November 27, 2018
Tucked away in a nondescript industrial zone in Calgary’s Bonnybrook-Alyth area in the city’s southeast is the largest distiller in Alberta. The area surrounding Alberta Distillers was once flush with grains like barley and wheat waving in the Chinook winds. Those grains were more than just adjacent farmers fields; they were for many years used in this distillation process. Today, the horses and the combines are gone, replaced by quonset huts and brick warehouses, but the scent of distilled grains still wafts over the neighbourhood. The aroma is a combination of sweet and toasty, and if you look up as you inhale, you’ll see you’re surrounded by towering grain storage bins that have existed here since day one.
Alberta Distillers: Part of Calgary’s history
This is a heritage site in Calgary; the spot where the province’s first and oldest distillery sprang from those fields in 1946, conceived by oil magnate Frank McMahon, who was dubbed, “the man who did the most to open up northwest Canada's wilderness—and convince oilmen of its treasures,” in a 1957 TIME magazine article.
In the beginning, the operation was known as Alberta Distillers & Featherstone, but after running into some trouble making their products, McMahon turned to B.C.-based distiller George H. Reifel, who’d spent many years working his distillery craft in Japan after prohibition made him persona non grata at home in Canada.
Makers of Premium Alberta Spirits
Alberta Distillers has grown significantly since those days. Today they produce spirits like Alberta Premium and Dark Horse Canadian whisky, Alberta Springs whisky, Alberta Pure and Banff Ice vodkas and more, and their products are found at Co-op Wine Spirits Beer stores.
Strolling around through the massive distillery, it’s easy to see Alberta Distillers are pros at what they do. The distillery floor is immaculate, and 2-storey tall fermenting tanks dominate the cavernous space. Climbing up a set of stairs, it’s possible to peer inside these steel behemoths and watch as the contents bubble and dance their way to becoming whisky and vodka.
Leading the tour is Greg Wynnyk, Production Superintendent at Alberta Distillers’ parent company, Beam Suntory. As he weaves his way along the floor, it’s clear he’s passionate about his work.
“I love the opportunity to practise biochemical engineering on a large scale and to produce a product the general public gets to enjoy. For me it’s about art and science; there’s a lot of science involved to get it right, and it’s definitely an art form too.”
Precious Liquids Age on Site
Across the property the barrelling hall is where some of the precious liquids get stored so they can age. Inside, the smell is a pungent mix of caramel and whisky that gives a visitor a big hint about the work that’s going on here.
Adjacent, a massive rack house is where the barrels are stored until they’re aged precisely. Stacked floor to ceiling, there are over 450,000 barrels on site in several houses, and the smell of whisky is almost overwhelming; we can only stay a few moments inside before seeking fresh air.
Nearly a Quarter Century of Local Partnership
For almost a quarter of a century, Alberta Distillers has been providing quality products to Co-op customers.
“We have been working closely with Co-op Wine Spirits Beer since they opened in 1995, and I think we both realize the importance of the “Made Local” concept,” says Simon Mooney, Key Accounts Manager at Beam Suntory Canada. “Co-op is an integral part of the Calgary community and so is Alberta Distillers; we both strive to serve the community and its people and provide the best of what we do. Co-op has been a long-time champion of our award winning brands and that relationship continues to this day.”
The grains used in many of Alberta Distillers spirits are local too; since Alberta is known as one of the finest quality grain producers in the world, it only makes sense to access this high quality resource. While they no longer originate from those fields next door, these great grains combined with the experience and know-how has led to Alberta Distillers being announced as the 2017 Canadian Distiller of the Year.
Find many of the fine Alberta Distillery products at your local Co-op Wine Spirits Beer.
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