Fans of spirits will be in heaven this week as the New Brunswick Spirits Festival starts in Fredericton on Tuesday.

The festival through Saturday and includes workshops, a display of almost 200 varieties of whisky, vodka, gin and rum, dinners featuring a particular spirit, a cooking class and many tasting opportunities.

The whisky dinner on Wednesday, for instance, includes five courses and six drams.

Frank Scott, the chair and founder of the festival, said a lot has changed in the 21 years since it began.

"The first year was a very small festival," he said. "I think we only sold something like 275 tickets.

"It's grown now to where over the five days we have several thousand people come to the festival."

Cutting edge

Scott said the festival focused on liquor was the first of its kind in Canada and possibly even North America.

The idea for the festival originated with a whisky society Scott was involved with. Members wanted access to different whisky but couldn't get it in Fredericton.

"It's the chicken and the egg," Scott said.

"We [had] to create a market to bring them in. So we said, "what if we had a festival?"

Local libations

The festival this year features only one spirit from New Brunswick, and it's probably the youngest spirit there.

Blue Roof Vodka, based in Malden, near the New Brunswick end of the Confederation Bridge, started producing vodka in June using potatoes grown on the farm.

Devon Strang, the owner, said he missed the deadline to apply to the festival but was lucky in the end.

"I actually got the call last week," said Strang.

"We weren't even in business [at] the submission deadline."

Strang said he didn't know his brand would be the only local brand on hand, but with only a handful of spirit producers in the province, he understands.

"There's a lot more upfront cost to starting a distillery,"

"You require mostly all of the same equipment that a brewery requires but then you also require stills and all the other equipment that goes along with [it.]"

Increased interest

Earlier this month, NB Liquor released its second-quarter earnings report. It indicated that spirit sales were up in the province.

Scott, who also owns the Lunar Rogue, a pub in downtown Fredericton, said he's seen a growing interest in spirits in his establishment.

"People are now drinking maybe less but better and higher quality, and we're very pleased that that has happened," said Scott.

Interest from afar

That interest has extended to the festival, with events that sold out a week in advance.

Scott said about 45 per cent of the people who come to the festival come from out of town. In fact, the first tickets he sold were to a man from Winnipeg, which surprised him.

"I said, 'You're going to come to Fredericton for the festival?' He said, 'Why not? It's one of the best in the world,'" said Scott.

"It's hard to argue."