How to Start a Distillery in Ontario and Distill Your Way to Success

Ontario, with its rich history and thriving craft beverage industry, offers a fertile ground for aspiring distillers to turn their passion into a successful business venture. Starting a distillery is not just about producing exceptional spirits; it’s about telling a story, capturing the essence of your ingredients, and building a brand that resonates with consumers.

In this article, we will guide you through the essential steps and invaluable insights, from understanding the legal and regulatory requirements to perfecting your distilling techniques, branding, marketing, and distribution, needed to navigate the intricacies of starting a distillery in Ontario.

Key Takeaways

  • Distillery in Ontario requires obtaining the necessary licenses and permits from the AGCO and complying with federal and provincial regulations.
  • Creating a business plan and securing funding are important steps in the process.
  • Developing a marketing strategy and building relationships with distributors and retailers is key to the success of your business.

1. Understanding Distillery Laws in Ontario

Starting a distillery can be a complex process due to the various laws and regulations surrounding the production and sale of alcohol. Understanding these laws is crucial to ensure that your distillery operates legally and avoids any penalties or fines.

Liquor Control Act

The Liquor Control Act is the main piece of legislation governing the distribution and sale of alcohol in Ontario. It outlines the rules surrounding the sale, transportation, and storage of alcohol, as well as the licensing requirements for businesses that sell alcohol.

One of the key aspects of the Liquor Control Act is the requirement for businesses that sell alcohol to obtain a licence from the Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario (AGCO). This includes distilleries, which must hold a Distillery Licence to sell spirits in Ontario.

Liquor Licence Act

The Liquor Licence Act is another important piece of legislation that affects distilleries in Ontario. It outlines the rules surrounding the consumption of alcohol in public places, as well as the penalties for violating these rules.

Under the Liquor Licence Act, it is illegal to sell or serve alcohol to anyone under the age of 19. It is also illegal to sell or serve alcohol to anyone who is already intoxicated. Violating these rules can result in fines, suspension of your liquor licence, or even criminal charges.

In addition to these laws, there are also various regulations and guidelines that distilleries must follow in order to operate legally in Ontario. These include rules surrounding the labelling and packaging of alcohol, as well as the use of certain ingredients and production methods.

To ensure that your distillery operates legally and avoids any penalties or fines, it is important to familiarize yourself with these laws and regulations. You may also want to consult with a lawyer or other legal professional to ensure that you are complying with all applicable laws and regulations.

2. Creating a Business Plan

Every business requires a solid business plan that outlines your vision, goals, and strategies. Your business plan should include three main sections: market research, financial planning, and marketing strategy.

Market Research

The first step in creating a business plan is conducting market research. This will help you understand the industry and market you will be operating in. You can begin by researching the competition, identifying your target market, and analyzing consumer trends.

You can find useful information from sources such as the AGCO, Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, industry associations, and market research reports. By conducting thorough research, you can identify gaps in the market, potential challenges, and opportunities for growth.

Financial Planning

The financial planning section of your business plan should outline your startup costs, projected revenue, and cash flow projections. You will need to determine how much money you will need to start and operate your distillery, including costs such as equipment, raw materials, labor, and marketing.

It is important to be realistic about your financial projections and to have a contingency plan in case things don’t go as planned. You may also need to secure financing from investors or lenders, so it is important to have a solid financial plan that demonstrates your ability to generate revenue and manage expenses.

Marketing Strategy

Your marketing strategy should outline how you plan to promote your distillery and build your brand. This can include tactics such as social media marketing, email marketing, events, and partnerships.

You will need to identify your target audience and develop a unique selling proposition that differentiates your distillery from the competition. Your marketing strategy should also include a budget and a timeline for implementing your tactics.

3. Securing Funding

There are several ways to secure funding for your business. In this section, we’ll explore two options for securing funding: investors and government grants.


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    One way to secure funding for your distillery is through investors. Investors can provide the capital you need to get your business off the ground. To attract investors, you’ll need a solid business plan that outlines your goals, target market, and financial projections.

