“I want to make Hawkesbury proud,” he said during a phone interview Monday. “I want Ontario proud. I want Canada to be proud.”
The owner and founder of the Artiste in Residence distillery (AiR) in Gatineau is happy to see the steel girders going up now on the Tupper Street site of the Hawkesbury addition to his craft distillery operation. The project is two years behind schedule because of the pandemic and some delays with provincial government permit approvals, but now Mantha is confident about seeing his new Hawkesbury operation ready to begin production of his signature gin, vodka, and whiskey by September this year.
“For me it’s good news,” he said, “because now we something going on, now we’re moving and things are going.”
The plan now is to see the main distillery building finished in July and the custom-made distillery equipment installed and ready to begin production by the end of August or the beginning of September. The equipment will be the same as is used at the Gatineau distillery. Mantha expects all of the equipment, made in Germany and China, should arrive on the project site in June.
Mantha emphasized that his Hawkesbury distillery is a multi-phase project that will take about 10 years to complete. First phase is setting up the main distillery facility and getting it operating. The following phases will see erection of additional buildings for storage and production and also for an on-site bistro-style restaurant with a greenhouse addition to provide fresh produce year-round for the menu, and a shop that will offer on-site sales of all the AiR products.
Mantha’s goal for his Hawkesbury operation is future production of the full line of spirits and liqueurs now available from his Gatineau operation. That includes gin, vodka, whiskey, and a variety of liqueurs. He plans to set up both a bottling and a canning operation at his Hawkesbury site. The canning operation will allow AiR to offer its own brand of soda and tonic for use in mixing drinks and also enter the growing market for blended liqueurs and spirits.
During previous interviews, Mantha has stated that he wants his Hawkesbury distillery operation to be part of the community’s own destination tourism industry. The on-site restaurant and a planned distillery tour program are part of his plan for Hawkesbury AiR to become a local attraction for visitors.
His goal is for AiR to become known as Canada’s finest craft distillery. His future plans, once the Hawkesbury operation is in full operation, is to look at setting up another distillery in Vancouver, B.C. Later on he will look at expanding AiR’s production ability into the United States, starting in Pennsylvania, and in the future operations in Colombia and Mexico for rum and tequila.
Employment and investment
When all eight phases of the Hawkesbury distillery project are complete, Mantha estimated that the facility should employ between 60 and 75 people. A made-in-Hawkesbury AiR brand whiskey will be an important factor to the future success of the facility.
“I think whiskey is the future,” said Mantha, regarding his craft distillery plans.
He noted that the U.S., Scotland, and other countries have signature whiskeys famous throughout the world. Canada, he observed, does not have a signature whiskey of its own and he wants AiR to be the craft distillery that puts Canada on the list of premium whiskeys “at a reasonable price that people can enjoy.”
But a quality whiskey takes between three and five years to age before it is ready to market. So gin and vodka will be the first and main sale products during the first year or two of the Hawkesbury distillery’s operation. Whiskey production will begin this year but the resulting bottled product will go into storage for at least three years before going on the market.
The cost for the entire project is projected at between $20 million and $25 million. For now Mantha and his company are responsible for all of the investment costs but once the Hawkesbury distillery is in full production, Mantha will be open to outside investment in both the Hawkesbury facility and other future projects.
“Every three years I want to start a new distillery,” he said. “I like to build. I love what I do.”