top of page

Diony Distillery: From art to top shelf whisky, it’s more than a passion project 

When Stephane Pilon decided he wanted to open a business a few years ago, he couldn’t have known the search would take him from Canada to Seattle to New Zealand for ideas that went from cheese making to distilling – and what would eventually be a micro distillery in a Red Deer County industrial park that even includes whisky tasting/educational sessions and an art gallery.  


Owner and master distiller, Pilon, and wife Sophia Wong (who he met while learning the language in Spain), both have degrees in unrelated fields, but that hasn’t mattered in this venture. The pair’s curiosity and patience, interest in ‘green’ processes and working with local producers is serving them well; the company celebrated the grand opening of Diony Distillery (named for Dionysus, the Greek God of wine), in late 2023. 


“As a business venture, we knew this would just grow in worth over time,” says Pilon, describing the distillery industry in Alberta, “like where brewing was 15 years ago.” He also points to sage advice from industry experts like Frank Deiter (former owner of BC-based Okanagan Spirits and guru of modern craft distilling). “I heard Frank’s voice telling me, ‘Just make whisky–don’t do anything else.’ It was simple and to the point. And that’s what we’ve done.”  


“Craft distillers produce very little volume; it’s a matter of quality, not quantity,” says Deiter, who maintains a relationship with Pilon (and continues to be a key source for equipment, from fermenter pumps to barrels). Currently, Diony is producing two to three barrels of whisky per month. “Rye and Canada have a symbiotic connection, and Stephane tailored his distillery to it. He is a passionate guy, and is creating a solid product with Canadian rye.” 


It wasn’t easy for Pilon at first, juggling weekends at the distillery with his full-time job (managing the local Canadian Tire store) and being dad to a young family. Children Philippe, now 11, Maxime, 10 and Annick, 4, have been too young to help in the distilling process, but they’re growing up immersed in it, nonetheless. Pilon says living in the heart of the grain/farming industry in central Alberta makes it not only an ideal spot for crafting whisky, but for making real connections with producers. 


Matt Hamill, co-owner of Red Shed Malting, provides a large quantity of roasted malts to Dionys. One of the few small craft maltsters in Canada, Hamill’s operation is only ten minutes down the road from Pilon. It’s an ideal set up for Hamill to provide the roasted rye, barley and oats Pilon uses for his whisky–there’s even been the occasional ‘field day’ for Pilon’s family, complete with rides through the grain fields on a combine.  


“We would’ve found each other eventually,” laughs Hamill, adding he’s proud of the part his grains play in Diony’s whiskeys. “The industry is growing, and we’ll be seeing a lot more whisky distilleries in the future, but Diony is unique and exceptional. There can be chocolate or coffee notes to the whisky, and yet it’s just grains, barrels, and time. And what I like is Stephane does all that using local products.” 


Indeed, while Pilon says the great majority of whisky’s flavour comes from the wooden barrels it ages in, he also credits the malted rye and other roasted grains that make his Canadian whisky unique. There’s interest in his product from as far away as Germany, Asia and the U.S.  

“We’re taking a trade accelerator program that will give us the tools required to export,” Pilon says. In the meantime, the product is finding its way to liquor stores in Edmonton, Calgary and Red Deer, (including Sherbrooke Liquor, Craft Cellars, Liquor Hutch) and at occasional expo events. 

Because Canadian whisky must be aged for a minimum of three years by law, Diony actually started production on four types of premium whisky in 2018. The lineup includes a Port Cask finished whisky, a Prairie Trio of malted rye, malted barley and oat, and Campfire, with malted rye, oats and barley finished in re-charred French oak barrels and heavily smoked rum barrels. Already, Diony has entered international competitions and won for its Campfire and Port Cask products. 

“We’re unique because we blend a high percentage of malted rye. Our fourth whisky also has roasted barley–it’s like having roasted coffee beans. The flavours are amazing,” says Pilon, who educates consumers about the whisky-making process with workshops and tastings at the distillery. “Visitors see how the whisky goes from grain selection and fermentation to distilling to cask selection, aging and finally having the product come to life in the glass. It’s a bit of art plus science. We host people with varying interests – team building events, manufacturing, and brewing industry folk (even stag and bridal parties).” 


Then there’s the interest in clean and green, which started when Pilon and Wong were in New Zealand, and saw how one company was making vodka from whey. 


“Taking waste and making a resource out of it – that really had an impact,” says Pilon, who offers the spent grains from the distilling process back to local farmers. The protein and fibre in the solids provide nutritive value to farm animals, says Pilon, who also uses compostable bottles and sealers – no plastic packaging at all.  


Another aspect of Pilon’s passion comes across with the art found in the distillery. Local artists are featured in the distillery’s gallery, (including landscapes by Olds artist, Brett Heidi) and Pilon himself gets creative with the whisky barrels, taking archival scenes and etching them onto the barrels. 


Ever conscious of getting the word out about Diony, Pilon is knocking on doors and upping the company’s profile while being active with the United Way, Lacombe Museum, Red Deer Food Bank, and Red Deer Tourism, among others. During the pandemic, Diony was also one of the first to encourage production of hand sanitizer among distilleries.  


“We took an unusual path, and now our challenge will be in marketing. We want to take advantage of my wife’s and my education to promote and expand. We've got 3,000 square feet in a central Alberta space, with lots of interest in the whisky-making workshops, plus a gallery to showcase local art,” he says, adding a soon-to-come rum is on the horizon too – a natural to make use of some of those rum barrels the company has on hand.  


“We want the industry to know we produce some of the best grains in the world in this part of the country–we’re in a resource-rich area. There’s plenty of room to grow.” 


bottom of page