Canadian distillers fight automatic tax increases: NOT on my tab campaign

Canadian distillers fight automatic tax increases:

NOT On My Tab campaign (LINK)

Canada’s federal government introduced an automatic, annually escalating excise tax increase on alcohol in its 2017 budget. Then, on January 1st this year, the United States lowered theirs. Canadians already pay among the highest alcohol taxes in the world and now the increasing tax burden on Canadian spirits is seriously eroding Canada’s competitiveness with the US and other international competitors.

Canada’s large and small distillers along with brewers and winemakers are opposing the federal government’s automatic escalation of alcohol excise taxes, as introduced in the 2017 federal budget. Under the terms of the escalation clause, excise taxes increase automatically every April without consultation and without discussion in Parliament. The distillers have launched an information campaign called Not On My Tab (link) to advise Canadians of the taxes they pay, and encourage them to join efforts to have the automatic escalation clause repealed. 

It is not that Canada’s beverage alcohol producers oppose taxes. Rather, they believe that by relieving Members of Parliament of their role to review and approve tax rates, the government has short-circuited normal democratic processes. This change makes tax increases automatic without reference to prevailing economic conditions. Currently, those conditions are making Canadian spirits uncompetitive at home and abroad. 

Taxes make up a significant portion of the price of alcoholic beverages in Canada, with spirits being taxed the most. Consumers may know they pay high taxes, but often don’t realize that when they buy a bottle of whisky, about 80% of what they pay goes to the government. Canadians pay one of the highest tax rates in the world for the simple pleasure of enjoying a drink with family and friends.

For over two centuries Canadian distillers have proudly turned Canadian grain into world-class whisky and other spirits. Canada’s nearly 200 distillers are an important economic engine for rural communities across the country, and for large and small cities in every province. Yes, whisky is an agricultural product and in Canada, 100% of the grain it is made from comes from Canadian farms. 

However, spirit sales are very much price sensitive. So, the federal automatic escalator tax on beer, wine and spirits introduced in the 2017 budget threatens the 8,500 full-time jobs and $5.8 billion contribution to Canada’s annual GDP that distilling provides. With the new escalator tax, prices will increase on April 1st every year – forever. 

The government tried this approach once before. In the early 1980s they introduced a similar escalator tax only to repeal it 5 years later after 11 major distilleries had closed permanently.

Reasonable taxes help support our society. However, excessive taxes harm local business owners and workers particularly in the hospitality and tourism sectors. Most bars and restaurants can’t simply pass along these tax increases to their customers. At the same time, Canadian farmers are facing difficult times. How will reducing demand from some of their best customers help Canadian barley, corn, wheat and rye farmers?

Coincident with the increase in excise duties on Canadian-made spirits, was a historic decrease of excise duties on American spirits. By this April, Canada’s excise rate for spirits will be an astonishing 85% higher than those in the United States, Canada’s largest international competitor. Canada’s tax and regulatory framework is making our distillers uncompetitive internationally, while the United States is busy creating a much more welcoming and efficient regulatory environment in which to do business. 

Unfortunately, after years of growth, our international presence is declining and sales are down nearly 6% year-to-date, as companies are forced to throttle back on global promotions and new market development in the face of unreasonable tax burdens at home. 

Canadians will always drink spirits, but unless we start to think longer-term, the 1980s will repeat themselves with spirits imported from abroad replacing those made here in Canada.  

As a microdistiller in the throes of launching a new distillery told me this week, America is a much more welcoming environment for distillers today. He would like to launch his distillery in Canada, but right now it just makes more business sense to do so in the U.S. Pity.

Davin de Kergommeaux
Canadian Spirits | Toronto, Victoria &, Ottawa, ON K1S 2J4 Canada

Meet the Maker: Paul Poutanen has chanelled his punk rock ethos into a career of gin distilling

Meet the Maker: Paul Poutanen has chanelled his punk rock ethos into a career of gin distilling



Updated: June 1, 2018


Paul Poutanen with his Lovebird Gin. JIM WELLS / POSTMEDIA / SWERVE


The guy behind Alberta’s smallest distillery didn’t plan to be making gin. In fact, a couple of decades ago, you would have found Paul Poutanen onstage playing in the city’s punk clubs, or on the air at CJSW, the University of Calgary’s radio station.

Music has always played a big role in his life. Even now, as the owner of Tippa Inc., Poutanen listens to music as he works in his Okotoks-based distillery. “I’ve kept every record I’ve had since high school. I probably have at least 1,000 LPs,” he says. “And I’ve got a really wide range of musical taste, from classical to jazz.”

He may be all over the map when it comes to music, but when it comes to spirits, Poutanen has laser-beam focus: he’s all about gin, all day, every day. “I’ve always really liked gin, and it’s a hot spirit right now,” he says. “There are a lot of gin aficionados who always want to try the next great gin out there.”

That, he hopes, will be his first spirit, Tippa’s Lovebird Gin. It was released earlier this spring and is already widely available at Calgary bars, restaurants and shops. (A woodcut of lovebirds by Calgary artist Lisa Brawn is on the label.)

Born and raised in Thunder Bay, Ont., Poutanen grew up in a tightly knit Finnish-Canadian community and headed west after high school. The name Tippa is a nod to his roots; the word means “drop” in Finnish. “If you’ve ever been to a distillery, you’ve probably seen the product coming out of the still, drop by drop,” he says. “It’s a pretty slow process.”



The same is true of Poutanen’s journey to becoming a distiller. Long a part of the city’s high-tech scene, Poutanen worked at companies like WiLAN and Blister Entertainment, but three years ago, he was ready for a change. “The high-tech industry was getting tougher and tougher at that point, and I was getting just a little bit tired,” he says.

He decided to apply his start-up know-how to creating a distillery: find an affordable place, keep the budgets tight and staffing low. Really low. “I’m a one-man shop,” he says with a laugh. “I realized I could be quite efficient at doing the process myself.”

Best part about that: You don’t have to justify your decisions to anyone else.

Down side: You have to do all the work yourself, from the making to the marketing. It took 29 months to work through the red tape and get the first product into stores.

That’s partly why there’s no tasting room at the distillery: there’s no one to operate it. Nor does Poutanen plan to create one any time soon.

He hasn’t ruled out the idea of more products, however. This fall, he’ll launch a new product or two, perhaps rum, absinthe or another gin. He’s not quite ready to share the details, but he does admit that he’s been thinking about finding ways to combine music, tech and distilling. “It may be a bit gimmicky,” he says. “But you never know. It could be the next big thing.”


Explore Alberta's top artisan gins on summer distillery tours

Explore Alberta's top artisan gins on summer distillery tours



Updated: June 6, 2018

The Bike that has MS2:15



It’s June and juniper bushes are developing “berries,” which are not actually a fruit but female seed cones. At this stage they are hard, bright green beads.

This bountiful Alberta resource is the main ingredient for the increasingly popular summer spirit: gin. Why not plan an Alberta craft-distillery road trip to experience first-hand the quality and uniqueness of each of our province’s top artisan gins.

Preplanning is key for a successful trip so why not plan your accommodation as well and make a weekend of it. I recommend an itinerary that starts about 45 minutes south of Calgary at Turner Valley’s Eau Claire Distillery on Main Street (open seven days a week) with scheduled tours on Fridays and weekends.

Next, head to Canmore’s Wild Life Distillery on Bow Meadows Crescent (open Wednesday through Sunday, tours at 3 p.m.). Then end the tour with a stop in Nisku at Rig Hand Distillery at 2104 8 St. (closed on Sunday). And last, but not to be missed, book a tour online at Edmonton’s own Strathcona Spirits Distillery on Whyte Avenue (closed Thursday and Sunday).

Alberta artisanal craft gins acquire their distinctive taste profiles by adding their own “secret recipe” of quality aromatic botanicals into a neutral spirit such as vodka.

There are two methods used: either by infusing aromatic botanicals that are placed in the neck of the still or directly into the liquid spirit.

To qualify as “gin,” juniper must be the dominant aromatic. From there, each distillery will add other natural botanicals for a secret recipe using coriander, orris root and angelica. Then the options are endless: lemon and orange peel, licorice, cassia bark, rosemary, lemongrass, and a multitude of herbs and spices.

