Adam D’Intino on Dillon’s Small Batch Distillers and the Dillon’s Cocktail Cup

In Ontario, there are few people in the drinks industry more in touch with what’s really happening than Adam D’Intino. Since first meeting Adam about 5 years ago, he has supported the growth and education of bartenders in the province through his regular visits and his inspirational story. Besides all the stuff he talks about below, Adam is a father of two, a triathlon competitor, hockey player and as if that all isn’t enough, he started making his own cider, you know, in his down time (?!?!?!).

In 2012 when Dillon’s Small Batch Distillers first opened you knew from the start that this was no accident. Everything – from the research the owners did (working in Scotland with distillers and collecting University Degrees in sciences that I can’t even pronounce) to their branding and design aesthetic – shows that Dillon’s are in it for the long run. They mean business! In the last few years, Adam, who is the Sales Manager for the company, has created a unique cocktail competition for Dillon’s that features bartenders in their natural habitat. We asked him some questions to find out what this comp is all about.

Adam D'Intino | Bartender Atlas

Bartender Atlas: How did you get into the alcohol industry?
Adam D’Intino: After I graduated University my best friend was managing the retail store for Stoney Ridge Winery and asked me if I wanted to work in the store for the summer. I had nothing else going on and the idea working in a place where you are surrounded by wine with your best friend seemed like a pretty good summer job. So…I said yes. After about 3 months of working in the retail store, I started to become more interested in wine and the business behind it in general. I started spending more time in the production area talking with the winemaker and learning all I could. I was later asked if I would be interested in doing sales for the winery and again with nothing else going on I took a chance on the opportunity. I had zero experience and not one single contact in the restaurant industry, but I hit the road with my box of wine and started knocking on doors. I began to really enjoy the job and thought this was something I could see myself doing. After about a year working for Stoney Ridge another opportunity came up with Fielding Estate Winery. It was a new boutique winery at the time and there was a lot of buzz surrounding their wines. So I applied and was hired on 3 month’s probation period. I ended up working there for almost 8 years as there downtown Toronto rep. I left Fielding to work for Dillon’s and head up their sales and the rest is history. In June it will be 5 years with the company and I can see myself being there till I retire.

BA: What is Dillon’s Small Batch Distillers?
AD: Dillon’s Small Batch Distillers is a craft distiller based in the Niagara region. Geoff Dillon opened the distillery to produce 100% Ontario Rye Whisky. We are what we like to call a “Grain to Glass” distillery meaning everything we do is done in house from start to finish. To sum it up we are making spirits in small batches, using our copper pot still and as many local ingredients as we possibly can.

Dillon's Small Batch Distillers | Bartender Atlas

BA: What does Dillon’s make?
AD: At Dillon’s two key ingredients enter our building, either 100% Ontario Rye or 100% Ontario wine. These are the building blocks for everything we make. We distil them into our bases and from there we can make whatever our little heart’s desire. Our focus at Dillon’s though has always been on Rye Whisky and Gins. Though no matter what we make at Dillon’s it all receives the same love and is made with care as quality is our number one priority.

BA: What is the Dillon’s distillery like?
AD: The distillery is a very busy place. We are open 7 days in our retails store, so there is always someone tasting and touring. The distilling area is equally as busy, we now have two 12 hour distilling shifts, so our two stills are almost running 24/7. Everything is also bottled and labeled in house. So, if you ever decide to come for a tour you’ll see your Dillon’s spirits being made and bottled during your visit.

Dillon's Small Batch Distillers | Bartender Atlas

BA: Are there any new Dillon’s products that you are particularly excited about?
AD: Well, Whisky is pretty much all we like to talk about right now, since we have been waiting patiently for 5 years to release it, but in terms of something new I’m really excited about our Cassis which is just being released. It’s made from as fresh as can be Black Currents from a neighbouring Beamsville farm. It should be a perfect addition to spring and summer cocktails.

BA:Three years ago, you started the Dillon’s Cup, your own cocktail competition. Can you tell us about how the Dillon’s Cup is different from other cocktail competitions?
AD:After throwing a few traditional cocktail competitions I noticed a few things. One, no one gets to taste the drinks, everyone stands and patiently waits to see who the judges pick. I always wanted to try the drink and see what a winning drink tastes like. Two, I only ever saw industry at these events and never common people, people who drink our spirits and eat our food and drink our drinks. Three, I have sat on the other side of the bar and watched bartenders gracefully flow through a service steadied hand with all the confidence in the world, but in the cocktail comp with everyone watching you would see nerves get the better of the person. I always wanted to see the bartender competing in more of their natural environment.

Dillon’s Cocktail Cup was created to bring all these three things together. The bartenders spend 2 hours behind the wood, doing what they do best, bartending. They are judged on more than just their drink, they are judged on all aspects of bartending. All the Cocktail Cup events are open to the public, so anyone can attend. The competitors cocktails are also available to order, so you get to taste and be a part of the competition. All rounds have a people’s choice and judge’s choice, so everyone gets to be involved. It’s basically a fun night out at some of the best bar’s in Toronto, there just happens to be a cocktail comp going on!

Dillon's Small Batch Distillers | Bartender Atlas

BA: There are many rounds to progress through too, right?
AD: Dillon’s Cocktail Cup start with three 10 Bartender Qualifier rounds to select who the 4 competitors will be. These are simple closed door, best cocktail wins comp. This year we are selecting 2 bartenders from Ottawa, Montreal and 2 from the Greater Toronto Area. After our Qualifier rounds we go into the Semi-Finals where the head to head competitions begin. The winner from each Semi-Final will meet in the finals for the Dillon’s Cocktail Cup on July 15th at the Distillery.

BA:With two bartenders behind the bar at the same time, have you had competitors butting heads, trying to sabotage each other?
AD:Most of the time it has been friendly, but there has been a couple times where it gets a little heated, but I like to leave what happens behind the bar, behind the bar.

Dillon's Cocktail Cup | Bartender Atlas

BA: Can you tell us what the prize is for winning the Dillon’s Cup?
AD: Well I like to keep the prize under wraps, but the winner gets to spend three days with me. If that’s not all the motivation you need to enter, I don’t know what else would be….

BA: This year you are involving competitors from Ottawa and Montreal, are there plans to involve different cities?
AD: As Dillon’s continues to expand into different markets across Canada I would love to expand the Cocktail Cup with it. We have been receiving a lot of love from Alberta, so I’d love to see a competitor from out west be in it next year.

Deadline to apply to the Dillon’s Cocktail Cup for the GTA is Monday, April 9th. More details for how to apply can be seen HERE.

Post in collaboration with Dillon’s Small Batch Distillers. Please drink responsibly.

Josh Lindley
Co-Creator at Bartender Atlas
Josh Lindley has been bartending in Toronto since 2007. Before working for Hendrick's Gin as a Brand Ambassador he was bar manager at Campagnolo and a hired gun at Bar Isabel before working at Chantecler, Le Phenix and Eataly. He has contributed to many magazines, tv shows and newspapers with his recipes and opinions. He recently put his diploma in Radio Broadcasting from Humber College to good use through The Blackbird audio documentary. Currently pouring at Civl Liberties and teaching cocktail classes for Evelyn Chick's Love of Cocktails, he enjoys being an ambassador to Toronto and talking about horror movies, punk rock and basketball.
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