Jean-Philippe Bouchard

Co-founder – Distillerie du Fjord
Saint-David-de-Falardeau, Saguenay—Lac-Saint-Jean

 

Our great-grandfather used to make gin out of the garage. It had to be in our DNA. Gin-making is a Bouchard family affair. Our path was already mapped out, we only needed to find our way to it. In our family we’re all curious, passionate tinkerers; we’ve always liked to embark on projects that are out of the ordinary. One day, my brother (a chemist by trade) and I came across old from high school chemistry equipment. I told him right away: “Let’s make gin! Let’s try it!” We didn’t know at the time that it was illegal to do so without a permit, so we had work to do.

When my dad, who had always made wine at home, heard about it, he took the old still our great-grandfather used to make gin out of the garage. It had to be in our DNA…

"I was working with entrepreneurs on their business ventures. The more I met, the more I realized that I was on the wrong side of the desk."

With this idea in mind, I prepared a business plan for a distillery start-up as part of a master’s degree course. When I submitted my paper, my professor asked me if I seriously considered undertaking this project.

“I don’t know,” I said.

As the idea was running through my mind, I jokingly sent a link to the website distillery training held in Kelowna, British Columbia, to my father and brother. “That’s a hell of an opportunity we got here. Let’s go!,” Said my father. And the three of us went there. What you also need to know is that, at the time, I was working at the Business Development Bank of Canada. Basically, I was working with entrepreneurs on their business ventures. The more I met, the more I realized that I was on the wrong side of the desk.

Back from BC, with our training under our belt, we kept the ball rolling and started our business. All the puzzle pieces were finally in place. La Distillerie du Fjord was born. It was such a great retirement project for my father, and my brother and I feel privileged to share that with him!

"Just between you and me, we messed up a lot in the beginning. Some of our recipes were simply disgusting!"

We’ve always known from the start that we wanted to make gin. This spirit is really fun to fiddle with because you can give it your personal twist, as long as you respect a certain framework. You can play with it and use local ingredients. We knew that we would be able to give it a unique signature showcasing our region, with local herbs, spices and flowers. It’d be the icing on the cake, if you will.

As we were coming up with our recipe, we didn’t want to stray too far from what a London Dry Gin is at its core. With Fabien’s help, a well-regarded local biologist, we selected a few boreal spices and began the long trial-and-error stage. We played with all the parameters: infusion time, quantities, mixes, response to alcohol, etc.

Just between you and me, we messed up a lot in the beginning. Some of our recipes were simply disgusting! We worked on our recipe until we were confident that we had something good. We hosted blind tastings and the reactions were great. We’ve done it!

"We’re witnessing the development of a genuine heritage in this field that didn’t exist in Québec before."

If I had to describe our gin, I would say that it’s like taking a walk in the woods, on a spring morning, in Monts-Valin. Imagine a hiking, hunting and fishing paradise. Nature is blooming, and you can smell the fruits and the pines, and the fresh water around you. Because water is an extremely important ingredient when making gin,  we use water from a natural source that flows year-round, at the 12th kilometre on chemin des Monts-Valin. Hence the name of our gin: Km12.

Québec’s spirits industry is at a very exciting place, it’s booming. We’re about 15 or so distilleries right now, but this number should double or triple in coming years. People are asking more and more for local products, consumers are opening up to try new things. We’re seeing gin made from algae found in the St. Lawrence River, vodka made from grain grown in Québec, rum with northern spices… We’re witnessing the development of a genuine heritage in this field that didn’t exist in Québec before. Along with other distilleries, even though we’re competitors and want to succeed just as much as anyone else, we all carry the same message: we want you to experience the uniqueness of our terroir when you try our high quality local products.

"Personally, I like to fill my glass with ice, add gin until the glass is half-full, and add a little tonic … and now you’re in business."

Eventually, we would like to invite people to tour our distillery. Meeting people, showing them how we work, organizing tasting is important to us. We should soon be legally allowed to do this. We want to get involved in our community and promote the region. Saguenay people are proud people.

And who knows what’s to come, maybe we’ll develop other products? We have several projects in the pipeline. We took our time to develop Km12 and we want to follow the same process to create new products of the same great quality. You know, the sky is the limit!

According to Distillerie du Fjord cofounder Jean-Philippe Bouchard:

“Km12 gin is not the kind of gin you want to drown in a cocktail or in tonic. If you have a good bottle of Km12 at home, try it first by itself, either neat or on the rocks. Personally, I like to fill my glass with ice, add gin until the glass is half-full, and add a little tonic … and now you’re in business.”

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