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Broken Spirits Distillery – Opening Doors Through Adversity


7 minute read

Starting a business can be a difficult task for every industry, now more than ever. The upfront capital required, real-estate licensing, the infrastructure regulations, fire safety guidelines, the list goes on. Not for the faint of heart. However, there is something amazing about the concept of crafting the perfect product, then aligning that with superb branding and executed by a talented team. Thankfully, this is a positive news story. Where three like-minded entrepreneurs are acting on their passion and motivation to work through adversity and build a business together.


(From Left: Chris Ainsworth, Jeff Robertson and Mark Willoughby)

Broken Spirits recently opened their doors to Calgarians, where you and your friends can enjoy highly refined spirits distilled at their location. Being well aware of these challenging times, Mark, Chris and Jeff, in line with the completion of their testing phase, decided that they wanted to bring some positivity to the wider community and open their doors. 

Jeff, Mark and Chris met in 1997 while working together at an Outback Steakhouse in Calgary. Building a strong friendship over twenty years, fast forward to two and a half years ago, they found themselves sitting around a table discussing a common interest to create their own brewery. After some thought and inspiration from some of their favourite gins, their interests pivoted to opening a distillery. Tying all of their experience, technical skills and industry acumen together, they felt confident in moving forward with starting their own brand. 

We all love a good origin story. After sipping some beautifully crafted gin and in conversation with Mark and Chris, they offer some additional insight behind starting Broken Spirits Distillery.

“As a trio, we have built it up to where we are today. It has always been more about a partnership, building through adversity and keeping our spirits up, which is where the name Broken Spirits originated. Our focus moving forward is now on comradery and the community here”

Located just off of 36th Street NE and the Trans Canada Highway, now open with reduced hours and capacity straight out of the gate. The team at Broken Spirits is welcoming new customers on select days of the week, specifically Thursday and Friday between 4:00pm to 9:00pm and Saturday 3:00pm to 9:00pm. Until the Alberta Health Service guidelines have been lightened, all bars, breweries and distilleries such as Broken Spirits, will continue to put the focus on customer safety as their top priority.

Like a party we are all invited to, Calgary breweries, bars and distilleries alike are one of my favourite examples of a strong community. As I claim to be no expert on this subject, Mark and Chris speak on what community means to them in the wake of their opening:

“We are a community within the three of us, extending to our families who have shown us a lot of support. In addition to that, we are very fortunate to have the location that chose. Even our parking lot is a community within itself with neighbours like Sunny Cider and Heathens Brewing. Even just blocks away, within the craft district that is building here, Toolshed Brewing and Common Crown brewing are building a community of their own.”

“Since our opening, we have had people coming in, posting on their social media and we have experienced a lot of interest in supporting businesses in this area. That even expands out of our area in the NE, where we have had visits from the broader craft distillery and brewery community in Calgary. It has been clear there is a real push from a group of people with a common goal – wanting to grow the community and the industry here in Calgary.”

Positive feedback is one surefire way to know that it can the right time to hit the ground running with the launch of new products. Fortunately for me as a ‘gin guy’, I had the opportunity to taste the Broken Spirits gin and their spiced sugar cane spirit. Safe to say with the care Jeff has put into the products, these three guys are on to something great. Chris and Mark offer their thoughts on the initial feedback they have received.

“The feedback has been very positive so far. We have experienced a lot of great comments on our branding and product packaging, designed by a local designer, has really captured our vision and created a brand that our community can connect with.”

 “We have also been getting really positive feedback on our spirits too. Either mixing it or drinking it straight, hearing customers say they can really connect with the flavours we have instilled in our products. To further that, we have experienced non-gin drinkers simply try our product and end up leaving with a bottle, which is huge.” 

If you are like me and you love gin, I would highly recommend visiting the Broken Spirits Distillery location and trying it for yourself. If you are more of a rum connoisseur, don’t forget to try the spiced sugar cane spirit before you go. Looking forward to learning more about the Broken Spirits brand as it continues to grow and I wish Chris, Mark and Jeff the best moving forward.

If you would like to learn more about the Broken Spirits Distillery or to check out the products and merch they have available, visit their website here or on their social media below.

Broken Spirits Instagram

Broken Spirits Facebook



For more stories, please visit Todayville Calgary

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A complete list of Alberta’s New Enhanced Emergency Measures

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From the Province of Alberta

New measures at a glance

Unless otherwise stated, the following mandatory restrictions come into effect Nov. 24 and will be in place for at least three weeks.