A selection of Alberta Gin from Color de Vino, 9606 82 Ave., in Edmonton Wednesday May 30, 2018. DAVID BLOOM / POSTMEDIA


Turner Valley’s Parlour comes from a history of gin parlours from the American prohibition era. It’s a celebration of southern Alberta farmers with a “farm to glass” mantra, paying respect to the land by using horses to plow the fields right up to sealing and numbering each bottle by hand.

Parlour is a take on the traditional London-dry-styled gin, flavoured with juniper with added botanicals of rosehip, saskatoon berry, coriander, lemon, orange, mint and spice.


This is an “authentic Albertan experience,” the passion of two local ski racers, Keith Robinson and Matt Widmer. The botanicals include grapefruit peel, angelica root, licorice and bird of paradise flower!

This is exactly the style of gin I enjoy in my gin and tonic, soft and weighty on the palate with a hint of sweetness and loaded with aromatics that are reminiscent of a hike in the Rockies. Grab a bottle of the gin and their Wild Life tonic syrup. Highly recommended!

Jake Parris was our affable host at the on-site tasting bar last weekend where he provided the recipe for the G&T we enjoyed on the patio. He also recommends mixing up your G&T cocktail garnishes with some of his favourites such as raw beets (added colour too!) as well as fresh mango and peppercorns. I can’t wait to try these.


2 oz. Wild Life Gin

1½ oz. Wild Life Tonic Syrup (made with natural ingredients including lemon, lime, orange, lemongrass and cinchona)


Crushed Ice

Garnish with a dried lemon slice and few dried juniper berries.


This must be a case of “don’t judge a book by it’s cover” because I don’t love the packaging on this bottle. But if one of Edmonton’s top cocktail specialists, Evan Watson, gives it the thumbs up with, “ … I don’t love the branding, … but they make some of my favourite gin in Alberta,” I can’t argue that.

You can’t miss this ornate bottle that is modelled after the Leduc No. 1 drilling rig. The grain for this gin is farmed just four kilometres from the distillery in Nisku. It’s both floral and fruity, with a lighter note of juniper berries mingled with rosehips sourced from the Alberta Rocky Mountains, crab apple, saskatoon berries, local camomile, cardamom, lemon and star anise.


Adam Smith is the founder of Edmonton’s first distillery — his tarot-card-inspired labels fly off the shelves at our shop!

A London-dry-styled gin where the juniper berry note is complimented with 10 other botanicals, including native seaberries found growing all over the city of Edmonton, angelica root and coriander. Expect to find floral notes, hints of pineapple and sage with a mild, sweeter finish.

Gin selections are available at select shops in Alberta. Log onto to check availability and give them a call to make sure they have it.

Juanita Roos opened Color de Vino, a fine wine and spirits store, with her family in 2014. She has travelled to wine regions around the world and completed the prestigious WSET Diploma from London, England, the prerequisite for the Master of Wine program. Send your questions about wine to


Local distillery joins fast-growing industry

By Josh Aldrich, Camrose Canadian

Friday, May 12, 2017 11:35:23 MDT AM


Back 40 Distillery co-owner Lorne Haugen shows off their two spirits they produce, Winter Time Frost Vodka and Ol’ Apple Betty in Camrose on May 5. Josh Aldrich/ Camrose Canadian

Camrosians have a new local option to quench their summer thirst. 

The Back 40 Distillery had a soft launch this winter but on Saturday they will be officially open for business, as the latest distiller to join a fast-exploding Alberta craft industry. 

The distillery is five years in the making and is the brainchild of two long-time friends, Lorne Haugen and Rick Lazaruik. The idea came to them, like so many good ideas, over homemade sausage and a drink at Haugen’s farm. 

“One evening we were sitting around having a cocktail and we looked at the label, we got talking and said ‘You know we could probably make this stuff,” said Haugen, who is a full-time federal food inspector. 

That idea turned into a long venture to get to today. First they headed off for a distillery course in Denver, then had to secure the proper licensing and finding a building that fit their needs to be able to distill, distribute, store and sell from their storefront. 

The end result is two very distinct spirits, Winter Time Frost Vodka and Ol’ Apple Betty, which tastes like a liquefied apple pie. They have been perfecting the recipe for about three years, and have ensured their own personalities are built into the drinks, right down to the home-spun labels and the retro bottles. 

Haugen, however, says to keep an eye out for seasonal products that will be coming down the line, including a vanilla flavoured and raspberry flavoured Winter Time Frost. 

In 2013, the Alberta Gaming and Liquor Commission eliminated the minimum production requirements for liquor manufacturers, allowing small craft producers more easily into the market. Most craft distillers produce under 100,000 litres a year, the previous minimum was 600,000 litres a year. 

Before this change there were three distilleries in Alberta, now there are 16. By comparison, there were 19 breweries or brew pubs in the province prior to the change in requirements, now there are 54 — two of those also produce spirits. 

In the 2015-16 fiscal year, liquor sales hit $2.6 billion in Alberta and brought in $856 million of revenue to the government. 

There are three other distilleries in the Edmonton area: Rig Hand Distillery in Nisku, Red Cup Distillery in Vegreville, and Strathcona Spirits Distillery. Camrose is also home to the Norsemen Brewing Company which produces a selection of craft beers. 

Following the release of the provincial budget, Alberta Finance Minister Joe Ceci said the government is working on a similar program for craft distillers as there is for craft brewers in the province. In August of 2016, the province replaced their increased taxation of craft breweries from outside of Western Canada by taxing all beers in Alberta at the same high rate. They also created a grant program that rebates Alberta breweries based on how much volume they sell.

The province has received multiple constitutional challenges over their tax and refund programs for small breweries, with the complaints claiming it puts out of province Canadian breweries and importers at a disadvantage. The Canadian Constitution Foundation is in support of one such complaint by Calgary owned importer Artisan Ales, while Steam Whistle Breweries in Ontario and Great Western Brewing Co. out of Saskatoon have also filed challenges.

If a distilling program is successfully created, however, it will only ignite the Alberta craft distillery industry further. 

“It’s going to allow us to recapitalize on our distilleries and invest more heavily in our equipment and expand as quickly as possible,” said Alberta Craft Distillers Association secretary and general manager at Parks Distillery in Banff Stavros Karlos.  

Distillers have a much higher start-up cost than a brewery, as they have to build a brewery to create their distiller’s wash and then a distillery on top of that. According to Karlos, the cost is about 2.5 times higher than a small brewery for capital expenditures. 

Karlos says the industry is perfectly located in Alberta with the agriculture industry to become one of the premiere distilling regions in the world. He says barley is already being exported to Scotland to meet the scotch industry’s demands, while Alberta rye growers are considered some of the best in the world.  

“Consumers are demanding locally handmade products and products they can relate to,” he said.

“For Alberta distilleries, that linkage between us and the farmers is absolutely paramount to everything we do.” 

Karlos said the industry is set to take the next jump of distilling into the sale of whiskey, what he considers the province’s drink of choice. The trick with whiskey is it has to age for at least three years in a keg before it is fit for sale. It is a large long-term investment for distillers, but he says it is one many are making. 

“I can assure you, almost every single one of us is barrel-aging as much whiskey as we can right now. In about three years from now, you’re going to see at least 10 fully-aged Alberta whiskies in the market.” 

Back 40 is not producing whiskey yet, but it is part of their big picture plan down the road. 

The Back 40 distillery has the capability of producing three to four cases of vodka or six to eight cases of Apple Betty in one batch, though have several batches in production at a time. It takes a week-and-a-half to two weeks to properly distill one batch. 

Though it is early on, Haugen is already looking for ways to increase the business and production. 

“We would like to expand, there’s a bay next door we could move into and we could do events like birthday parties, even small weddings,” he said. 

The distillery is located at 4701-36 street and their grand opening will go at 11 a.m. on Saturday with a ribbon cutting. Back 40 products are available in five Central Alberta liquor stores and two restaurants in the area. 

Optimism bubbles over new craft distillery

Optimism bubbles over new craft distillery

By Lindsay Morey, Fort Saskatchewan Record


Monday, April 2, 2018 9:23:00 MDT AM

The Fort Distillery owners Nathan and Kayla Flim raise a glass to their new company. Renovations on the Eastgate location will begin on April 1 and will continue over the next few months. The business plans to be open by August 1.

Spirits are high as new business owner, Nathan Flim talks about renovating a 2,400 square foot distillery and tasting room in the Eastgate Business area.

