• Hunter Cresswell

Dueling distilleries

A tale of two Chelsea watering holes

When it rains it pours, and the craft distillery wave is about to hit Chelsea like the spring melt during a rainstorm.

The rising popularity of small liquor distilleries has been well documented across Canada and the U.S. over the last decade. So it’s not surprising that one would eventually open in the Hills.

The inside of Nicolas Cazelais’ brewhouse at 6 Ch. Douglas in Chelsea is almost ready to start brewing, but awaits final pipe connections. His plans for the property include a brewery, cidery, distillery, apiary and tasting room, which also serves food. Photo courtesy Nicolas Cazelais

Yet, not one, but two are planned at opposite ends of Old Chelsea Road. The names behind them are familiar: Manuela Teixeira and her ex-husband Nicolas Cazelais.

The pair used to co-own the Chelsea Pub, the Biscotti café and another Old Chelsea village property, but in recent years Cazelais sold his shares in those assets to Groupe Nordik president Martin Paquette.

Neither parties have come up with a name for their distilleries. Teixeira said she’s “open to suggestions” for the name of hers and Cazelais said he’s working on the branding now.

Teixeira’s distillery was discussed by the Chelsea council on Oct. 6 when tabling a draft bylaw to allow a craft distillery in the centre village zone was on the agenda. The agenda items of presenting and adopting the draft bylaw were pulled from the agenda after council asked a lot of questions about having another distillery – Cazelais’ is already permitted – in town and water usage.

When asked about competing with Cazelais, Teixeira said it’s not uncommon for towns in Quebec to have more than one distillery.

“I’m going to continue with our plan as I’ve had for numerous years,” she said.

Her plan for the distillery includes a tasting room with a sort of museum, which dives into the political figures who’ve lived and passed through Chelsea. Cazelais’ distillery will be the second phase of his brewery and cidery project, which includes an eatery on the other side of town. It was planned to be open already, but hit a snag due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“It’s two different clientele,” Teixeira said.

Cazelais said having a distillery alone isn’t very profitable and that he already has everything he needs to distill liquor in his nearly complete brewery.

“It was my idea first, but we split and she kept my idea,” he said. “But I have a brewery, you need a brewery to start a distillery.”

Teixeira said in 2010 she started researching the distilling industry in Quebec and met someone from the Gatineau Hills who said a distillery in Old Chelsea would be interesting.

“In Europe, when you have a glen, you usually have a distillery nearby because there’s usually water underground,” she said.

Her gin and vodka distillery will be in the house behind the old depanneur building that she’s set to demolish and turn into a three-storey boutique inn and grocery store. Her pub, café, distillery, inn, grocery store and Lofts du Village project on Padden Lane will all be tied together with an open air space called Old Chelsea Square.

“We’re working on everything in parallel,” she said.

But for now, she said she’s focused on finishing the lofts next year before starting work on the distillery.

“If we can start next year, it would be good,” Teixeira said.

Cazelais said his $3 million, 9,000 square-foot brewery, cidery, distillery, apiary and tasting room, with an eatery at 6 Ch. Douglas, was supposed to already have begun brewing both for his other brewery, Gainsbourg in Hull, and his new Chelsea label, but then COVID hit.

“We just need to connect the pipes, but the guy who is an expert at that is in Quebec [City], so he can’t come because it’s in the red,” he said, referring to the province’s COVID alert colour system, which restricts movement between virus hot spots.

His goal is to start brewing and making hard apple cider in three months. The beehives that he’s kept at his home for the past two years are now behind the brewery building.

“In a couple years, I will make honey with that and my dream is to make honey whisky,” he said.

Other than whisky, he said he wants to also make gin.

“We are ready, but that’s the second phase; the first phase is beer and cider,” Cazelais said.

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