Spirits Made in AlbertaUsing Local Ingredients
Alberta has a strong bootlegging heritage and a rich history in distillation, forged from its time spent under Prohibition more than 100 years ago. When implemented in 1916, there were certain loopholes, such as allowing 2.5% beer and the acceptance of prescribed “medicinal” alcohol, which encouraged the creation of illegal stills all over the province. These original distillers were often farmers who saw these loopholes as an opportunity to set up a lucrative side business. They used the wheat, rye and barley around them because it was available and easily accessed.
When Prohibition ended in 1924, the control of liquor sales was handed over to the government. Bootlegging became riskier and unnecessary, so activity slowed. Fast forward to 2013 and the removal of production minimums on new distilleries in Alberta, which has allowed for exciting expansion. While now 100% legal, many of Alberta’s distilleries pay homage to their bootlegging predecessors by doing things the same way they did. This includes the use of local ingredients whenever possible, perhaps not out of necessity as they did nearly 100 years ago, but because grain-to-glass operations can make the best possible product.
Grain-to-glass operations can make the best possible product.
To make a spirit, such as rye or vodka, there has to be a fermented alcohol product to go through the process of distillation. While in the US the wide availability of corn gave rise to primarily corn spirits, such as bourbon, in Alberta our world-class cereal grain has led to spirits based on rye, red wheat, malting barley and GMO-free triticale, a manmade cross of wheat and rye. Wildlife Distillery uses red wheat from Mueller farms in Drumheller for their vodka, RAW Distillery uses Alberta wheat in their RAW Vodka, Red Cup Distillery uses Vegreville grain in their traditional moonshine, and Eau Claire, Alberta’s first craft distillery, is a certified farm distillery being truly farm-to-glass and harvesting their own 35 acres of grain using traditional horse-farming techniques. All Alberta craft distilleries use some form of local grain and they are always happy to share that information, so you can tell your customers how they are drinking local and supporting local!
Spirits consist of primarily three ingredients: a fermentable sugar or starch, like grain; yeast to start the fermentation process; and lots of water. Used in many steps during the spirit-making process, water can greatly affect the quality of the finished product. The quality of the final spirit is directly tied to the quality of the water. Scotland is known for its pure water and historically Scotch distilleries sprung up around reliable, high quality water sources.
Alberta has some of the strictest water quality laws in Canada and we are fortunate to have an ample supply of high quality water.
Alberta has some of the strictest water quality laws in Canada and we are fortunate to have an ample supply of high quality water, not just for drinking, but also to use in the creation of our local craft spirits. Glaciers in Banff and Jasper National Parks are the starting points for many of Alberta’s rivers. Snow and glacier melt contribute pure, clean and clear water to these rivers. Park Distillery in Banff uses 100% pure mountain water sourced from six glaciers in the Rocky Mountains, while Hansen Distillery uses water from a natural water acquifer located in Claysmore.
Fruit and Other Additions
Of course there is more to Alberta craft spirits than moonshine and rye. Gin and flavoured vodkas are also available and many of the botanical and fruit ingredients are sourced from within the province. To be considered gin, there must be botanicals and specifically juniper in the botanical blend. Junipers are conifers and grow in boreal forests around the world. There are many types of juniper, some of which are poisonous, but it is the most widely-found Juniperis communis that is ideal for gin. Krang Spirits and Eau Claire both use Alberta juniper in their botanical blend for the resinous and complex piney aromatics. Saskatoon berry is another fruit commonly found in dry and sun-facing spots throughout Alberta. Lacombe’s Old Prairie Sentinel Distillery uses central Alberta saskatoon berries in their Prairied Berry Dry Gin to add a fruity and nutty berry flavour.
There are now more than a dozen small distilleries in Alberta creating unique and terroir-driven products crafted from local ingredients.
There are now more than a dozen small distilleries in Alberta creating unique and terroir-driven products crafted from local ingredients. Not all are distributed by Connect Logistics, so do some research and investigate what’s out there. ALSA’s website www.alsaweb.ca has a directory of Alberta producers and is a great place to start discovering the many wonderful products in our own backyard!