The transformation of the former Red-E Flooring store will start April 1 and doors are expected to open to the public on August 1.

The chemist, turned craft distiller, plans to first make craft vodkas and gins. In the long term, whiskey will also be produced but that requires three years to age properly before it can qualify as Canadian whiskey.

“I’m pretty nervous but pretty excited and I’m learning a ton. We haven’t started a business before but I’ve had a mind for business and took a few courses in school. It’s something I’ve always wanted to do and this just seems perfect because I enjoy fine drinks and I know the chemistry behind it,” said Flim, who works full time as a crop inspector.

He grew up near Ardrossan and his wife, Kayla grew up in Lamont but both view Fort Saskatchewan as a great place to be. Kayla is tasked with the more creative side of the company in design and graphics.

“There’s a real community feel here and I haven’t seen that in another city. All of the parades, garage sales and markets downtown, I thought it would be really cool to be a part of that kind of community. I spoke to everyone at City Hall before I made the decision and everyone is very supportive. The Fort really seems to be open for business,” Flim said.

He added he looked at Strathcona County beforehand but heard it was an administrative “nightmare” to get anything done. Another pull to the Fort was finding a great location for a great price. It’s has full highway exposure.

The former show room will transform into a rustic-modern lounge that will offer cocktails and small snacks. There is also a mezzanine addition which will act as a more private loft.

“We want it to be a nice place where you can relax and grab a cocktail. We’re not going for a bar scene where we’re open until 2 a.m. It’s more you come in and taste our liquor. We only have a business license to sell based on our own spirits so I won’t be able to serve other people’s alcohol. The lounge will be a place to showcase our products.”

If you crave more than just a few sips, full bottles of The Fort Distillery’s vodkas and gins will be available for purchase on-site. Flim will also work with local liquor stores and restaurants to further grow the brand. Depending on the company’s production timeline after renos, it’s hoped they’ll be at this year’s farmer’s market for a portion of the season.

Flim is looking to a fellow Alberta-based craft distillery for mentorship. Lacombe’s Old Prairie Sentinel Distillery opened its doors to patrons just over a year ago and is also producing vodka, gin and whiskey on site.

Business owner Rob Gugin outlined the craft distilling sector is realitively new in the province so everyone supports one another.

“We’re new to the market so everyone is learning as they go but as Alberta’s Craft Distillers Association, we’re really trying to follow the example that the Alberta Craft Brewers Association has paved for us. I thought coming in it would be dog eat dog but it’s totally not that way at all. Everyone is super cool with each other, it’s a real brother/sisterhood of unique individuals who are creative and passionate about what they do,” said Gugin.

“We’re all looking for our own little piece of the pie and if you can help out your fellow distiller, it will come back to you ten-fold.”

He suggests to foster a good working relationship with other Alberta barley and produce producers, malters, and marketing and design businesses.

“It all goes hand in hand. The more we can afford to not outsource and lean on other businesses, the more they’ll lean on us and the better we’ll all be.”

Flim knows staying local will help his company’s longivity and will encorporate lots of local ingredients.

“We’re going to work with a local farmer to get our grain and make sure everything is as local and sustainable as possible,” he noted.

The Fort Saskatchewan Chamber of Commerce outlined there’s a lot of room to grow since the craft distillery market is not as saturated as craft breweries.

“It’s a great addition to the Fort and it makes us even more unique,” said events coordinator Rene Holinksi.

To stay up to date, head to the company’s website:

Distiller of Alberta's 1st single malt whisky enjoys 'wiggle room' of new market

Distiller of Alberta's 1st single malt whisky enjoys 'wiggle room' of new market


'The craft distilling industry is just kicking off, so there's no preconceived notions,' Caitlin Quinn say

Rachel Ward · CBC News · Posted: Dec 14, 2017 2:54 PM MT | Last Updated: December 14, 2017

Caitlin Quinn working on her distilling at Eau Claire Distillery in Turner Valley, Alta. (Eau Clair Distillery/Instagram)

A 26-year-old master distiller is enjoying the success of her creation, Alberta's first single malt whisky.

The spirit made at Eau Claire Distillery in Turner Valley, Alta., has sold out completely, save for a few bottles reserved for tasting.

Caitlin Quinn, a Scottish-raised, Winnipeg-born whisky aficionado, is behind the sought-after whisky.

"Legally they have to have aged in the barrells for three years before we can call it whisky, so it's been a long time in coming," Quinn told the Calgary Eyeopener on Thursday.

This week, she's preparing another batch of single malt whisky to start the aging process. The next batch, about 50 litres per distillation, will be available for sale sometime in the next year, she said. Each bottle sells for $95.

The Eau Claire Distillery has produced Alberta's first single malt whisky. (Dave Will/CBC)

Quinn moved as a young child to Scotland with her family. As a young adult, she studied chemistry before taking a master's of science degree in brewing and distilling from Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh, Scotland.

She made the move to Alberta for the opportunity to be inventive with her creations, starting early in her career. 

"There's a lot more wiggle room," Quinn said. "The Scotch whisky industry is so old and set in its ways, like there's so many rules.

"Here, it's all a brand new industry. The craft distilling industry is just kicking off, so there's no preconceived notions of what a single malt should taste like here."

The Eau Claire Distillery serves a number of spirits in Turner Valley, Alta. (Dave Will/CBC)

At the distillery in southern Alberta, she has produced creative spirits such as a seasonal Christmas gin using spices of frankincense and myrrh.

Quinn's highly successful single malt whisky uses former sherry casks, similar to the Scottish industry, but as a lighter blend with notes of fruit and oak, and a hint of sherry.

"We're hoping to introduce new whisky drinks with the approachable nature of our whisky," she said.

She said she's seeing the local craft distillery industry following a similar trend to that of the craft beer industry. As more local distilleries are opening, helped by the good quality of Alberta barley, "it makes sense," she said.

More help coming for small Alberta distillers as government reduces mark-up

More help coming for small Alberta distillers as government reduces mark-up



Published on: December 8, 2017 | Last Updated: December 8, 2017 6:35 PM MST

The Eau Claire Distillery in Turner Valley JEFF MCINTOSH / THE CANADIAN PRESS

The NDP government is giving Alberta’s small-scale liquor producers a break in a way it believes won’t land the province in a new trade dispute.

Finance Minister Joe Ceci announced Friday the government will reduce the Alberta Gaming and Liquor Commission mark-up for small distilleries, cideries, meaderies and cottage wineries when they sell their product out of their own facilities or at farmers or artisan markets.

The move, effective immediately, will cost the province about $1.4 million, but Ceci said it will help to foster the industry in Alberta.

“Business owners … are going to invest in their business, hire staff, expand production, grow their production lines,” said Ceci in a phone interview after making the announcement at Turner Valley’s Eau Claire Distillery. 

The change sees the mark-up for spirits reduced from $13.67 a litre to $2.46 a litre when the products are self-distributed. For ciders and coolers, the mark-up is cut from $1.81 a litre to 32 cents a litre.


The mark-up remains the same for products sold through liquor stores.

In his provincial budget speech this spring, Ceci promised help for Alberta’s small distillers on a model similar to that in place for craft brewers in the province.

But that program, which sees small brewers eligible to receive a grant from the government, has come under fire. In July, a three-person panel ruled that the Small Brewers Development Program does not comply with the province’s free trade obligations under Canada’s Agreement on Internal Trade.

The province has appealed that decision and Ceci said the government stands by the program.

The program for small liquor manufacturers does not involve a grant, however.

And the finance minister said he doesn’t expect any problems for the new program.

“We’re on firm ground,” said Ceci. “When you look around, other provinces and territories are doing this very similar program and they’ve not been challenged.”

There are 21 small liquor manufacturers — categorized as those that produce under 1,500 hectolitres of spirits — in the province.

David Farran, president of both Eau Claire Distillery and the Alberta Craft Distillers Association, said he expects trade considerations stopped the government from launching a grant program.

But he said small liquor producers are “thrilled” with the government’s announcement on Friday.

Almost all small distillers sell extensively from their own facilities or at farmers markets, said Farran.

“This makes industry viable,” he said.

Benefit adds spirit to Alberta’s liquor sector

Benefit adds spirit to Alberta’s liquor sector



The Alberta government is reducing the liquor markup for small manufacturers of spirits and refreshment beverages in the province, allowing them to grow and diversify their businesses.