    When approaching investors, it’s important to be prepared. You should have a clear understanding of your business and be able to answer any questions they may have. You should also be prepared to negotiate terms, such as equity and ownership percentages.

    Government Grants

    Another option for securing funding is through government grants. The Ontario government offers several programs to help small businesses, including distilleries, get started. One such program is the Small Distillery Program, which provides grants to eligible small distillers to help them scale up into medium and large businesses by investing in growing their businesses and creating jobs.

    To apply for government grants, you’ll need to research the available programs and determine which ones are right for your business. You’ll also need to prepare a grant application that outlines your business plan, financial projections, and how the grant money will be used.

    4. Finding a Suitable Location

    Finding a suitable location is critical for your new distillery. Here are some things to consider:

    Zoning Requirements

    The first thing you need to do is ensure that the location you choose is zoned for industrial use. You can check with your local municipality to find out what zoning requirements apply to your area. You may also need to obtain a permit from your municipality to operate a distillery.


    Your distillery should be easily accessible to suppliers, customers, and employees. You should consider proximity to major highways, airports, and shipping ports. You should also ensure that the location has adequate parking and loading facilities.


    The size of the location you choose will depend on the scale of your operation. You should consider the amount of space you will need for production, storage, and office space. You should also consider the potential for expansion in the future.


    Your distillery will require access to water, electricity, and natural gas. You should ensure that the location you choose has adequate infrastructure to support your operation. You should also consider the cost of utilities and factor that into your budget.

    Environmental Factors

    You should consider any environmental factors that may affect your operation. For example, if your distillery produces a strong odor, you may need to choose a location that is isolated from residential areas. You should also consider any potential environmental risks associated with your operation, such as waste disposal.

    5. Choosing the Right Equipment

    Equipment is one of the most important investment you will make when starting a business. When it comes to selecting the right equipment for your distillery, there are several factors to consider, such as the type of spirits you want to produce, your budget, and the size of your operation.

    Distillation Equipment

    The heart of any distillery is the still. You will need to choose the right still for your operation based on the type and volume of spirits you plan to produce. There are several types of stills to choose from, including pot stills, column stills, and hybrid stills. Pot stills are ideal for producing small-batch spirits with complex flavors, while column stills are better suited for producing large volumes of neutral spirits like vodka. Hybrid stills offer the best of both worlds, allowing you to produce a variety of spirits with different flavor profiles.

    Other equipment you will need for distillation includes fermentation tanks, mash tuns, and condensers. These pieces of equipment are essential for converting raw materials into alcohol and then distilling that alcohol into spirits.

    Bottling Equipment

    Once you have distilled your spirits, you will need to bottle them for sale. Bottling equipment can range from simple manual fillers to fully automated bottling lines. The type of bottling equipment you choose will depend on the volume of spirits you plan to produce and your budget.

    In addition to bottling equipment, you will need to invest in labeling machines, corks, caps, and bottles. It’s important to choose high-quality bottles that are compatible with your labeling and capping equipment to ensure a smooth bottling process.

    When choosing equipment for your distillery, it’s important to work with reputable suppliers who can provide you with high-quality equipment at a fair price. Don’t be afraid to ask for references and check online reviews before making a purchase.

    Remember, the equipment you choose will have a significant impact on the quality of your spirits and the success of your distillery. Take your time, do your research, and choose wisely.

    6. Hiring and Training Staff

    Unless you plan to do everything by yourself, you are going to requires a team of skilled and dedicated individuals who are passionate about the craft. When hiring staff, it’s important to look for individuals who have experience in the industry and share your vision for the distillery.

    One way to find potential employees is by attending industry events and job fairs. You can also post job openings on online job boards and social media platforms. When reviewing resumes and conducting interviews, look for candidates who have experience in distilling, fermentation, and quality control.

    Once you have hired your team, it’s important to provide them with the necessary training to ensure they can perform their duties effectively. This includes training on equipment operation, safety procedures, and quality control standards.

    Investing in your staff can lead to increased productivity, improved quality control, and a stronger team. Make sure to provide your employees with competitive wages and benefits to attract and retain top talent.

