping to open their distillery on a thriving part of the Halifax peninsula by the fall

Joshua Judah lives close to the new distillery location, and he is glad he can drop by anytime.
Joshua Judah will be there step by step for the renovation and when the business opens.   Emily Rendell-Watson

Joshua Judah got a call last June he wasn’t expecting. It was his best friend, David LaGrand, on the line. He was calling to ask if he and their other friend, Graham Collins, wanted to open a craft distillery in Halifax.

LaGrand was on his way back to Grand Rapids, Mich., after visiting both friends in Halifax.

“He’s the kind of guy who right away sends a four-page email with all the costing laid out. It’s like, ‘Dave, we’ve been talking about it for four minutes’,” says Judah.

Deciding to jump in, the trio started looking for a location. They wanted to find a storefront on Agricola St.

“It’s a hopping part of town,” says LaGrand. “We went to dinner at the Agricola Street Brasserie and we knew this was the neighbourhood to be in. There’s a great energy.”

The neighbourhood is already a popular destination for craft beer. North Brewing Company is a couple of doors north on Agricola St., and the newly opened Good Robot Brewing Company is a few blocks away on Robie St. With so much interest in the area, Judah hopes people “will walk by and come in to buy a bottle of craft gin.”

How will the distillery look?

They bought the old home of Nauss Bicycle Shop at 2533 Agricola St. in mid-December. Directly across the street from the Brasserie, the store was perfect location-wise, and had the requisite concrete floors and high ceilings — high enough to accommodate the four-metre still they’ve ordered from Germany. Now they’re getting ready to renovate. The trio hasn’t chosen a name yet, but hope to open this fall.

Diverse skills

LaGrand owns several businesses in Grand Rapids including a distillery: Long Road Distillers. He says his experience running the sister company will be an asset as he and his friends work to open the new distillery in Halifax.

The still they have ordered is the same one used at Long Roads Distillers in Grand Rapids.
The still they have ordered is the same one used at Long Roads Distillers in Grand Rapids.   Emily Rendell-Watson

They say they’ll start with vodka and gin, but hope to create unique flavours. One of the ingredients LaGrand has successfully used at Long Road Distillers is “pink peppercorns.” The Halifax distillery will use purely local, organic ingredients, which they plan to get from Rosemary McKernan, a local grower and distributor.

The three friends grew up together in Halifax — they met in Grade 7 at Gorsebrook Junior High School. Judah says they were “the nerdy Dungeons and Dragons guys.” LaGrand and his family moved back to Grand Rapids after he graduated from high school.

Each friend has skills that will be useful to build their distillery business. Judah will use his expertise as a lawyer for the Halifax Regional Municipality to comply with zoning bylaws and the fire code. Collins, an engineer with a sense of space, is handling the renovations and interior design. LaGrand, the seasoned entrepreneur in the group, knows how to run a craft distillery.

“We all throw ourselves into things — we don’t do anything in half measure. We want to make it something we’re really proud of and do it all the way,” says Judah.

Welcoming the new business

Local businesses are keen to have the new distillery in the North End.

“We are all in this together, competing against bigger box stores. It’s nice to see another small business in the area,” says Tony Lacopia, who works at Cyclesmith.

The manager of Local Source, Mark Rhymes, says the area has changed a lot in the past year. He hopes new stores moving in “will drive traffic to the area.”

People walking by the distillery will be able to see through the window to the production area in the back.
People walking by the distillery will be able to see through the window to the production area in the back.   Emily Rendell-Watson

Judah, LaGrand and Collins are excited to get the distillery up and running, and agree their friendship is the reason they’re in it together.

“It cannot get in the way of our friendship,” says Judah. “We’ve been friends for too long to lose each other.”