Starting today, small distilleries, cideries, meaderies and cottage wineries will be able to sell their products from farmers’ markets, artisan markets or their manufacturing facilities at a reduced markup rate. This fulfils the government’s commitment to support small distillers and refreshment beverage manufacturers while encouraging economic diversification in Alberta.

“We believe that Alberta’s small liquor manufacturers play an important role in creating jobs and building a diversified economy. This program will allow manufacturers to hire staff, expand production and reinvest in their businesses. Alberta produces some of the best agricultural products in the world and these manufacturers work hard to turn them into high-quality spirits. We will continue to work with this industry to ensure they can do business in Alberta as easily and successfully as possible.”

Joe Ceci, President of Treasury Board, Minister of Finance

The markup rate will be reduced by $11.21 per litre to $2.46 per litre for spirits and reduced by $1.49 to $0.32 per litre for refreshment beverages, such as coolers and ciders. This will be applied to sales of all products produced by small manufacturers in Alberta. A small manufacturer produces under 1,500 hectolitres of spirits.

“Alberta has a long, proud history producing spirits from our world-class grains. Our larger distilleries that have been in operation for decades are instrumental to Alberta’s liquor landscape. Since we lifted the minimum production requirement, we’ve seen tremendous growth in this sector with new, small distilleries joining the proud tradition of our established large manufacturers. This change will help foster growth in Alberta’s small spirit and refreshment beverage manufacturing sector.”

Alain Maisonneuve, president & CEO, Alberta Gaming and Liquor Commission

The reduced markup was developed in collaboration with the Alberta Craft Distillers Association and reflects the proportional benefit currently available to estate wineries and meaderies in Alberta. The cost saving for manufacturers will support the growth and diversification of the industry.

“Alberta’s distillers have asked for a reduced markup program and the government delivered. This means that Alberta’s distillers can more easily grow, expand, hire staff and invest in their business. This is not only good for our industry but good for the agricultural sector. Alberta distillers strive to use excellent Alberta agricultural products in our spirits. This program is exactly what our sector needs to grow and to thrive.”

David Farran, president, Eau Claire Distillery


Persistence pays off in quest to make gin from fabas

Persistence pays off in quest to make gin from fabas

Using the beans produced decidedly unappetizing results but fababean flowers yielded a hit for Nisku distillery

By Alexis Kienlen FOLLOW


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Published: December 8, 2017 

Rig Hand owner and distiller Geoff Stewart repeatedly tried and failed to make a gin from fababeans. But the flowers were a much different story. Photo: Rig Hand Distillery

Out of failure, you can create something pretty tasty.

That’s what the staff at Rig Hand Distillery near Nisku learned when they teamed up with Alberta Pulse Growers to create a fababean-based gin.

“We were approached about a year ago by the Alberta Pulse Growers Association,” said Geoff Stewart, owner, president, and distiller with Rig Hand, which makes specialty gins and vodkas.

The pulse commission was looking to develop new products for local markets.

“They heard about us being crazy experimenters willing to try about anything, so they asked if we could make a vodka made from fababeans,” said Stewart.

Unfortunately, fermentation needs material with a high starch content, and low protein. Fababeans have the exact opposite, and their protein produced off flavours and smells. In short, the vodka “smelled and tasted like farts.”

The Rig Hand team tried to remediate the protein, making nine batches of fababean vodka before throwing in the towel. But finally, Stewart came up with the solution, and decided to use some of the faba flowers as a botanical in a gin. They had to wait until the flowers bloomed, which was very late this year and didn’t occur until August. But it paid off.

“We made up a batch of gin with them and it’s one of the best-tasting gins we’ve ever had,” said Stewart. “We’re regretting not picking more of the flowers now.”

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Rig Hand Distillery’s limited run of fababean flower gin sold out in 40 Rig Hand Distillery

The test batch produced 120 bottles and when they were put on the shelves of Rig Hand’s retail outlet in Nisku, the entire run sold out in about 40 minutes.

The only downfall of the process is that picking flowers means you don’t get beans from that plant.

“But since we don’t need many flowers, I don’t think it will be a significant deterrent,” he said.

Gin is basically vodka that is steamed through a cheesecloth bag containing botanicals, in this case the fababean flowers.

“The gin when it came out had the piney taste that you expect from gin as the first thing you tasted,” said Stewart. “The second thing you tasted was the sweet pea taste, and that was from the fababean flower.”

Rig Hand plans to try making a gin with pea flowers next year, and is keen to work with local groups on other new creations. It’s had success making vodkas infused with saskatoon and hasp berries and among its current projects is a rum made from sugar beet molasses from Taber.

“We like to be on the cutting edge of the craft distilling industry in Alberta,” said Stewart.

The company’s products are available in 500 liquor stores across the province, and at its distillery in Nisku. Rig Hand is Alberta’s largest craft distillery, and opened in October 2015.


Fledgling micro-distilleries crafting a spirited scene in Alberta

Fledgling micro-distilleries crafting a spirited scene in Alberta

A change in the province's liquor regulations four years ago has allowed a craft distilling scene to blossom


Brad Smylie mixes mash with a paddle at Raw Distillery in Canmore, Alta.






Until a few years ago, Alberta's liquor rules made it almost impossible for small-scale craft distillers to produce spirits that would find their way into local bars.

You could sit in a bar in downtown Saskatoon and sip a gin martini made with locally made Lucky Bastard Distillers' Gambit Gin. In Vancouver, you could perch on a stool along the glossy white bar in the Lobby Lounge of the Fairmont Pacific Rim in Vancouver and drink a cocktail with Victoria Gin fresh off the bottling line from Vancouver island.

But not in Alberta.



That's because the Alberta Liquor and Gaming Commission required an obscene amount of liquor to be produced for either a brewery or a distillery to operate: 500,000 litres. That amount is somewhat obtainable for a brewery, but moving through that quantity of hard alcohol is essentially impossible for an upstart distiller.

That changed four years ago when the liquor regulator changed its requirements, finally allowing a craft distilling scene to blossom – while playing catch-up with other provinces such as Ontario and British Columbia. Eau Claire Distillery, which opened in 2014 and is in Turner Valley, is the most recognizable micro-distiller in Alberta, but there have been many more passionate distillers following across the province.

"The pioneering spirit of this first wave of distillers in Alberta is an honour to be a part of," says Adam Smith, owner of Strathcona Spirits in Edmonton. "There are still plenty of struggles created by bizarre and ridiculous regulations in each province, but [many have still] sprouted an impressive and intrepid class of distillers."

Mr. Smith's operation, just a few blocks off the city's Whyte Avenue, is a small but mighty one. Approaching its first birthday in a couple months, his two products, the Single Grain Wheat Vodka and Badland Seaberry Gin, have proved popular in both Calgary and Edmonton's restaurant scenes. The gin, in particular, is a standout for its unorthodox addition of foraged sea buckthorn berries.

"This is an arts city, a music city, and a blue-collar city that sometimes has really, really good taste," Mr. Smith happily says of Edmonton. "It's also surrounded by the best grains in the world and a myriad of botanicals that the world has barely experienced."

At the foot of the Rocky Mountains, Brad and Lindsay Smylie own and operate Raw Distillery in the town of Canmore. After meeting more than a decade ago, Mr. Smylie discovered a love of home brewing and together they opened up their small-scale operation in December of last year.

All products are distilled with glacier water from the Rocky Mountains and include an unaged rye, a vodka, as well as one citrus-infused gin and another with tellicherry black peppercorns.


Brad Smylie at Raw Distillery in Canmore, Alta.

"When we secured a space in Canmore there were only three craft distilleries in the province … Now there are 19 [with more in the works]," Ms. Smylie says. "I am truly hoping we will be able to see collaborations between distilleries similar to what you might see between craft breweries. Then we will start putting Alberta on the map."

Jesse Willis, co-owner of the boutique liquor stores, Vine Arts, as well as the soon-to-be-open Donna Mac has been keeping tabs on the Canadian distillery community for years. The libation connoisseur is looking forward to seeing how Alberta's micro-distilling scene, still in its infancy, will evolve.

Vodka and gin at Raw Distillery.

He notes that a first priority for any emerging distillery is generally to get whisky into barrels as quickly as possible since it requires a minimum three years of aging to be sold as "Canadian whisky", but there's plenty of other spirits to get excited about while we wait.

