Temperance and Temptation: The Modern-Day Bootleggers of YDH

Posted : September 10, 2020

Our blog is chock full of great ideas for fun things to see and do in York Durham and Headwaters. We are always adding new content and updating old posts, but sometimes you might stumble upon something from our vault. If this article has inspired you to hit the road, be sure to double-check that the featured stops in this post are still welcoming visitors.

The Prohibition Era—speakeasies, moonshine, flappers, Al Capone versus Bugs Moran. It was a Zeitgeist the likes of which we haven’t seen in more than a century. At a time when the temperance movement was condemning the evils of alcohol, its production and consumption thrived on the downlow. Happily, our modern times embrace The Spirited Beverage, and emphasizes responsible consumption and appreciation of flavour complexities. As a result, we are in the midst of another kind of Zeitgeist: one that celebrates the creativity and entrepreneurship of our craft brewers and distillers. The times may have changed, but the spirit and ingenuity have not. Welcome to the world of the modern-day bootlegger.

Our YDH “Bootleggers”

Okay, so let’s make one thing clear: we are not using the term bootlegger literally. Our alcohol-based artisans are not smuggling their illicit product to a thirsty public in their boots (or indeed by any other manner of concealment). Where the term in Prohibition times referred to the illegal manufacture, transport, distribution and sale of alcohol, our modern bootleggers are on the straight-and-narrow when it comes to following regulation and protocol. “Bootleggers from Prohibition times were breaking the law,” reminds Phil Winters, owner of Goodlot Farmstead Brewing Company in Caledon. “We follow every guideline on multiple levels of government oversight.”

GoodLot Farmstead

And, where their Prohibition counterparts were churning out bathtub gin and the like with alarming speed—with the end result often being so bad that the taste needed to be masked by the invention of clever cocktails—our modern bootleggers are highly skilled and pay minute attention to the quality of their product. Joanne Richter, owner of The Second Wedge Brewing Company in Uxbridge says it best: “In Prohibition days, alcohol had to be as cheap and fast as possible. We are thankful to be living in an age where alcohol production is legal and we can focus our efforts on producing ‘high-class goods’ from top quality ingredients with the utmost care.”

The Spirit of the Bootlegger Lives On

Despite the fact that what they were doing was illegal, and we can’t technically condone the bootlegging trade and all that came with it, we also can’t help but remark on the spirit and grit it must have taken the Prohibition Era bootlegger to defy the law and carve out a place in this in-demand market. And dare we say that this same spirit is paralleled in our modern-day bootleggers, who have found the courage to put everything they have into their business and carve out a place for themselves in today’s craft brewing market? Not to mention that the creativity our brewers and distillers here in YDH display with every new flavour they produce is an echo of the creativity of a century ago… with much better results on the taste front.


So, for that renegade grit and expert skill, we invite you to raise a toast to our modern-day bootleggers of York Durham Headwaters, and to their Prohibition predecessors who kept the art of brewing alive for a time when future generations would take up the trade and carry it forward—this time with the support of the law, as well as the community. Might we suggest one of these craft brews for your toast?

The Second Wedge Brewing Co.,

14 Victoria St., Uxbridge


3 Rocks IPA — With a bright aroma, a rich golden colour and a bracing bitterness, this IPA is a blend of American hops, classic Canadian 2-row barley malt, and a touch of specialty malt to give it a fullness and depth of flavour that make it a delight to drink. Because American ale yeast ferments clean and provides a dry finish, Second Wedge suggests pairing 3 Rocks IPA with wood-fired pizza, hot wings, and Italian sausage pasta.

Black is Beautiful Stout-Imperial/Double — This take on Weathered Souls Brewing Co.’s international collaboration captures the lush complexity of the original recipe. With bright, fruity notes thanks to the addition of hefeweizen yeast, this one is great for a good, slow sip. Second Wedge recommends you pair this dark beauty with reading, learning and seeing new possibilities.

** All proceeds from the sale of Black is Beautiful will be donated to Ontario’s Black Legal Action Centre.

Goodlot Farmstead Brewing Co.,

18825 Shaws Creek Rd., Caledon

GoodLot Farmstead

Farmstead Ale — This flagship ale of Goodlot is smooth and golden, with a soft body and sweet backbone, and features the farm’s own Cascade and Nugget hops. Take your time searching for those subtle notes of apricots, lychee and tangerine. An easy drinking and incredibly flavourful brew.

Hop Hash — Stone fruit aromas and a hazy copper hue mark this first brew to be found in a 355 mL tin. A dry hopped brew, the farmers at Goodlot have been collecting this hop hash for the past three harvest seasons and are excited to share the results. Citrus, pine, mango, apricot and peach flavours are waiting for you, topped by a tight pleasant white head.

Last Straw Distillery

40 Pippin Rd., Unit 9, Vaughan

Last Straw Bottles

sCorn Whiskey — Made from sprouted 100% organic Ontario yellow dent corn grown by Sheardown family farms in Simcoe County, and malted at King Farms in York County, this double-distilled whiskey has been aged for more than three years in an American oak cask. On the nose are candy apple, baking spices and pepper aromas. Notes of butter caramel, vanilla and toasty oak are a pleasure in the mouth.

Blackstrap Double-Barrelled Rum — This special release of a nearly-three-year-old version of Last Straw’s Blackstrap Rum is aged first in an ex-bourbon barrel, then finished in a heavily charred virgin oak cask. The result is an intense blackstrap flavour with hints of vanilla, caramel, baking spices and smoky notes. As Last Straw says, no artificial colour or flavours are added—what goes into the barrel goes into the bottle.

Story by Katherine Ryalen

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