Isabelle Rochette and Paul Cirka, master distillers
Inspired by a particularly exquisite glass of whisky on a trip to London, Paul Cirka set out to reimagine Québéc whisky. He found a space along Lachine Canal in Montréal, a stone’s throw from the emblematic silos of the Canada Malting Company, and launched CIRKA Distilleries in 2014.
CIRKA is embedded in the local landscape; collaborating with local farmers and foragers for sourcing, as well as chefs and bartenders for product development. Inspired by microdistilleries in the USA and the high quality of homegrown products across the province, CIRKA became the first Québec microdistillery to produce spirits from grain to glass, a new concept in the region. As Isabelle Rochette, sommelier and distiller at CIRKA puts it, “we were among the first who were crazy enough to produce grain to glass. It gives us full control over our base product to make it perfect”. At Cirka, Paul is playing the long game; convenient, since one of the main ingredients in whisky is time. In the meantime, the company has devoted itself to producing white spirits, to incredible acclaim.
Today, the team is a tight-knit group of 5, plus their custom-designed (and named!) stills: Benjamin, Omer, and Mario. The creative process always starts with an idea that team members broaden with their own knowledge and strengths. “It’s both exhilarating and unnerving because we want our finished product to live up to the quality of the ingredients,” Isabelle explains. Once the idea is set, it takes the right mix of research, expertise, and taste testing to blend the botanicals. For example, for every grain that is used, three different types of yeast are tested to find the one that is best suited to the flavor palate.
Sustainability: CIRKA plans to work with agricultural institutions to develop an heirloom seed program to start increasing bio-diversity in farmed grains. And in cooperation with McGill University, CIRKA is working on a research project to use distillery byproducts as growth mediums for commercial mycoculture.