B.C.’s distilleries bottled up by Byzantine liquor rules

on 06/08/12 at 9:48 am

Spirits

One summer morning in the lush Pemberton Valley, Tyler Schramm is getting his hands dirty.

Golden, dirt-soiled potatoes are just coming into season at Cross the Creeks Organics.

By mid-September, 1,633 kilograms of those potatoes ­­will be trucked 15 kilometres, once a week, from the farm to Pemberton Distillery where they will be fermented and distilled into Schramm Vodka — the world’s only organic potato vodka.

But it’s still summer now and Schramm is busy with the whisky season.

“Most potatoes are still in the ground, so we do our single-malt whisky production at this time,” says Schramm.

The idea for the distillery was born in 2002. Potato prices weren’t doing well in the market, and Schramm and his brother, Jonathan, who owned a potato farm, were brainstorming on what to do next.

“What else can you do with a potato aside from selling it to a grocery store? Vodka was our first idea,” said Schramm, who went on to pursue his master’s degree in distilling and brewing in Edinburgh, Scotland.

He and his two brothers built the industrial steel distillery by hand in the winter of 2008.

While B.C. has a thriving wine industry and well-recognized craft breweries, most people are unaware of the award-winning spirits a handful of passionate distillers are concocting in B.C.’s backyard: potato vodka, nutty hemp vodka, pale green absinthe, fragrant gins, grappas, liqueurs, fortified ciders and fruit brandies known as eaux de vie — and by 2014, a Canadian single-malt whisky aged the requisite three years in casks.

The Schramm brothers are part of B.C.’s burgeoning spirits industry.

According to one expert, the industry is growing because of B.C.’s passionate bartenders.