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.


How a woman's master’s degree in distilling and brewing is shaping Alberta’s craft industry

 Written by William Guenter

 Published: 28 March 2017


Caitlin Quinn stands by her barrells distilling in the Eau Claire Distillery in Calgary, Alta. Quinn crafts gin and vodka as one a leader in the Alberta’s distilling industry. Photo by William Guenter

Five years ago, Caitlin Quinn could be found jotting down notes and studying the periodic table in her chemistry class at the University of Glasgow. Now, she’s working at Eau Claire Distillery in Calgary, crafting gin and vodka, and leading the growing Alberta distilling industry.

Quinn was born in Canada, but moved to Scotland when she was 18 months old. She lived in Scotland for 24 years and is the first of her family to become a distiller.

“I have no family background in this trade. My mom owns a liquor store back home but that’s it ... she sells the booze, but I make the booze,” said Quinn.

Growing up in Scotland influenced Quinn to get her master’s degree in Distilling and Brewing. The only place in the world to get your master’s in Distilling and Brewing is in Edinburgh at Heriot-Watt University – very close to where she grew up.

Quinn attributes her decision to pursue a distilling career to her education in chemistry.

“After doing five years of chemistry, I decided I didn't want to be chemist. Which is one of those moments in life where you’re like, ‘I have no idea what I want to do,’” Quinn said. “So I started looking into the different courses and I found this one at Heriot-Watt and figured there was no better way to use my science.”

Even though Quinn may not have had a childhood dream of becoming a head distiller, she said she has gained a love for creating new blends and recipes for flavoured spirits. Namely gin, which has become a favourite among consumers of her brand.


One of Caitlin Quinn’s greatest accomplishments is her Parlour Gin, which won multiple awards in 2016, including third best gin in the world at the Berlin International Spirits Competition. Photo by William Guenter

“You can play around with the ingredients and tastes a lot ... so you never really know where it’s going to go, you just have to taste it.”

Quinn has produced many different styles of vodka and white spirits and is working on a whiskey blend. Her unique style of gin remains at the forefront of her distilling accomplishments.

Canadian laws and regulations state whisky must sit in barrels for at least three years for it to be considered a genuine whisky.

Because of this waiting period, Quinn has been able to focus primarily on her white spirits now, such as her world-renowned Parlour Gin.

Parlour Gin is one of Quinn’s highest accomplishments which won multiple awards in 2016, including third best gin in the world at the Berlin International Spirits Competition.

Eau Claire Distillery set up its roots in the town of Turner Valley, Alta — an old hub for moonshining and distillation during the prohibition days. The town is known for producing some of Alberta’s best barley, which makes it an interesting and fun place to visit, according to Eau Claire Distillery owner David Farran.

Farran petitioned Heriot-Watt for recent graduates and found Quinn to be the most qualified.

“[Quinn] was top of her class and is amazing at what she does. She has a really good sense of taste and ability to be creative — which we need in craft distilling ... we’re just very lucky that we got her.”

With so many craft breweries in the province, Quinn believes craft distilleries will soon gain popularity.

“I think it’s just easier to make beer. A couple places are starting to buy stills to turn the beer they make into spirits ... I think it’s just a matter of time,” said Quinn.

Bryce Parsons, head distiller for Last Best Brewery and Distillery and a fellow Heriot-Watt graduate, also agrees the craft distilling industry is growing.

“I know in Alberta [craft distilling] is picking up, for sure. There’s already about six of us in the province. I hear more rumblings of new projects coming on board, so it will definitely be picking up.”

The editor responsible for this story is Tayari Skey, 

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