"Many of the new local distilleries are delivering outstanding vodka and/or gin, along with innovative products like honey liqueur or unaged rye that don't require the same aging period as whisky," Mr. Willis explains. "We are just seeing the tip of the iceberg in terms of potential growth and I'm excited for the innovation and progress we are sure to see in the next decade and beyond."

On the map

Here are four other Alberta distilleries to check out:

Burwood Distillery: Calgary's newest distillery offers vodka, honey liqueur and honey eau de vie in a slick-looking tasting room., 4127 6 St NE #15, Calgary.

Hansen Distillery: Edmonton's other craft distiller boasts a fair-sized room to sample its spirits, which include a cinnamon rye as well as gin and vodka., 17412 111 Ave NW, Edmonton.

Park Distillery: Smack dab in the heart of Canada's most famous mountain town, you'll find this distillery-restaurant hybrid where you can sip on plenty of cocktails featuring in-house-made spirits such as espresso vodka or oaked gin., 219 Banff Ave, Banff.

Wild Life Distillery: Head out to Canmore to visit this small producer currently pouring vodka and a gin infused with lemon and blood orange., 160-105 Bow Meadows Cres., Canmore.



RAW Distillery peppercorn gin isn’t at all what’s expected

RAW Distillery peppercorn gin isn’t at all what’s expected

Thursday, Nov 16, 2017 06:00 am

By: Jordan Small



  • Raw Distillery’s peppercorn gin RAW Parkway Caesar at the distillery in Canmore on Friday (Nov. 10).

    Aryn Toombs RMO Photo

The Smylies are in the family business, but, unlike their predecessors, the Canmore couple have done it legally.

The great-grandson of booze bootlegger “Nona,” an Italian-Canadian woman back in the 1920s, Brad Smylie, co-owner and founder of Canmore’s Raw Distillery, has had an unconventional upbringing with booze.

In fact, Smylie got his start in concocting moonshine with his grandfather in an old mining town in Ontario.

“That happened a long time ago; it’s not the way I make spirits now,” Smylie said with a laugh.

“The science, the process, the instrumentation and the craft spirits we wanted to create – you have to have an artisan flare, if that makes sense.”

Inside RAW Distillery’s production building at 1460 Railway Ave., Brad and his wife Lindsay have been distilling an award-winning product since last January.

It was a bit off the cuff as to how it happened, but with 12 years of experience in brewing and distilling, the two already had a strong understanding of the industry.

RAW offers a trio of star-spirits such as its seasonal rye, winner of the 2017 best in class at Alberta beverage awards, vodka, and a peppercorn gin.


“(The rye) is aged until we are happy with it and in a port barrel from Portugal, which brings in a lot of the floral aromatics that you get in a spirit,” said Smylie, adding they’re constantly looking to diversify their barrel stock. “It’s prominent in the nose and the flavour didn’t give off a sweetness, it gave a depth of character to an otherwise un-aged spirit.”

Handpicked peppercorns from India are dried for six to eight weeks, then packaged and sent in five-pound vacuum-sealed bags to Canmore. With the peppercorns, RAW has created a gin that is bold and in your face.

“We wanted to make a gin that differentiated ourselves from the market,” said Smylie. “As far as we can see, we built a gin that first and foremost is unfiltered.

If you try (the peppercorn gin), the first thing is it’s unexpected, that’s the number one comment we get, that it’s ‘not what we expected at all.’ ”

The peppercorn infused gin is “built for a Caesar,” but it makes a great summer cocktail.

The spirits are transferred into 750 ml glass bottles and range in price from mid-$40s to high-$40s.

RAW offers its signature cocktails in a sample flight (three .5 oz spirit cocktails) for $15. To book a tour and sample tasting, visit

RAW asks that patrons use the entrance at the back of the building.

RAW Parkway Caesar

Ingredients: RAW peppercorn gin, Parkway Clamato

Ferolly Polite

Ingredients: RAW peppercorn gin, strawberry cassia syrup, bitters and lime.

Ol’ Fashioned in the RAW

Ingredients: Raw rye with port finish, cola syrup, orange bitters and soda.


'Smallest distillery in North America' starting retail sales in Old Strathcona operation

'Smallest distillery in North America' starting retail sales in Old Strathcona operation




Published on: November 17, 2017 | Last Updated: November 17, 2017 7:56 PM MST

Adam Smith has turned an old radiator shop into a distillery that uses local ingredients to make Gin and Vodka in Edmonton. Video by Shaughn Butts

Strathcona Spirits owner Adam Smith is so keen to put local ingredients in his company’s booze, he flavours the gin with wild juniper berries and sea buckthorn he picks himself.

What Smith claims is North America’s smallest distillery opened last December in a 69-square-metre former radiator shop on a gentrifying Old Strathcona industrial block, outfitted with a $100,000 custom-made still he and a friend drove 10,000 km to pick up in the Ozarks.

Although Strathcona Spirits has been selling 200 to 300 bottles of its gin and vodka each month through 150 liquor stores, bars and restaurants in Alberta and Saskatchewan, the company isn’t yet breaking even.

Smith admits he’s not sure how this compares to the anticipated sales volume.


“I don’t know what I expected. I’m not much of a businessman. I thought it would be easy to keep the door open, and it’s been more challenging because everything is expensive.”

Smith, 37, worked for an Eastern Canada craft brewery before he decided to start making the hard stuff in a one-storey space at 10122 81 Ave., where he’d operated the Baby Seal Club music venue.

The province changed the law in 2013 to allow craft distilleries. The Alberta Gaming and Liquor Commission now lists 19 firms producing spirits, including Edmonton’s Hansen Distillery, Rig Hand Craft Distillery in Nisku and firms in Ardrossan, Camrose and Vegreville. 

Smith’s enthusiasm for the spirit world shines through as he talks about the terroir of the juniper berries — harvested on the banks of the Red Deer River — and the farmer who goes out for breakfast with him after delivering the wheat used to make alcohol.

“There’s a resurgence of interest in these artisanally made spirits using local botanicals, local grains, and it tastes great.”

Gin and vodka on display at Edmonton’s Strathcona Spirits craft distillery on Nov. 17, 2017. SHAUGHN BUTTS/ POSTMEDIA

Strathcona Spirits started with gin and vodka, which take less time to produce and sell for about $50 a bottle.

But it’s releasing a smoky barrel-aged gin in early December, and Smith is experimenting with rye flavoured with white willow bark.

As well, after toiling in relative anonymity for the last year without even a sign on the 94-year-old building, the distillery finally has permission to open a retail outlet and can welcome visitors.

The proposal was initially shot down because of Edmonton’s prohibition on liquor stores operating within 500 metres of each other, but in September the city modified its zoning rules to allow small breweries, wineries and distilleries to sell alcohol manufactured on site.

Tours and sales started Thursday and run through Saturday.

Smith is replacing the tongue-in-cheek notice on his door announcing “Strathcona Spirits secret location, please stay out” with a company sign roughly the size of a bumper sticker, but wants to paint a big mural outside once the weather warms.

“It will grow our brand and interest in our brand for people to be able to see that it’s local. We’re not the cheapest bottle on the shelf … but hopefully we will be held up by the community as a locally made product — they will recognize the costs of being local and share them.”

Meanwhile, Smith is preparing for the future. One wall has racks of wooden casks containing his first whisky, what he calls his savings account because the value will grow as it ages.

One of the 53-gallon (US) vessels is being held for his two-month-old daughter Juna.

“That won’t be cracked until she’s 18.”

Park Distillery vodka takes platinum at SIP Awards

Park Distillery vodka takes platinum at SIP Awards

Thursday, Jun 29, 2017 06:00 am

By: Cole Carruthers

 Master Distiller Matthew Hendriks and assistant distiller Breanne Johnston celebrate with some of the Park Distillery products which won internatinal SIP Awards.


The results are in and Park Distillery is pleased to announce its Classic Vodka just received the honourable title of Best of Class at the 2017 SIP Awards.

This prestigious annual event that salutes superior spirits from around the world also awarded Park Distillery’s Glacier Rye, Barrel Aged Gin, Alpine Dry Gin, and Vanilla Vodka with a gold medal, while the distillery’s Espresso Vodka took home a silver medal.

It’s an amazing accomplishment considering Park Distillery only opened its doors in Banff on June 1 in 2015, with the vodka becoming available for purchase the following October.