1. See list of communities under enhanced status (purple areas)
2. See list of affected communities in the Calgary area and the Edmonton area.
Measures All Alberta Enhanced (purple) Areas1 Calgary Area2 Edmonton Area2
No indoor social gatherings in any setting Yes Yes Yes Yes
Outdoor gatherings max of 10 Yes Yes Yes Yes
Wedding and funeral services max of 10, no receptions permitted Yes Yes Yes Yes
No festivals or events Yes Yes Yes Yes
Grades 7-12 at-home learning Nov 30-Jan 11 Yes Yes Yes Yes
Grades K-6 at-home learning Dec 18-Jan 11 Yes Yes Yes Yes
Working from home should be considered, where possible Yes Yes Yes Yes
Places of worship at 1/3 normal attendance No Yes Yes Yes
Restricted access to some businesses and services starting Nov. 27 No Yes Yes Yes
Mandatory masks for indoor workplaces No No Yes Yes

Gathering restrictions

  • Mandatory restriction – Provincewide – effective Nov. 24

    • No indoor social gatherings are permitted in any setting (private homes, public spaces or workplaces)
      • Indoor close contacts must be limited to people in the same household
      • People who live alone can have up to the same 2 non-household contacts for the duration of the restriction
      • Work and support group meetings are not social gatherings, but attendance should be limited and public health measures followed
      • This does not apply to service visits from caregivers, health or child care providers
    • Outdoor social gatherings are limited to 10 people and must not have an indoor component
      • Backyard gatherings that require movement in/out of homes are not permitted
      • Attendees should remain distanced at all times and follow public health measures
    • Festivals and events are prohibited (indoors and outdoors)

    Learn more about gatherings.

  • Mandatory restriction – Provincewide – effective Nov. 24

    • Maximum of 10 people for wedding ceremonies or funeral services
      • This includes the officiant, bride/groom and witnesses
      • This does not include staff or organizers who are not considered an invited guest
      • This applies to any facility, including places of worship and funeral homes.
      • This includes services held indoors or outdoors, seated or non-seated.
    • Receptions are not permitted

    This measure will help limit exposure, reduce outbreaks and protect vulnerable attendees.

  • Mandatory restriction – Enhanced status (purple) areas – effective Nov. 24

    • Maximum of 1/3 normal attendance for places of worship
    • Physical distancing between households must be maintained
    • Mask use is required
    • Online services are encouraged
    • In-person faith group meetings can continue but must maintain physical distancing and public health measures must be followed

    Faith communities are often significant aspects of people’s lives, and include intimate and close contact between members. This measure will help limit exposure at these activities, reducing outbreaks and protecting vulnerable members who attend.

  • Mandatory restriction – Calgary and Edmonton areas – Effective Nov. 24

    • Masks are mandatory in all indoor workplaces, except when working alone in an office or a safely distanced cubicle or an appropriate barrier is in place
      • This applies to all employees, visitors, delivery personnel and contractors
      • This includes all locations where employees are present and masks won’t pose a safety risk
      • This does not change current student mask requirements in schools
  • Working from home should be considered, where possible.

  • Mandatory restriction – Provincewide – Starting Nov. 30

    Grades 7-12 students

    • Move to at-home learning Nov. 30 to Jan. 8, except during winter break*
    • Resume in-person classes Jan. 11
    • Diploma exams are optional for rest of the school year. Students and families can choose to write an exam or receive an exemption for the April, June and August 2021 exams.

    Grades K-6 students (including Early Childhood Services)

    • Continue in-person learning to Dec. 18
    • Move to at-home learning Dec. 18 to Jan. 8, except during winter break*
    • Resume in-person classes Jan. 11

    *Schools have different winter break schedules, check with your school for details.

    Learn more at K-12 learning during COVID-19

Business and service restrictions

Effective Nov. 27, new restrictions will limit the amount of contact between people in the community, while still allowing businesses to offer services. These measures apply to all communities on the enhanced list (purple areas).

Albertans are encouraged to limit in-person visits to retail locations and use curbside pick up, delivery and online services.

  • Mandatory restriction – Enhanced status (purple) areas – Effective Nov. 27

    Businesses that are closed for in-person service include:

    • Banquet halls, conference centres, trade shows, auditoria and concert venues, non-approved/licensed markets, community centres
    • Children’s play places or indoor playgrounds
    • All levels of sport (professional, semi-professional, junior, collegiate/universities and amateur). Exemptions may be considered.


  • Mandatory restriction – Enhanced status (purple) areas – Effective Nov. 27

    Restaurants, bars, pubs and lounges will be open with restrictions if they follow all public health guidance in place including:

    • Maximum of 6 people from the same immediate household at a table and no movement between tables.
      • People who live alone can meet with up to 2 non-household contacts as long as they’re the same two throughout the duration of these restrictions
    • Only seated eating and drinking is permitted. No other services or entertainment will be allowed, including billiards, games or darts.
    • Liquor can be sold until 10 pm and food-serving establishments must close to in person-dining at 11 pm. Liquor sales apply to casinos, but casinos are not required to close at 11 pm.

    Albertans are encouraged to use take out, delivery, drive-thru and curbside pick-up options.

    Additional inspections will occur to verify that public health measures are being followed. Establishments that are non compliant may face orders and fines.

