Bottles #23 & 23: Rieder Distillery Kirschwasser & Bolivar Liqueur

Jul 19, 2023

It’s two bottles for the price of one! Both of these bottles come from Reveal Video 4, but they were wrapped up separately and, until I took a closer look, I had no idea they’d come from the same place.

Bottle #22 is the Stillmaster’s Reserve Kirchwasser from Rieder Distillery. Kirchwasser is an eau-de-vie or unaged brandy made from cherries. Bottle #23 is Bolivar Coffee and Brandy liqueur, also from Rieder Distillery, and described on the bottle as “a fine liqueur made from choice South American coffees prepared in the traditional way and specially blended with brandy.” Since I could find out a lot more about Rieder Distillery than about either of the liquids in these tiny bottles, I decided to pair them up.

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Rieder Distillery was established in Grimbsy, Ontario, Canada in 1972 by Otto Rieder. Grimbsy is a small town on the shore of Lake Ontario between Hamilton and St Catherines. It’s smack in the middle of the Niagara region, one of Canada’s most productive fruit growing regions. Otto was a Swiss immigrant who immediately saw the potential of all this fruit, and set up a distillery to make fruit brandies (also known as eau-de-vie) in the Swiss style.

Apparently, he was really good at it, and his eau-de-vie were excellent. The trouble was that, while eau-de-vie was popular in Europe, nobody in Ontario in the 1970s was particularly interested in it. But Otto adapted, and started making aged brandies as well as more popular spirits and liqueurs. This included the Bolivar coffee liqueur, but also Prince Igor vodka, which in 1980s advertising was promoted with the tagline “Prince Igor has no taste.”

Although several sources say the business was little more than a hobby, he must have been doing alright, because in 1985 they expanded their facilities. But by 1992, Otto was ready to retire, and his financial backers sought out a replacement. Enter John Hall, a Canadian winemaker who came on as CEO and purchased an equity stake in the company.

Hall brought new energy and enthusiasm with him, and recognized the potential in the distillery. He applied for and received a winery license, and in 1993 changed the name from Rieder Distilling to Kittling Ridge Estate Wine and Spirits.

Along with the buildings and inventory, Hall inherited the staff, which included blender Bill Ashburn, who had joined the company in 1987. Apparently, Hall was thinking bigger than wine pretty much from the start, because shortly after the acquisition, he asked Ashburn “Can we make whisky and wine, but sell the wine until the whisky is good enough that people will buy it?”

Turns out the answer was yes. In 2000 Kittling Ridge released Forty Creek Canadian Whisky to popular acclaim, both north and south of the border. It was so popular that in 2012 they rechristened themselves to Forty Creek Distillery, and they still operate as that today, although now under their new owners, spirits-conglomerate Campari Group.

One thing that hasn’t changed in all that time is the guy making the whisky! That’s still Bill Ashburn, who’s been working at the distillery for 36 years and has spent most of that time as their master blender. While he acknowledges that he’s come a long way, he still fondly remembers his time working for and being mentored by “Mr Rieder.”

Bill might have had a hand in the distillation of my tiny bottles. It’s hard to put a date on either of them besides “before 1992,” when the first name change happened. Pictures and advertising from the late 70s and early 80s show the eau-de-vie packaged in square bottles, but my tiny wine bottle shaped glass bottle is labeled “Stillmaster’s Reserve” so maybe it was special and packaged differently? The company still makes Bolivar coffee liqueur today, and my mini of it is in a plastic bottle, which implies 1980s, although I don’t actually know for sure when Canada allowed plastic bottles for liquor packaging.

The distillery in Grimbsy is still open and available for tours, so hopefully I’ll be able to pay them a visit and maybe ask Bill Ashburn himself.

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Bottles #23 & 23: Rieder Distillery Kirschwasser & Bolivar Liqueur

Jul 19, 2023 |

It’s two bottles for the price of one! Both of these bottles come from Reveal Video 4, but they were wrapped up separately and, until I took a closer look, I had no idea they’d come from the same place.

Bottle #22 is the Stillmaster’s Reserve Kirchwasser from Rieder Distillery. Kirschwasser is an eau-de-vie or unaged brandy made from cherries. Bottle #23 is Bolivar Coffee and Brandy liqueur, also from Rieder Distillery, and described on the bottle as “a fine liqueur made from choice South American coffees prepared in the traditional way and specially blended with brandy.” Since I could find out a lot more about Rieder Distillery than about either of the liquids in these tiny bottles, I decided to pair them up.

Rieder Distillery was established in Grimbsy, Ontario, Canada in 1972 by Otto Rieder. Grimbsy is a small town on the shore of Lake Ontario between Hamilton and St Catherines. It’s smack in the middle of the Niagara region, one of Canada’s most productive fruit growing regions. Otto was a Swiss immigrant who immediately saw the potential of all this fruit, and set up a distillery to make fruit brandies (also known as eau-de-vie) in the Swiss style.

Apparently, he was really good at it, and his eau-de-vie were excellent. The trouble was that, while eau-de-vie was popular in Europe, nobody in Ontario in the 1970s was particularly interested in it. But Otto adapted, and started making aged brandies as well as more popular spirits and liqueurs. This included the Bolivar coffee liqueur, but also Prince Igor vodka, which in 1980s advertising was promoted with the tagline “Prince Igor has no taste.”

Although several sources say the business was little more than a hobby, he must have been doing alright, because in 1985 they expanded their facilities. But by 1992, Otto was ready to retire, and his financial backers sought out a replacement. Enter John Hall, a Canadian winemaker who came on as CEO and purchased an equity stake in the company.

Hall brought new energy and enthusiasm with him, and recognized the potential in the distillery. He applied for and received a winery license, and in 1993 changed the name from Rieder Distilling to Kittling Ridge Estate Wine and Spirits.

Along with the buildings and inventory, Hall inherited the staff, which included blender Bill Ashburn, who had joined the company in 1987. Apparently, Hall was thinking bigger than wine pretty much from the start, because shortly after the acquisition, he asked Ashburn “Can we make whisky and wine, but sell the wine until the whisky is good enough that people will buy it?”

Turns out the answer was yes. In 2000 Kittling Ridge released Forty Creek Canadian Whisky to popular acclaim, both north and south of the border. It was so popular that in 2012 they rechristened themselves to Forty Creek Distillery, and they still operate as that today, although now under their new owners, spirits-conglomerate Campari Group.

One thing that hasn’t changed in all that time is the guy making the whisky! That’s still Bill Ashburn, who’s been working at the distillery for 36 years and has spent most of that time as their master blender. While he acknowledges that he’s come a long way, he still fondly remembers his time working for and being mentored by “Mr Rieder.”

Bill might have had a hand in the distillation of my tiny bottles. It’s hard to put a date on either of them besides “before 1992,” when the first name change happened. Pictures and advertising from the late 70s and early 80s show the eau-de-vie packaged in square bottles, but my tiny wine bottle shaped glass bottle is labeled “Stillmaster’s Reserve” so maybe it was special and packaged differently? The company still makes Bolivar coffee liqueur today, and my mini of it is in a plastic bottle, which implies 1980s, although I don’t actually know for sure when Canada allowed plastic bottles for liquor packaging.

The distillery in Grimbsy is still open and available for tours, so hopefully I’ll be able to pay them a visit and maybe ask Bill Ashburn himself.

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