‘This one’s gotta be my favourite,’ I exclaim to my fiancé Liz as I finish taking a sip of the third – and final – cocktail that’s included in my flight of gin and tonics. I look down at my notes to see what’s got me so excited. Citrus pink gin with orange tonic. Refreshing. Bright. Like summer in a glass. ‘Ya – I like this even more than the one with dry gin and cucumber lime tonic,’ I proclaim. Liz doesn’t seem to be listening. And for good reason, I suppose. After all, she’s enthralled by her own cocktail – a spicy Caesar replete with speared pickle, pearl onion, and green olives. But it’s no big deal. After all, silence is golden. Especially in this dreamy, sundrenched space: the second-storey Royal Room at one of the region’s newest (and prettiest) craft distilleries – the Elora Distilling Company.

A brainchild of business and life partners Marty Van Vliet and Mark Anderson – who, for over a decade, dreamed of opening an international hotel lobby-bar-inspired distillery that would pay homage to such iconic destinations as The Plaza in New York City, The St Regis in Florence, The Savoy in London, or the Ritz Carleton in Montreal – the Elora Distilling Company is like some sweet love letter to a gilded age. Especially up here in the Royal Room, which serves as the distillery’s social space. With sit-down tables, private booths, a full wraparound bar, and windows overlooking the distillery proper a floor below, it’s definitely an ideal oasis in which to spend a mid-winter’s Sunday afternoon like this one.

‘It’s all chandeliers and velvet,’ Marty had proclaimed when, a few weeks earlier, I got the chance to ask him how he would describe this (literally) elevated space. Cheeky. And ever so fitting. As I polish off my flight of gin and tonics and scan the Royal Room for our ever-so-personable bartender (because I’m eager to try the place’s Moscow Mule), I survey its meticulously-curated aesthetic. It takes no time for the unique features to catch my eye – including original brass and glass Art Nouveau chandeliers, polished silver antique bar accoutrements, button-tucked velvet furniture, vintage suitcases-turned-tabletops, and classic movie posters (I spot ‘An American in Paris’, ‘A Streetcar Named Desire’, and ‘North By Northwest’). Heavens – even the pandemic-induced dividers between the tables that (in most cases) are dreary reminders of the tedious state of this COVID-filled world are beautiful vintage wood and glass units. 

It should really come as no surprise that the place is appointed so ornately. After all, Marty and Mark, in their other lives, are the entrepreneurs behind Mermaid in Elora – a business that has the couple scouring the world for vintage treasures and other unique and eclectic finds. Much of the distillery is filled with the spoils of their travels. I peer through a window dividing the Royal Room from the distillery proper and spot a most impressive metal and glass chandelier hanging from the distillery’s ceiling. Looking closer still, I note that the massive piece’s glass panes have been replaced by glass etched with a version of the distillery’s logo. A nice touch – and evidence of the detailed attention that’s gone into designing the space. I urge Liz – who’s cutting a bit of smoked gouda from the substantial meat and cheese tray we’ve ordered – to check it out when our bartender arrives with my drink. Following our gaze, he tells us that the chandelier was purchased by Marty from an old church in Woodstock. So very cool.

After taking my first sip of the Mule – a very pleasing spicy combination of ginger beer, vodka, and lime juice – I walk over to the window to take a closer look into the distillery below. What I see is a tidy jungle of stills and tanks and barrels and ingredients. It’s a familiar sight, actually, though from another perspective, since I spent one morning a few weeks back getting a tour through the place (for this story) by head distiller, Paul Lachowich. I spot the custom equipment that he had introduced me to – including the distillery’s gin still (labeled ‘The Queen Mum’ in bright cursive against its shiny metal exterior), the mash tun (labeled ‘Dorothy Parker’), one of the holding tanks (labeled ‘Dean Martin’), and the filtration system specially built for the distillery’s ‘Amethyst Spirit’. I couldn’t have anticipated Paul’s commentary about that: ‘We craft the spirit by pouring our ‘Elemental Vodka’ through eight feet of activated carbon and four feet of raw Ontario amethyst.’

A unique concept, to be sure. And right in line with the distillery’s line-up of creative offerings: its ‘Elemental Vodka’ (triple distilled and triple filtered and made with wheat from Wellington County), ‘Great Expectations Ontario Terroir Gin’ (with locally-foraged Staghorn sumac, sweet gale, and burdock root), ‘Dragon’s Cry Spicy Caesar Vodka’ (infused with local dill, Ontario garlic and Ontario scotch bonnet peppers), ‘Sugar Maple Liqueur’ (with local maple syrup), ‘Royal Black Spiced Rum’ (with vanilla, nutmeg, and cinnamon), ‘Juniperus Maximus Gin’ (with juniper macerated for forty-eight hours before being run through ‘The Queen Mum’), and many more. I was driven to admire the complexity, subtlety, creativity, mystery of the whole enterprise. My overwhelming impulse, though, was anticipation. I want to sample them all. And, over my next few visits to the place, I undoubtedly will.

Before long, Liz and I are finished with our drinks and have polished off the last morsels on the meat and cheese board. And while it’s tempting to order another round and bask in the convivial atmosphere that is the Royal Room, we opt to clear up the bill and head downstairs to check things out. Much like upstairs, the space feels cozy and well put together – with evidence of Marty and Mark’s travels throughout. And while a good portion of the shop is filled with wonderful swag (tees, totes, and other items emblazoned with the distillery’s original logo designed by regional sign god, Adam Straus), I beeline to the heavy wooden shelving that’s filled with bottles of the distillery’s good stuff. Vessels of all shapes and sizes – and with branding and label artwork that’s as varied as the spirits they contain. What a wonderful exercise in eclecticism. 

Then the distillery’s house label tonics catch my eye: ‘Seville Premium’ with Seville Orange flavouring, ‘London Premium’ with cucumber and lime, and ‘Premium Traditional’ with no added flavours. Recalling the fabulous flavours of my flight of gin and tonics, I am more than ready to celebrate these distinctive extensions to the distillery’s offerings. What a great idea – extraordinary tonics: so appropriate for this place that is all about diversity and detail. 

While Liz and I stroll back out into the mid-winter Sunday afternoon and towards Elora’s main thoroughfare, we pass by a century-old stone building abutting the distillery. I recall Marty telling me that he and Mark are planning to convert the place into an extension of the business. ‘We’ll teach cocktail classes inside,’ he told me, ‘and build a large patio on the lawn.’ Sounds like a fabulous idea to me – especially the patio. 

I can barely wait to see how Marty will incorporate the velvet and chandeliers.