“For it to be within two years is an amazing feat, we definitely have a lot of good input from having the best grain in the world, and then our water source here is definitely the best. Then it comes down to hard work, practice and repetition,” said Park Distillery Master Distiller Matt Hendriks.

“It was exciting and I was nervous to send all of the products into a global spirit competition. There’s lots of local and regional ones, but then to send it out to where the world enters was a big thing. Then to find out we received best in class platinum for our vodka, and gold for four others and silver for the espresso vodka was pretty exciting and nerve-racking.”

The SIP Awards is looked upon as one of the current three major global competitions, along with the New York International Spirits Awards and the Berlin World Spirits Awards, and describes itself as the only international spirits competition levelling the playing field for established brands and newcomers alike by enlisting consumers as judges.

SIP remains steadfast in its goal of providing one of the most reliable measures of beverage quality rating in the world by delivering the opinions, thoughts, and voices of consumers to the general public.

Hendriks credits the success of Park’s small-batch mountain-made product, such as the Classic Vodka, to a “glacier-to-glass” approach. This term refers to the quality ingredients that are found in close proximity to Banff National Park, namely the glacier-fed water that originates from Bow Lake – something Hendriks calls “pure Rocky Mountain H20.”

The distillery’s water originates at six glaciers high in the Rocky Mountains and gains minerality as it travels across rich limestone deposits. Grain is sourced from family farms in the Alberta foothills. Distillery staff hand-mill, hand-mash and hand-distill to preserve the purity of ingredients and produce in small batches.

“We also entered the San Francisco Spirit Awards in January, and we won four awards there. Then we ended up walking out with five at the SIP Awards, which is incredible,” said Park Distillery co-owner Stavros Karlos.

“It was very emotional for us after five years of planning and execution. It shows we did the right thing with commitment to quality paying off and that’s what we’re all about.

“Matt put in so much effort in order to get these products to where they are today.”

Park Distillery also invested in a state-of-the art copper distillation apparatus that was brought over from Germany in 2015, which is prominently displayed inside near the main bar.

“This was big news for us and we feel like this win is not only helping put Banff on the map for distilling, but the province as a whole,” said Hendriks.

“Right now Canadian distillers are doing some pretty remarkable things, but Alberta is leading the charge in this field, especially when you consider that fact that two of the winners of the ‘Best of Class’ accolade at the SIP Awards are based in the province.”

Park Distillery’s Barrel Aged Gin and Alpine Dry Gin both received gold respectively, as well, with Hendriks again chalking it up to quality ingredients.

“The spruce tips we use in it definitely gives it some liveliness, pop and citrus,” he said. “It is the same spruce that’s grown in the park, but obviously we can’t pick it from the park.


“But on Crown land out in the Foothills is the same indigenous spruce that we’re using. Next year I’m hoping we’re going to enter into Berlin.”

Not ones to rest on its laurels, Park Distillery, in celebration of Canada 150, will release 150 commemorative bottles of Quebec maple rye whiskey, labeled with Banff’s historic park gates on Canada Day.

When Hendriks was asked how one would go about purchasing one of the commemorative bottles, he advised, “Be here right at 11 a.m. and good luck.”

Turner Valley distillery wins big at global competition with 'the quintessential Alberta grain'

Turner Valley distillery wins big at global competition with 'the quintessential Alberta grain'

1,800 people blind-tested chose Eau Claire Distillery's gin as their favourite

By David Bell, CBC News Posted: Jun 15, 2017 3:42 PM MT Last Updated: Jun 16, 2017 10:39 AM MT


Turner Valley's Eau Claire Distillery is punching above its weight, after winning big at a international competition.

A southern Alberta craft distillery which launched just three years ago is crediting barley for its success after winning big at an international competition.

"We use barley as our main thing because we believe that is the quintessential grain for Alberta," Eau Claire Distillery owner David Farran told The Homestretch this week.

David Farran, owner at Turner Valley's Eau Claire Distillery, says barley makes all the difference in their success. (Submitted by Eau Claire Distillery)

"While it is slightly more expensive in terms of efficiency, it is way, way more flavourful."

The Turner Valley distillery picked up three awards at the World Spirits Competition in San Francisco in late April.

Farran's flavoured vodka took a gold medal in the competition which draws thousands of entrants.

"There's a lot of flavoured vodkas out there," Farran said.

"We do one that is very unique. We make it out of Alberta barley and we use prickly pear cactus which is a cactus that grows in southeastern Alberta. It gives it a really unique flavour. It's rare to make it out of barley and it's super rare, I think it's the first time ever, that anybody has distilled it with prickly pear."

Eau Claire's parlour gin took bronze that was chosen in a blind taste test that Farran says is noteworthy.

"Probably more thrilling for us is we won the consumer choice award in the sip awards this year. It's 1,800 people blind-tested across the United States and they chose our gin as their favourite," Farran said."There are thousands of entries. You are competing with some very well established and big brands but out of our little distillery in Turner Valley, we seem to be turning out some pretty good stuff."

As the first independent craft distillery, Farran says he's hoping for a revolution similar to another craft product in the province.

The Homestretch

Eau Claire Distillery takes two medals at World Spirits Competition

"Craft distilling is brand new in this province. It has given us the push to make sure we create flavours that you are just not used to on the market," he said.

"You think about what happened to craft beer 30 years ago. The same thing is starting to happen with craft distilleries."

Alberta man trying to recapture tradition of Prairies moonshine

Alberta man trying to recapture tradition of Prairies moonshine

'The amount of moonshine supplied east of Edmonton, up to say 1960, was unbelievable'

By Mack Lamoureux, CBC News Posted: Apr 28, 2016 6:00 AM MT Last Updated: Apr 28, 2016 6:00 AM MT


The copper still at Red Cup Distillery looks much like those found in on farms across the Prairies a century ago. 


Tucked away in a strip mall behind the Vegreville A&W, a trained opera singer is busy making moonshine.

Like many before him, it was hard times that drove Robert de Groot into the bush-whisky business. 

He runs Red Cup Distilling, a company that mixes the modern trend of craft distillery with the old prairie tradition of white lightning. 

The liquor he creates in his still out back of the strip mall is what he calls "wheat-shine," it's not aged, and unlike the famous shine the Duke boys drank, its primary ingredient is wheat, not corn.

At 100 proof it might not be strong enough to strip paint, but it's made the old-fashioned way. 


'I figured moonshine was a good way to make money,' says Robert de Groot. (Vimeo screenshot)

Setting up the still

Born and raised in Prince George, B.C., de Groot was never a stranger to Alberta. He used to make regular trips to Edmonton for classical music lessons. For years, he was a banker and also worked in custom equipment and manufacturing for industry.

After an ugly parting of ways with an employer, de Groot fell on hard times. He and his wife returned home to Alberta, where she had roots. Times were lean: de Groot recalls buying produce in bulk from farms, and the occasional pig he would butcher himself.

Then he got an idea.

"It's a mix of how I was raised, having to be frugal, and the necessity of not having money," said de Groot. 

"I figured moonshine was a good way to make money."


Robert de Groot is trying to recapture the taste of the traditional moonshine. (Supplied)

He went about learning as much as he could about the relationship between home-brewed hooch and the Prairies and, more importantly, how to get his hands on a still. He couldn't afford a pre-made still, so when his wife suggested he build his own, he decided to tap into the knowledge of, shall we say, previous craft brewers.

"Because of my contacts in oil and gas and brilliant people I met, I knew exactly who was going to build it," said de Groot. "I knew he was retired and I knew he was arrested in the 1960s for making shine."  

"The still itself looks the same as one that was found east of Edmonton in arrest documents from 1912," he said. 

De Groot said Vegreville, about 100 kilometres east of Edmonton, is now home to Canada's first legally made copper still. 

Returning to the tradition

It's not just knowledge and design that de Groot borrowed from the past, but the recipes as well. 

"Your great-grandpa, my great-grandpa, who lived on the farms, made this stuff," he said. "My liquor is like pre-1940s moonshine, because that's all we have to work from."

Armed with research, intuition, and help from some old timers who remember the taste first-hand, de Groot thinks he's getting close.

It's important that he gets it right, because of the importance home-brew played on the Prairies during the Depression, and back when Albertan was under prohibition, in the early 20th century.


'The amount of moonshine supplied east of Edmonton, up to say 1960, was unbelievable,' says Robert de Groot.

