October 9, 2018
You’ve probably never really noticed them dotting landscapes, hugging fence lines, or edging yards and parks before. The Seabuckthorn berry bush is a plant that can be found all over Alberta. It’s also a key ingredient in an Alberta-made gin, now available at Co-op Wine Spirits Beer.
Secret Local Ingredient: Sea Buckthorn Berries
First imported from China and The Himalayas these deciduous shrubs were employed as windbreaks for our wide open prairie spaces. But naturally, since the plant produces vibrantly orange berries, also called seaberries or Siberian Pineapples, enterprising Albertans have found a use for them.
“We think seaberries are the taste of Alberta,” says Adam Smith of Strathcona Spirits Distillery, makers of Badlands Seaberry Gin. “We wanted to use local botanicals and make our gin very terroir-driven. It works really well with the dry spicy juniper notes from the juniper we harvest in Alberta’s badlands.”
Seaberries have been used for centuries across Europe and Asia; they’re fed to animals to promote a shiny coat, but humans found them irresistible too, particularly when they took note of their health properties. Sea buckthorn is said to reduce inflammation, counteract toxicity, and clean the lungs. The juice, with a tart citrusy flavour, is a common drink overseas, since it’s high in vitamins and protein.
“Once a year, we collect all the sea buckthorn for the year in a few picking sessions. We wait until after first freeze when the berries sweeten up and the flavour is at its very best at that moment,” explains Smith. “Our bottle says the berries are ‘roguely picked from the streets of Edmonton’ and that’s 100% true.”
Edmonton’s first-ever distillery
It took a search though the provincial archives to verify it, but Strathcona Spirits is the first distillery ever licensed in the provincial capital. Hard to believe, but that’s just one of the crazy facts about this upstart distillery. It’s also operating in 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 Smith from their headquarters in the Old Strathcona neighbourhood in Edmonton.
Strathcona Spirits Distillery Also Makes a Single Grain Wheat Vodka and a Barrel Aged Gin.
“The vodka has been winning some significant awards and it’s a very unique and full flavoured vodka,” offers Smith, and it’s described as having a, “very smooth, soft natural essence of wheat berry complemented by subtle vanilla notes and a light sweet finish.”
Juniper is Wild Forged Where the Dinosaurs Roamed
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.
“Our Barrel Aged Gin is the same gin as the Seaberry gin. It’s aged in oak casks so it’s kind of amber because it takes colour from the char of the barrel. Make a smoky G&T or a smoky Old Fashioned with it. We actually initially made this gin as a one time thing, but it’s been so popular, we had to keep making it.”
Find Strathcona Spirits Distillery products at Co-op Wine Spirits Beer
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