• By: Tori McNeely

Turning the spirits world upside down

 Since its first spirits run in 2015, Top Shelf Distillers continues to rebel against the generic distillery mould.

With its high-quality spirits, competitive prices and down-to-earth operating style, Top Shelf Distillers is turning the spirit world upside down — just like its bottom-up label.

Lanark County native and former member of Team Canada’s roller derby team, Hanna Murphy, founded Perth’s first fully functioning distillery nearly 100 years after spirits were last legally produced in the town.

With the help of co-founder, social entrepreneur and avid vodka enthusiast, John Criswick, Murphy transformed what was once an empty plot of land into today’s award-winning distillery.

“The town of Perth was very supportive of the opening of the distillery. We were fortunate to be able to open in the same time frame as the bicentennial celebrations of the town. It’s a beautiful town with a lot of rich culture. It’s a special place,” said Sara Ainslie, Community Partnership Director and Events Coordinator for Top Shelf Distillers.

The company is behind the revival of the centuries-old tradition of alcohol production in Perth. During the 1800s, the town was home to three thriving distilleries. The liquor was shipped all over the country, as well as to parts of the United States.

No amount of demand has prevented Top Shelf Distillers from producing spirits without compromise.

All Top Shelf products — including gin, vodka, moonshine and bitters — have been flying off shelves in-house and in liquor stores across the province.

Located in the agricultural belt of Ontario, Top Shelf Distillers uses high-quality, Ontario-sourced ingredients including organic corn and barley.

“Everything we do, we make sure it is with the same mentality as batch one,” said Stuart Thornley, the company’s media relations head.

In addition to producing a ‘top shelf’ quality spirits at a competitive price, the company is always seeking new ways to decrease the environmental impact.

“We have gone to great lengths to create measurable change within real communities. We really want to have initiatives for effecting change whether it be as simple as our pollinator garden in front of the distillery to bring attention to bees nearing extinction or spending money on a bottle washing machine, so we can have a bottle return program,” said Thornley.

Having partnered with local events such as TD Ottawa Jazz Festival and Glowfair, Top Shelf Distillery has focused on investing in marketing efforts that support community relationships and bolster their brand simultaneously. One way the organization achieves this goal is by acting as a catalyst for events.

“It has always been about embracing and connecting with the community first and foremost. Whether it’s 40 people or 4,000 people, for me they’re all just as important,” said Ainslie. “The majority of the work I do is creating a partnership rather than a sponsorship between Top Shelf and event organizers.”

Thornley added that Top Shelf Distillers has no intentions of slowing down anytime soon.

“The larger companies really want the independent, smaller producers to squabble over a small piece of the pie. The company’s vision is to unify distillers based on overlap in products we make and then grow our piece of the pie to combat bigger brands.”

For those wondering what’s next, Top Shelf plans on putting Perth back on the map as a whisky town by releasing its first batch of traditional, Canadian whiskey in January of next year.

Bottoms up.