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Crafting quality spirits in Squamish

Gillespie's Fine Spirits celebrates local in everything they do
John McLellan (left) and Kelly Ann Woods of Gillespie's Fine Spirits are almost ready to open their doors.

Thanks to a relaxing of BC liquor laws earlier this summer, visitors to Squamish Farmers’ Market have been able to fill up their shopping baskets with vodka as well as veggies.

This provides a great opportunity for craft distillers such as Gillespie's Fine Spirits, which is about to open its doors right here in Squamish, to demonstrate that spirits can be local too.

Gillespie’s handcrafted drinks include vodka, gin, Lemoncello (a Canadian take on Italian Limoncello) and an aphrodisiacal chili chocolate elixir called Aphro. With specialty liqueurs and whiskey to come. All of which can be sampled by distillery visitors.

Just like many other Farmers’ Market Vendors, the two partners, John McLellan and Kelly Ann Woods are handcrafting every single bottle they produce. From the distilling to the labelling, right through to the pouring of samples. “It’s a real mom and pop shop,” says Woods.

“We want to create an experience that lets people appreciate that when you buy booze in the store, for the most part you’re buying McDonalds,” says McLellan. “There’s no comparison with the quality and attention to detail.”

All of the spirits produced at Gillespie's uses 100% BC grain. “Everything is local, local, local,” says John. “If you can, why wouldn’t you?”

Woods agrees. “It’s been constantly about going back to our mandate. How do we conduct a successful business while being as environmentally and ecologically mindful as possible?”

This local factor applies to everything from the volcanic rock bar top that was mined between Squamish and Whistler, to the Canadian manufactured bottles, evidently quite a difficult items to source.

“Looking down the road, we’d also like to infuse our vodka with local products such as sumac or blackberries,” says Woods.

The majority of hard work and hoop jumping seems to be behind them, but getting there has been quite a journey, explains McLellan. One that was characterised by perseverance and determination – qualities which were tested to their limits by the City of Vancouver’s labyrinthine building codes. But Vancouver’s loss is most certainly Squamish’s gain.

“We have been so warmly received here,” says Woods. “Everyone has just been really wonderful to work with.”

“We’re just so stoked that we’ve got to this point!” says McLellan. “Now we’re at the fun part. It almost hasn’t really sunk in.”

“As soon as we got that liquor licence we were like, wow, we’ve been given a lot of responsibility,” says Woods, an award-winning mixologist. “But if used responsibly and with massive amounts of respect it can be a glorious thing.”

McLellan laughs when he admits to enjoying being a purveyor of good times, but there’s also spiritual depth to Gillespie’s. The huge support he’s received from friends and family pushed him to realise his goal, and kept him going when the journey was more uphill than down. The company itself is also named after one of his friends and biggest supporters Cam Gillespie, who sadly passed away.

Gillespie’s Fine Spirits is located at 8-38918 Progress Way. Distillery doors open for tastings on September 19 and every following Friday through Sunday, from noon until 6 p.m. You can also visit Gillespie’s at Squamish Farmers’ Market on September 27.