Spirits of Alberta

June 25, 2017

From gin, to vodka and even that favourite of the tropics, rum, Alberta is producing an amazing variety of spirits. Since government rules changed a few years ago, craft distilleries have been popping up all over the province.  

Many of these local craftspeople are making small batch liquor that’s meant to be savoured. Here’s a quick crash course on a few local liquors to try as we celebrate Canada’s 150th Anniversary. This month at Co-op we’re taking a tour of Canadian drinks across all the provinces and territories, but today the focus is one this burgeoning industry. 

Park Distillery is the latest craft distillery to open in southern Alberta. With space right on the main drag in Banff, Park Distillery was the first to ever be legally allowed to distill in a National Park. 

Park Distillery Classic Vodka is the flagship bottle coming out of the distillery, but they’re also known for their Bird’s Eye Chili Vodka, Vanilla Vodka, Espresso Vodka, and Glacier Rye.   

The ingredients are all found locally in a philosophy Park calls ‘glacier to glass’. The spirits’ malt, barley, rye, and wheat and glacial water all originates nearby.  

There are very few places you can get your hands on this artisan vodka outside Banff, but the line is available at Calgary-area Co-op Wine, Spirits Beer shops. 

seaberry2It took a search though the provincial archives to verify it, but Strathcona Spirits is the first distillery licensed in the provincial capital — ever. Hard to believe, but that’s just one of the crazy facts about this upstart distillery.  It’s also the smallest distillery space in North America topping out at 740 square feet. How do they operate in that kind of cramped space? Efficiency.  

“Every square foot is accounted for and we use all the vertical space possible,” explains Strathcona Spirits’ Adam Smith from their headquarters in the Old Strathcona neighbourhood in Edmonton.  

The company makes its Strathcona Seaberry Gin here, and the historic building is stencilled on the corks which seal the bottles.  

Local is important to the team; the seaberries, or sea buckthorn berries are harvested by hand from locations around Edmonton. Smith says it takes just a handful of these tart orange clusters of berries that grow freely across the city to flavour an entire seventy-two bottle batch.   

Meanwhile, the juniper for the gin is wild foraged from the shores of the Red Deer River near Drumheller, right alongside the dinosaur bones buried there for eons. You’ll see Drumheller’s hoodoos on the label.  

From popular longstanding brands to upstart craft distilleries, there are many options for exploring Alberta’s spirits industry. You likely already know Alberta Premium. It’s made here by Alberta Distillers, the oldest distillery in Western Canada. The company harvests rye grain to make their whisky and ages it in bourbon casks. It’s a great sipping whisky, or in that favourite Canadian drink, Rye & Ginger. 

Finally, while we may think of rum as a Caribbean drink, there’s rum (or shall we say, “bRum”?) being made right here in Alberta. 

Rig Hand Sugar Beet bRum uses Alberta-grown beets instead of traditional sugar cane. Since technically speaking “rum” must be made from sugar cane, and Rig Hand uses beets, now you know why it’s called “bRum”; beet-rum! 

The Rig Hand folks say their rum is just a bit different than the typical spirit: 

“Our bRum tastes like traditional rum, but is sweeter and has abundant fruity notes. Great on the rocks or in a cocktail.”  

The creativity of Alberta distillers is phenomenal. Share their passion and pick up something new and local to celebrate Canada’s 150th Anniversary.

- Erin

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