"East of the garlic curtain, Mundare to Winnipeg, that was moonshine country," de Groot said. "We supplied Chicago. The railway would pick it up and ship it to Al Capone. It was a way we could pay the bills in years that farming was really, really tough."

"The amount of moonshine supplied east of Edmonton, up to say 1960, was unbelievable."

To take his white lightning to market, de Groot said he had to work closely with the Canada Revenue Agency and the Alberta Gaming and Liquor Commission to attain the proper licences. 

To build the old-school still he needed additional approval, above and beyond what a normal craft distillery would need.

Although he's new to the game, de Groot's hooch has proven popular. He has sold out of almost every batch he's made, and is in the process of expanding both production and distribution. 

He credits his success to his dedication to craft, and the power of tradition and nostalgia.

"When moonshine was made, it wasn't easy to make money on the farm," said de Groot. "So, instead of being embarrassed about how hard it was to make money, I'm celebrating the great men and women it created."

"We made stuff out of nothing in 1940s, on the Prairies."

Distilleries springing up all over southern Alberta

Distilleries springing up all over southern Alberta

More from Shelley Boettcher

Published on: June 24, 2017 | Last Updated: June 24, 2017 5:00 AM MDT

Marko Cilic, left, Jordan Ramey and Ivan Cilic of Burwood Distillery In N.E. Calgary are part of a local distillery boom. DARREN MAKOWICHUK / CALGARY HERALD


When Marko Cilic was a little boy growing up in Bosnia, he used to help his neighbours during harvest. His job was to help pick big buckets of plums and then, when the region’s travelling distillery came to town, he’d help turn the juice from those plums into spirits.

“They would come with horses and bring the still to the neighbourhood,” he recalls. “All the neighbours would gather for a few days, bringing their buckets to distill.”

Now he and his brother Ivan Cilic, and their friends Ruza Obad and Jordan Ramey are the owners of Burwood Distillery, one of Calgary’s newest distilleries.

Part of a growing trend in Alberta, they plan to open their doors this month — any day, in fact, depending on when the final paperwork is approved.

In the past year or so, at least four distilleries have opened in and around Calgary, and more are in the works. There are now close to 20 in small towns and big cities across the province.

“I can’t even give you the exact number of distilleries in the province, because the number is changing so quickly,” says David Farran, president of Eau Claire Distillery and president of the Alberta Craft Distillers Association.

“We’ve seen a lot of newcomers into the industry and a lot of people who are expressing interest.”

From Farran’s perspective, the more the merrier — even though they’re creating competition for his own operation. “Ultimately, that’s what pushes the industry forward,” he says. “It’s a great thing when entrepreneurs get into the industry and start to push boundaries and try new things.”

Owner David Farran of Eau Claire Distillery.  CALGARY HERALD

While distilleries have been around in Alberta for generations, the current boom started in 2013, when the Alberta Gaming and Liquor Commission ended its minimum production requirements. Until then, to hold a commercial licence in Alberta, you had to make at least 500,000 litres of beer or spirits per year.

Then, last year, the City of Calgary changed its rules to allow breweries and distilleries (and, for that matter, wineries) to open and operate within most of the city’s commercial and industrial areas.

The changes paved the way for smaller distilleries to come on board.

But start saving your pennies if you’re thinking about jumping in. The cost of opening a distillery is about double the cost of a brewery, Farran says. “But if you’re willing to take that risk, I think there’s a huge opportunity here.”

Depending what you make, you may find the raw ingredients right here at home. “We produce the best barley in the world,” Farran says. “We ship it to places like Scotland, for making scotch, but we have the potential for a great industry right here at home.”

The Cilic brothers are counting on that. Ramey, their distiller, is using honey from the brothers’ dad’s bees to make a honey eau de vie. And down the road, they plan to make gin, whiskies and, hopefully plum and cherry brandies, like the brothers remember helping to make as children.

It hasn’t all been easy. It took them three years to get the licensing in place, and their entire team still holds down various day jobs. Ivan is a realtor, while his brother builds houses. Ramey teaches distilling at Olds College.

But it’s worth it, Ivan says. “We’re bringing science and culture together,” he says.

“It’s about those moments when we can all just come together and have a drink and enjoy our time together.”

Take a tour

You’ll want to sample the spirits when you visit a distillery. But it’s not a good idea if you’re driving. That’s why the team at Calgary Brewery Tours also offers distillery tours in and around Calgary. Call 403-299-4910 or 1-866-279-1999 or e-mail for more information.

Want to know more about Alberta’s booming distillery scene?

Some are small. Some are big. Some — such as Eau Claire Distillery — grow and buy their raw ingredients locally. Others, such as Secret Barrel Distillery, import their base ingredients from faraway lands, and then distill and bottle locally. Still others rely on a combination of local and imported ingredients.

Here are a few Southern and central Alberta distilleries to seek out now:

Alberta Distillers — Named Canadian Distillery of the Year earlier this year at the Canadian Whisky Awards, Alberta Distillers was founded in 1946 by Max Bell and Frank McMahon. Now owned by Beam Suntory, Alberta Distillers has a lengthy lineup of products, including Alberta Premium Dark Horse, Alberta Pure Vodka, Banff Ice and Alberta Springs Canadian Rye Whisky.

Burwood Distillery — One of the newest players on the Calgary scene, Burwood will open its tasting room this month. So far the team just has two spirits, a honey eau de vie and a vodka, but they plan to expand soon, eventually offering gin, whiskies and fruit brandies. Currently, you can only buy Burwood products at the distillery in northeast Calgary.

Eau Claire Distillery — Located in Turner Valley, Eau Claire opened its doors three years ago and has been making waves ever since. This year, the distillery team won a slew of prestigious international awards. They now offer food at the distillery, as well as a tonic water and several limited-release products, including a coffee vodka, for sale only at the distillery. Within the next six to eight months, they’ll release their first whiskies, too.

Highwood Distillers — One of the granddaddies of the business, Highwood started in 1974 under the name Sunnyvale and, then, in 1984, rebranded as Highwood Distillers. The best-known Highwood products include Centennial Canadian Rye Whisky, the White Owl Whiskies, the Highwood Ninety 20-Year-Old and the Century Reserve.

Krang Spirits — Susan Ransom and her husband Michael Guenzel planned to buy a winery, but after visiting a distillery in Nova Scotia, they switched gears and opened Krang in December 2016 in Cochrane. They make a vodka and six liqueurs, including raspberry, sour cherry and blackcurrant as well as Bad Billy (chocolate-coffee-orange), Krupnik (spiced honey liqueur) and Persephone, a floral-berry spirit. They’ll soon launch a gin and an apple brandy, and in a couple of years they’ll start releasing whiskies.

Krang Astra Clara Vodka.<br /> MHGDesk2 MHGDESK2 / CALGARY HERALD

Last Best Brewing and Distilling — Located in downtown Calgary, Last Best makes beer as well as small-batch, limited-edition spirits, 60 bottles at a time. Current releases include Jelly Gin, made with jalapeno-mint jelly, and the Crackin Orange Gin. “People can buy them to take home, and they can try our cocktails designed around them, too,” says Chad Salyn, Last Best’s general

Palliser/Black Velvet Distillery — Located in Lethbridge, Palliser is one of the biggest players in the province, making Black Velvet, a Canadian whisky. Black Velvet is owned by Constellation Brands, one of the world’s largest alcohol companies.

Park Distillery, Restaurant & Bar — Located in Banff, Park opened on Banff Avenue in 2015. The award-winning lineup of products includes a vanilla vodka, an espresso vodka, the Bird’s Eye Chili Vodka, Glacier Rye and Alpine Gin.

Park Distillery.  CALGARY HERALD

Raw Distillery — Brad Smylie’s great-grandmother was a bootlegger decades ago in Ontario. Now he and his wife, Lindsay, are the owners of Raw Distillery in Canmore. They have a vodka, peppercorn gin, an unaged rye, and they’ll soon release a citrus gin and a botanical gin, as well as a peppercorn Caesar collaboration with Bow Valley BBQ’s Parkway Clamato.

Secret Barrel Distillery — Adam MacDonald, Aaron Norris, Brendan O’Connor and Chase Craig import sugarcane liquor from Demerara Distillers in Guyana, and then distill and bottle their white rum at Highwood Distillers. You’ll find Secret Barrel white rum on cocktail menus and in liquor stores across Alberta. This fall, they’ll launch a spiced rum and aged amber rums, and, eventually, a spiced cinnamon rum.

