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Award-winning distiller turns lessons learned at Concordia into successful family business

Alexander Mikus brings environmental responsibility to spirits production at Montreal-based 1769 Distillery
April 6, 2023
By Leïla Ahouman

A black and white photo of two young men standing to the left of a distillery Alexander Mikus (left) and his brother Matthew started their own line of spirits at their family’s 1769 Distillery. | Photo: Johannes G. Patrick S.

When his parents founded 1769 Distillery in 2014 — the first licensed distillery in Montreal to produce small-batch spirits — Alexander Mikus, BComm 21 (marketing), quickly discovered a new passion.

“I fell in love with distilling — both the science and the art behind making high-quality spirits and hard-proof liquor,” he recalls, only a recent high-school graduate at the time.  

From knowing little about distilling just a few years ago to becoming the lead distiller and operations manager of the company, Mikus soon started his own lines of unique spirits with his younger brother, Matthew, a current student at Concordia’s Faculty of Fine Arts. The family connection to Concordia also includes their mother Maureen David, BA 84, a graduate of the Department of Communication Studies, who serves as company president.

The brothers’ line of products now includes Volare aperitivo, Wildwood whisky and the award-winning Royalmount gin, launched just one month before the COVID-19 pandemic hit in 2020.

“I worked on the recipe to distill each botanical and my brother created the label as the artist and graphic designer,” says Mikus.

The success of Royalmount gin is a true testament of the kinship and collaboration fostered by the Mikus brothers. Despite the economic instability resulting from the pandemic, they sold 36,000 bottles of the product in its first year, and won bronze at the International World Spirits Competition in 2020. Gold followed at the Canadian Artisan Spirit Competition in 2021, and silver at the London Spirits Competition in 2022.

When business and education merge

A young man wearing a black T-shirt and jeans stands in front to of machinery in a distillery. “I fell in love with distilling — both the science and the art behind making high-quality spirits and hard-proof liquor,” says Alexander Mikus, BComm 21. | Photo: Johannes G. Patrick S.

Mikus’s dedication to the family business led him to enrol in the Institute for Co-operative Education program through the John Molson School of Business, and work at the distillery while taking online classes to learn the ropes of the industry.

“Co-op is probably the best thing I’ve ever done in my life,” says Mikus, who had placements at Genetec and Bombardier while studying. “When you’re doing internships, you’re actually implementing a lot of the things that upper management or your team are working on.”

Despite the busy schedule, Mikus says the practical skills he acquired, coupled with his academic knowledge, helped facilitate his transition to the professional world.

He credits Pierre-Yann Dolbec, associate professor of marketing, for helping him develop his entrepreneurial know-how. He learned essential e-commerce and corporate spending principles that brought complex business initiatives to life.

“Dolbec taught amazing high-level strategy that really introduced a wide range of digital marketing skills and involved executing projects,” he says.

Mikus also attributes his early professional success to lecturer Denis Beauchesne, lecturer in the Department of Management, who gave him formative lessons on how to manage a small business.

During that time, Mikus was able to directly inject what he learned at John Molson into his work at the distillery, which improved both his management of the business and his student experience. The managerial accounting class, which he says many students struggled with, turned out to be the class with which he was most at ease.

“It taught me a lot of information that I never knew about my own business,” he says. “I could see where my optimizations for profit margins keep me afloat.”

Sustainability that ‘just makes sense’

Mikus and his brother take pride in the distillery’s commitment to environmental sustainability. Starting with Royalmount gin — which is packaged in the market’s lightest spirit bottle to reduce carbon emissions during transportation — Mikus says the 1769 Distillery is ready to take it further and become an industry leader when it comes to sustainability in Canada.

A close-up of the label of a bottle of Royalmount Gin which depicts a rabbit head with deer antlers, surrounded by roses. The success of Royalmount gin is a testament of the kinship and collaboration fostered by the Mikus brothers.

“We’ve really tried to take a sustainable approach to all of our spirits,” he says. “We just implemented a circular-economy manufacturing process where we take waste beer that would have been destroyed, sent down the drain or unsellable in Quebec breweries. We repurpose that into our base spirit to use in all of our products.”

Inspired by the diverse potential of sustainability he learned about at Concordia, Mikus intends to follow suit of breweries in the United States and Australia that have net- or negative-carbon emission status.

This innovative method diverts wasted alcohol destined for sewers and other septic systems into a new purpose, new spirit.

“It’s something important that we try to give the consumer and the SAQ [Societé des alcools du Québec],” he says. “It just makes sense.”

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