Made in Manitoba alcohol business brings home award



WEST ST. PAUL

Many maps can be found in the office of Bison Liquors, a West St. Paul distillery owned by Marcos Illana-Mata’s and Francisco Dominguez.

Illana-Mata’s notebook is embossed with a map of the world. Upon the corner of his desk rests a tiny plastic globe. And, the wall behind his desk is decorated with a laminated map of Canada, a swivel of the chair and a point of the finger away.

This map is both practical and symbolic for these business partners, who founded Bison Liquors in 2018 after immigrating from Spain. For Illana-Mata and Dominguez, the company’s success hinges on the personal connections they’ve made with buyers province-wide.

As representatives of their brand, the pair have traveled about as far as Manitoba’s highways could take them. Thompson, Snow Lake and Melita — the town the businessmen have come to know fondly as the home of the world’s biggest banana — are regular stops on their tour.

“You can call any vendor in the province and ask them if they know Bison Liquors. They’ll know Francisco, myself, or even both of us, because we commit very seriously,” Illana-Mata, CEO and co-owner of Bison Liquors, said. “We try to visit twice a year, personally.”

The Assiniboia Chamber of Commerce recognized Illana-Mata with its Young Entrepreneur of the Year award at its 2022 business excellence ceremony in May.

“We’re pretty proud of it because it’s recognition that we’re doing something good,” Illana-Mata said.




<p data-recalc-dims=Francisco Dominguez (left) and Marcos Illana-Mata, co-owners of the West St. Paul distillery Bison Liquors, are bringing Spanish spirit traditions to their lineup of vodkas and gins.

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Francisco Dominguez (left) and Marcos Illana-Mata, co-owners of the West St. Paul distillery Bison Liquors, are bringing Spanish spirit traditions to their lineup of vodkas and gins.

Bison Liquors supplies its gin, vodka and specialty vodkas — including hemp, cafe, tropical and rose — to every Manitoba Liquor Mart in Manitoba. The company is the only Manitoba maker that sells hemp-based, psycho-tropic-free vodka.

Considering all of its products, Bison Liquors sells roughly 500 cases of 12 units apiece each month.

Illana-Mata and Dominguez say their product has a top-shelf taste at an economy price, and it’s local. The business partners’ history with spirits stretches back to their home country, where they say alcohol is dominant in Spanish culture.

“You can drink our product straight,” Illana-Mata said, adding that Bison Liquors distills its product anywhere from five to 10 times.

Dominguez says he discovered upon arriving in Canada that many North American vodkas are harsh.

“Good vodka has to be smooth,” said Dominguez, who prefers to drink his vodka straight — no ice (Illana-Mata is a gin aficionado). Dominguez explained that Bison Liquors’ range of gins differs from other brands in its ample use of citrus — a style they pulled from gin-making traditions in Spain and Italy.

“That’s the gin we like,” Dominguez said.

Bison Liquors was also nominated for the Assiniboia Chamber of Commerce’s Business of the Year award and the Community Builder of the Year award (the latter of which it was considered for, partly due to its donations to socials and fundraisers, Illana-Mata said).

“We’ve done hundreds of social donations this year … If someone is doing a fundraiser or social, they can contact us and we will be happy to support,” Illana-Mata said. “We try to help the community as much as they help us — especially the rural communities.”

For more information about Bison Liquors, visit www.bisonliquors.com

Katlyn Strelein

Katlyn Strelein
community journalist

Katlyn Streilein is a reporter/photographer for the Free Press Community Review. You can be reached by phone at 204-697-7132 or by email at katlyn.strelein@canstarnews.com

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