    7. Obtaining Necessary Licenses and Permits

    Several licenses and permits are requires to start and operate a distillery legally. Here are the two main licenses and permits you need to obtain:

    Federal Excise Licence

    The Federal Excise Licence is a federal license that you need to obtain from the Canada Revenue Agency. This license allows you to produce, package, and sell spirits. You must apply for this license before starting your distillery. The process for obtaining this license involves filling out an application, providing the necessary documentation, and paying the required fees.

    Provincial Licence

    The Provincial Licence is a license that you need to obtain from the Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario. This license allows you to sell spirits in Ontario. You must apply for this license after obtaining the Federal Excise Licence. The process for obtaining this license involves filling out an application, providing the necessary documentation, and paying the required fees. You can find more information on the AGCO website.

    It is important to note that there are several other licenses and permits you may need to obtain depending on the specifics of your distillery. For example, you may need to obtain a municipal business license, a zoning permit, and a fire safety inspection certificate. It is important to research the specific requirements for your distillery and ensure that you obtain all the necessary licenses and permits before starting your business.

    8. Marketing and Selling Your Product

    Once your distillery is up and running, it’s time to start marketing and selling your product. The success of your distillery depends on how well you can promote and distribute your spirits. In this section, we’ll cover two important aspects of marketing and selling your product: branding and distribution channels.


    Branding is crucial in the spirits industry. Your brand is what sets you apart from the competition and helps consumers identify your products. Your brand should reflect the unique qualities of your spirits and resonate with your target audience.

    When developing your brand, consider the following:

    • Logo and Packaging: Your logo and packaging are the first things consumers will see. Make sure they are eye-catching and reflect your brand’s personality.
    • Story: Consumers love a good story. Share the history and inspiration behind your distillery and spirits.
    • Tasting Room Experience: If you have a tasting room, make sure it reflects your brand and offers a memorable experience for visitors.

    Distribution Channels

    Choosing the right distribution channels is key to getting your spirits in front of consumers. In Ontario, you have several options, including:

    • LCBO: The Liquor Control Board of Ontario is the largest buyer and retailer of alcoholic beverages in the province. Getting your products on LCBO shelves can be a game-changer for your distillery.
    • Distillery Retail Store Endorsement: With a Distillery Retail Store Endorsement, you can sell your products directly to consumers from your distillery. This is a great way to build brand awareness and customer loyalty.
    • Export: If you’re looking to expand beyond Ontario, consider exporting your products. This can be a great way to reach new markets and increase sales.

    When considering distribution channels, it’s important to think about the costs and logistics involved. Make sure you have the infrastructure in place to support your chosen channels.

    9. Frequently Asked Questions

    The cost of starting a micro-distillery can depend on many factors. The startup costs can range from $100,000 to $500,000 depending on the size and complexity of the distillery. The costs include equipment, raw materials, licenses, permits, and other expenses.

    To obtain a distilling license in Canada, you need to apply to the Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario. The application process can take several months, so it’s important to start early.

    The process for obtaining a license to manufacture alcohol in Ontario involves applying to the AGCO. You need to provide detailed information about your business, including your business plan, financial projections, and production process. You can find more information about the application process here.

    To start a distillery in Canada, you need to meet several requirements. You need to have a viable business plan, sufficient funds, and a detailed production process. You also need to obtain the necessary licenses and permits from the AGCO and other regulatory bodies.

    It is illegal to distill alcohol for personal use in Ontario without a license. The production and sale of alcohol are strictly regulated by the government, and individuals who violate the regulations can face severe penalties. You can find more information about the regulations on the AGCO website.

    Yes, a distillery can be profitable in Ontario if it is well-managed and produces high-quality products. The demand for craft spirits is growing, and consumers are willing to pay a premium for unique and high-quality products. However, it’s important to carefully consider the startup costs and the competition in the market. You can find more information about the profitability of distilleries on the Niagara College website.

    10. Resources for distilleries in Ontario

    Government Resources

    Industry Resources

    Other Resources

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