  • Mandatory restriction – Enhanced status (purple) areas – Effective Nov. 27

    Most retail businesses may remain open with capacity limited to 25% of the occupancy set under the Alberta Fire Code.

    • Retail, including liquor and cannabis
    • Grocery stores
    • Pharmacies
    • Clothing stores
    • Computer and technology stores
    • Hardware
    • Automotive
    • Farmers markets approved by Alberta Agriculture and Forestry
    • Unlicensed outdoor seasonal markets

    Some entertainment and event services may remain open with capacity limited to 25% of the occupancy set under the Alberta Fire Code.

    • Movie theatres
    • Museums and galleries
    • Libraries
    • Casinos, offering slots only. Table games must be closed at this time.
    • Indoor entertainment centres including amusement parks, water parks, bingo halls and racing centres.
    • Indoor fitness, recreation, sports and physical activity centres, including dance and yoga studios, martial arts, gymnastics and private or public swimming pools.
      • Facilities can be open for individual studio time, training or exercise only.
      • There can be no group fitness, group classes, group training, team practices or games.
      • Instructors can use facility to broadcast virtual fitness classes from, but there can be no group class.

    All public health guidance and physical distancing requirements must be followed.

    Albertans and businesses are encouraged to limit in-person visits and use curbside pick up, delivery and online services instead.

  • Mandatory restriction – Enhanced status (purple) areas – Effective Nov. 27

    Businesses open by appointment only are not permitted to offer walk-in services. Appointments should be limited to one-on-one services.

    • Personal services such as hair salons and barbershops, esthetics, manicure, pedicure, body waxing and make-up, piercing and tattoo services,
    • Wellness services including acupuncture, massage and reflexology
    • Professional services such as lawyers, mediators, accountants and photographers
    • Private one-on-one lessons (no private group lessons permitted)
    • Hotels, motels, hunting and fishing lodges

    These businesses must follow all current public health guidance for their sector and should consider virtual options where possible.

    Home-based businesses should follow the restrictions for the type of service they provide.

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“These are tough times for everyone” – City of Calgary Launches #SupportLocalYYC Campaign

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The City of Calgary recently launched it’s #SupportLocalYYC campaign for the second year in a row. 

Just in time for the holidays, the campaign encourages Calgarians to keep their money in the city when doing their shopping this season, while extending a number of services and resources to local business owners. These include printable Come in, We’re Local posters and an online marketing tool kit to aid local businesses with promotion and visibility during the holiday season. 

Published on November 18, a press release from the City of Calgary states, “Last year, the campaign helped to unite our community to support local – this year, it’s even more important for us to band together.”

According to Sonya Sharp, Business and Local Economy Leader for the City of Calgary, the 2019 campaign was an overwhelmingly positive experience, with more than 10,000 uses of the #SupportLocalYYC tag throughout the holiday season. “When you support local, you are supporting your friends and neighbors,” she says, “this year we want to focus on showing our support for the local business community while ensuring we work together to keep one another safe.”  

Despite a number of government funded support programs and subsidies being made available, the impact of the pandemic has been catastrophic for small business owners in Calgary. The devastating decline in patronage in combination with growing restrictions and additional costs has made the continued operation of a successful business impossible for many.

Photo Credit – Calgary Herald

The city has been gripped by permanent closures as owners struggle to remain viable amidst the changing regulations by launching online alternatives, offering contactless pick-up, and asking for local support. For many, however, the pressures of the pandemic and the economic squeeze have proved to be too much. Calgary’s once hustling 17th Avenue now features a number of staple businesses with locked doors and final goodbyes written where the daily specials or popular sporting events once were. 

“Calgary businesses need our support now more than ever,” says Mayor Naheed Nenshi in the #SupportLocalYYC press release, “the pandemic has hit businesses hard in a time when many were already challenged from a tough economy.” 

Mega-corp online shopping alternatives such as Amazon have already skyrocketed as a result of the pandemic, and are projected to see unprecedented numbers this holiday season. Despite the convenience Amazon provides, the #SupportLocalYYC campaign encourages Calgarians to take the extra time to explore similar contactless, online alternatives many local businesses have struggled to launch in recent months. Keeping cash in Calgary this holiday season is an important step towards slowing business closures and rebooting the local economy.

In addition to purchasing local goods, there are a number of ways to support businesses in the community that cost nothing at all. “Things are a bit different this year, of course,” says Sharp, “these are tough times for everyone. We want people to know that even though you may not be able to spend money, there are other ways to support local.” Leaving a positive review, following their social media accounts, engaging with and sharing their content are all simple, but helpful ways to support and promote local businesses this holiday season.  

Christmas is just 5 weeks away! Make your contributions count this year by supporting your friends, family and neighbors, and keeping it local. #SupportLocalYYC

For more stories, visit Todayville Calgary.

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