Starr Distilling — Calgarian Mike Stanfield set out to create a spirit that tasted like real fruit. The result? Summer Love Raspberry Vodka, which contains raspberries from British Columbia. Unlike the other distilleries on this list, however, Stanfield distils his product in Wisconsin because, as he puts it, his plan was too small to get financing to open his own distillery, but too big to borrow space from other small distilleries. He bought a still, though, so down the road? Only time will

Stone Heart Distillery — Located north of Calgary, near Innisfail, Stone Heart is a family-owned distillery currently making a vodka, although there are plans to release a berry vodka and a gin soon.

Wild Life Distillery — Keith Robinson and Matt Widmer are behind this distillery, one of the first in Canmore. So far, they’re making a Wild Life Gin and a Wild Life Vodka made with grain grown in Alberta. The tasting room opened in January, and yes, there are tours, too.

Old Prairie Sentinel Distillery Teams Up With 24-2 Draft Horses


Old Prairie Sentinel Distillery Teams Up With 24-2 Draft Horses

 Published: Sunday, 14 May 2017 16:15

 Written by Jonathan Guignard

A local group of hobby farmers who train Percheron draft horses just west of Nova’s Joffre plant, 24-2 Draft Horses.


Lacombe’s distillery has teamed up with a local group of hobby farmers who train Percheron draft horses just west of Nova’s Joffre plant to harvest barley to use in their spirits.

Old Prairie Sentinel Distillery have collaborated with 24-2 Draft Horses who will harrow and seed 15 acres that will include oats for their horses and barley used for the alcohol.

Vintage equipment from the early 1900’s is used for all the farming, something Head Distiller Rob Gugin said is really special.

“It’s just a great way to appreciate how things used to be done.”

“Farming is still hard work and stressful I’m sure, but this is definitely a way to appreciate how it used be done back at the turn of a century with all this equipment from the 20’s and 30’s.”

The process will take anywhere from 90 to 100 days between the time they seed to the time they harvest and Gugin had the chance to get out to the farm and get his hands dirty.

“The smells of the earth as it was being plowed and the wind, it was just amazing,” said Gugin.

“It was just an awesome experience where it’s kind of a once in a life time thing that hopefully I can do again actually.”

For the fourth straight year, the public was invited this past weekend, to come watch them in action.

Trade panel hearing liquor store's challenge to Alberta craft brewery tax in June

A trade panel hearing is scheduled in Edmonton June 1 into a Calgary liquor importer’s complaint that Alberta’s system of beer taxation violates trade agreements.

The province has imposed a $1.25-per-litre markup on beer, but last August introduced a rebate for Alberta craft brewers to support the local industry.

Artisan Ales, which imports craft beer into Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba, says in a news release its sales have dropped nearly 40 per cent because of what it calls a discriminatory policy.

The company argues the tax violates Canada’s Constitution Act and the Agreement on Internal Trade by erecting barriers to out-of-province competition.


“The intent of these policies was to shield the provincial craft brewing industry from competition by driving up prices on beer from outside … Alberta. But far from promoting economic development and diversifying the economy, these policies have had the opposite effect for many businesses.” 

It says the Government of Saskatchewan is intervening in support of Artisan, which is also backed by the Canadian Constitution Foundation.

The Alberta government has said it does not believe the new markup system violates the terms of any interprovincial trade agreements since it does not restrict any brewer from selling beer in the province.

Defenders of the system have also argued Alberta brewers face barriers in other jurisdictions, where government-controlled liquor stores encourage the promotion and sale of local products above others.

The number of craft breweries and small brew pubs in the province has almost quadrupled in the last three years, rising to 52 from 14.

Last November, a judge granted an injunction against the beer mark-up policy requested by Ontario-based Steam Whistle Brewing and Saskatchewan’s Great Western Brewing Company, which said the rules are unconstitutional. 

Provinces must eliminate barriers to liquor sales, Alberta distillery association says

Provinces must eliminate barriers to liquor sales, Alberta distillery association says

More from Gordon Kent

Published on: May 16, 2017 | Last Updated: May 16, 2017 6:00 AM MDT

Canada should eliminate interprovincial trade barriers making it hard to sell products nationally from Calgary's Alberta Distillers, shown here, and other liquor made by major distilleries in the province, Spirits Canada says. GAVIN YOUNG

Alberta should push other provinces to eliminate trade barriers that make it hard for Canadian distilleries to compete internationally, the head of the industry association says.

Access restrictions and unfair tax rules block companies from developing the strong domestic market they need to grow big enough to take on large firms from other countries, Jan Westcott, chief executive of Spirits Canada, said Monday.

“When we try and ship our products across the country … they face all kinds of discrimination,” he said.

“We basically take Alberta grain, convert it to alcohol and add a huge amount of value by branding it and exporting it around the world.”

The interprovincial free trade deal reached last month doesn’t cover booze, which will be studied by a working group set to report back July 1, 2018.

Alberta has the most open system in Canada, said Westcott, who’s in Edmonton this week speaking at an Alberta Enterprise Group reception.

He wants provincial officials on the committee to work toward reforming a system he said is hurting his industry.

Provinces have been increasing barriers to liquor from other jurisdictions over the last five to seven years as they seek to create and protect the growing number of craft distilleries, he said.

“Every province is different. That just adds to the cost of doing business. That makes it much more costly and difficult to sell across the country.”

Alberta has Canada’s second-largest distilling sector behind Ontario, with major plants in Calgary, High River and Lethbridge employing a total of 300 to 400 people, he said.

These facilities exported about $80-million worth of whisky and other products last year, but Westcott said there’s potential for that figure to grow to $200 million.

He doesn’t expect distilleries to close and production centralized if the rules are loosened.

The recent Alberta budget included plans to develop a program for craft distillers similar to the one for craft breweries, which receive up to $20 million in grants annually.

No details have been released, but Westcott, whose organization doesn’t cover small producers, said he accepts such schemes as long as they only last a few years.

“I have no issue with governments wanting to give people a hand up to get into the business. The experience has been once they are in, they outlast their usefulness.”

David Farran, president of the Alberta Craft Distillers Association, said he agrees with Westcott that a level playing field would be better, particularly when provinces such as Ontario make it difficult for outside companies to get shelf space.

But he doesn’t expect rapid action, although he is pleased with the government’s promise to assist Alberta’s 11 small distillers.

“The feasibility of (removing barriers) happening quickly, it’s not visible on the horizon. I do think in the meantime there’s a need to have a program to help foster crafts … because we have been held behind. We will need an incubator program to get it going.”

David Farran, President and Founder of Eau Claire Distillery and President of the Alberta Craft Distillery Association

David Farran, President and Founder of Eau Claire Distillery and President of the Alberta Craft Distillery Association

Calgary International Beerfest x Baron


MAY 1, 2017


Who are you and your current job? 

My name is David Farran, President, and Founder of Eau Claire Distillery and President of the Alberta Craft Distillery Association.


 What was the inspiration behind your distillery?

 Eau Claire Distillery is the first craft distillery in Alberta. We are a farm-to-glass concept with a focus on Single Malt Whisky made with Alberta homegrown barley. We produce a selection of international award winning spirits including Gin, Vodka, and other unique products. We have a unique program where we produce special edition single malt whiskey and Canadian Rye whiskey entirely with horse-farmed grain – produced with antique farming equipment in the same way we did 120 years ago.

Can you give us a tour of your distillery scene? 

The Alberta craft distillery scene is fledgling, having started in 2014 with legislative changes from our provincial government. We have 7 operating craft distilleries in Alberta, with a few more in the planning stages or close to opening. Alberta does not have a government program to foster the growth of the craft distillery scene as of yet, which has inhibited our industry growth. Once that changes, we anticipate solid growth in the sector, but perhaps not as much as the craft beer scene has enjoyed. We are certainly excited to see some new entrants and grow our industry sector.



What advice would you give to someone who wants to start a distillery? 

Be well capitalized. It is an expensive venture, as you essentially must build a brewery to produce the distiller’s wash and then have distilling equipment on top of that. We don’t enjoy the volumes that you see in breweries, so a wide distribution network is essential to meet what is a classic skinny margin business. Craft distilling is new to the consumer, so it requires good working capital to ensure that you can survive the early years of construction and develop solid market penetration.