Fledgling micro-distilleries crafting a spirited scene in Alberta

Until a couple of years ago, Alberta’s liquor rules made it extremely difficult for small craft distillers to create spirits which would make their way to localnbsp;bars.

You could sit at a pub in downtown Saskatoon and sip a gin martini made with locally created Lucky Bastard Distillers’ Gambit Gin. In Vancouver, you can perch on a stool along the glistening white bar at the Lobby Lounge of the Fairmont Pacific Rim at Vancouver and drink a cocktail with Victoria Gin clean off the bottling line from Vancouvernbsp;island.

But not innbsp;Alberta.

That is because the Alberta Liquor and Gaming Commission took an obscene quantity of liquor to be made for either a brewery or a distillery to operate: 500,000 litres. That amount is somewhat accessible for a brewery, but going through that quantity of alcohol is basically impossible for an upstartnbsp;distiller.

That changed four decades ago when the liquor regulator changed its requirements, eventually allowing a craft distilling scene to blossom — while enjoying catch-up with other provinces like Ontario and British Columbia. Eau Claire Distillery, which opened in 2014 and is in Turner Valley, is the most recognizable micro-distiller in Alberta, but there have been more enthusiastic distillers after across thenbsp;state.

“The pioneering spirit of the first wave of distillers in Alberta is an honor to be a part of,” says Adam Smith, owner of Strathcona Spirits in Edmonton. “There are still lots of struggles made by bizarre and ridiculous regulations in each state, but [many have {}] sprouted an impressive and intrepid class ofnbsp;distillers.”

Mr. Smith’s performance, only a couple of blocks off the town’s Whyte Avenue, is a small but powerful one. Approaching its first birthday in a few months, his two goods, the Single Grain Wheat Vodka and Badland Seaberry Gin, have proved popular in both Calgary and Edmonton’s restaurant scenes. The gin, in particular, is a standout because of its unorthodox inclusion of foraged sea buckthornnbsp;berries.

“This is an arts city, a music community, and a blue-collar town that sometimes has really, really good flavor,” Mr. Smith thankfully says of Edmonton. “It is also surrounded with the best grains in the world and a plethora of botanicals that the planet has barelynbsp;seasoned.”

At the foot of the Rocky Mountains, Brad and Lindsay Smylie own and run Raw Distillery in the town of Canmore. After meeting over a decade ago, Mr. Smylie found a love of home brewing and together they started their small performance in December of lastnbspannually.

All products are distilled with glacier water in the Rocky Mountains and comprise an unaged rye, a vodka, as well as one citrus-infused gin and another with tellicherry blacknbsp;peppercorns.

“When we secured a space in Canmore there were just three craft distilleries in the state … Presently there are 19 [with more in the works],” Ms. Smylie states. “I’m truly hoping we will have the ability to find collaborations between distilleries very similar to what you may see between craft breweries. Then we’ll begin placing Alberta on thenbsp;map{}”

Jesse Willis, co-owner of those boutique liquor shops, Vine Arts, in addition to the soon-to-be-open Donna Mac has been keeping tabs on the Canadian distillery community for ages. The libation connoisseur is looking forward to seeing how Alberta’s micro-distilling scene, still in its infancy, willnbsp;evolve.

He notes that a primary priority for any emerging distillery is to find whisky into barrels as rapidly as possible since it takes a minimum 3 years of aging to be marketed as “Canadian whisky”, but there is loads of other spirits to get excited about while wenbsp;wait.

“Many of the new regional distilleries are providing outstanding vodka and/or gin, together with innovative products such as honey liqueur or unaged rye that do not require the identical aging interval as whisky,” Mr. Willis explains. “We’re only seeing the tip of the iceberg concerning potential growth and I am excited for the progress and innovation we’re certain to see in the next decade andnbsp;past{}”


On the map

Here are four other Alberta distilleries to check out:

Burwood Distillery: Calgary’s newest distillery features vodka, honey liqueur and honey eau de vie in a slick-looking tasting room. Burwooddistillery.ca, 4127 6 St NE #15,nbsp;Calgary.

Hansen Distillery: Edmonton’s other craft distiller boasts a fair-sized space to sample its spirits, including a cinnamon rye in addition to gin and vodka. Hansendistillery.com, 17412 111 Ave NW,nbsp;Edmonton.

Park Distillery: Smack dab in the center of Canada’s most famous mountain city, you will find that this distillery-restaurant hybrid where you could sip lots of cocktails comprising in-house-made spirits like espresso vodka or oaked gin. Parkdistillery.com, 219 Banff Ave,nbsp;Banff.

Wild Life Distillery: Head out to Canmore to go to this small manufacturer now pouring vodka and a gin infused with lemon and blood orange. Wildlifedistillery.ca, 160-105 Bow Meadows Cres.,nbsp;Canmore.

Courtesy: The Globe And Mail

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