"Of all the gin joints in all the towns in all the world."
That classic line from Casablanca may not have you thinking immediately about Gaspé as a source for gin, but Michael Briand of Douglastown is trying to change that.
He is the owner and founder of O'Dwyer Microdistillerie Gaspésienne, which this week announced the product label for Radoune Wild Gin.
"We were looking at all the gins, the most popular gins in the world, and we kind of just saw a vacuum and we thought that a mix of wild mushrooms would go well in that list of top quality gins," Briand said.
The gin is made from a variation of five different local wild mushrooms from Gaspésie Sauvage, another local company that sells wild mushrooms, flowers and other plants from the region.
When people taste the concentrate, they describe the flavour as having a blend between honey and maple syrup, he said.
"It's surprising, everyone when they first get a spoonful, they just open their eyes and say, 'Oh my gosh, I was not expecting that.'"
'Innovation, engineering and art'
Briand became fascinated by distilling while studying engineering. He is especially impressed with the tradition of distilling in places such as Scotland.
"It's the perfect mix between innovation, engineering and art," he said.
Briand said the artist in this case is his supplier from Gaspésie Sauvage, Gérard Mathar. Briand said he and Mathar work closely to develop the ingredients.
Mathar and his family are also neighbours in Douglastown.
"Our juniper berries, they are picked in our backyard," he said.
Mathar dries the berries in sea salt.
The name of the gin is very particular to the Gaspé region as well. Radoune refers to an area between two mountains, in the area between Gaspé and Rivière-au-Renard, the community where the distillery is currently located.
"I wanted to honour the place and the idea that, like mushrooms, even in the bottom of a dark valley between two big mountains, beauty produces," Briand wrote on Facebook.
Quebec distilleries few, but growing in number
When Briand was researching the business he counted 16 other craft distilleries in Quebec. Two of the more well-known are Domaine Pinnacle in Frelighsburg and Pur Vodka in Montréal.
But it is still a developing industry in the province.
"There is a lot more red tape in Quebec than there are in other provinces, which is understandable," Briand said.
"It's a dangerous process. It's a combustible transformation of goods, right."
Briand had initially imagined selling only to the Maritime market, especially New Brunswick.
"What a great reception," he said.
Although he wanted to start small, he is getting so many requests from locals that he is now looking for more ways to supply Gaspésians.
He will be able to sell the liquor to bars by November 2016. He has also applied to the SAQ to be able to sell in stores, but Briand said they want to proceed cautiously.
"I don't want to spread myself too thin."