By Shari Fenn, Content Contributor
Set to open early Spring in picturesque Turner Valley,the Eau Claire Distillery is being built to serve demand from the next revolutionary beverage-community movement: artisanal, small-batch craft spirits.
Where glacial Rocky Mountain waters flow into fertile Alberta farmland, Eau Claire’s gins, vodkas and whiskies will bottle local flavour from Turner Valley’s local farm ingredients into limited handcrafted batches.
Eau Claire Distillery’s grain to glass
Most people have heard the expression “farm to fork.” But what about “grain to glass?”
According to David Farran, the founder of Eau Claire Distillery and a former vice president of Big Rock Brewery. “Much like the ‘farm-to-fork’ philosophy, we have a ‘grain-to-glass’ philosophy.We believe today’s sophisticated consumer cares about unique niche flavours and where and how the spirit was produced.”
Eau Claire’s principles include complete transparency and traceability about the ingredients and where the ingredients are produced.
The distillery will produce the following variations that are designed to appeal to a discriminating crowd:
- Single malt and rye whisky
- Premium vodka
- London style dry gin
- Specialty blends
The distillery will also introduce Alberta one-of-a-kind seasonal specialties that will be unique to the Calgary Region, using the latest technology from Germany.
“We will have some core brands people can enjoy in a tasting room that will not disappoint. The room is designed to be a social setting for business groups, tourists and local visitors from the Calgary Region,” says Farran.
Local farmers will provide the facility with many of the grains needed including malting barley, rye, wheat and potatoes.
Local craft distillery movement
While recent in Canada, the craft distillery movement started with success a few years ago in the United States, and is slowly taking hold North of the border, starting with B.C. and Ontario and now with us in Alberta.
Eau Claire Distillery is a name of great historical significance in Alberta, meaning ‘clear water’.
Less than an hour from Calgary, Alberta, next to the Sheep River, Turner Valley was selected as a distillery hub for its rich history and immediate proximity to the rural farmers of world-class malting barley, rye, wheat, and potatoes.
In addition to its direct from the farm suppliers, Eau Claire has a special connection to the land through their own, unique stable of plough horses.
A number of products will be made with ‘horse farmed grain’ using agricultural methods dating back to the settlement of Alberta.
The distillery is setting up shop in Turner Valley’s historic movie theatre on a street known as ‘Whiskey Row’ during Prohibition in the 1920s.
Turner Valley is the centre of North America’s largest oil field find in 1914. It was a wild town populated by roughnecks, ranchers and opportunists.
“This is exactly the type of business we are trying to attract; one which uses locally-grown and developed products to create an amazing blend of premium spirits while promoting the culture and heritage of the Region.” – Turner Valley Mayor Kelly Tuck
Farran is a former vice-president at Big Rock Brewery in Calgary, from where the partners and many of the staff originated. “We are just old brew masters who wanted to make whiskey,” said Kerwin, the company’s head distiller.
“We are approaching this from the point of view that if we can make really good beer, we can make really good whiskey,” says Farran
The vodka is made from locally grown Meredith barley, and the company used Farran’s draft horses to plant 12 acres of spring rye at the Bar U Ranch historical site.
The distillery also planted some barley using horses, and other grain plots that were been seeded at Landon, east of Calgary.
“We wanted to see if we could do the full cycle of actually growing the grain the old way,” Farran said.
Working with local farmers
The partners want to establish growing contracts with local farmers because they are looking for specific varieties of grain flavours and quality.
“The brewery looks for specific grain qualities that will translate into premium distilled products. In some cases, we will commission a farmer to produce a specific varietal to meet our requirements,” say Farran. “In our distillery, we use directly sourced natural ingredients to ensure the best flavours are inherent in every product. Our custom manufactured, German made distilling equipment is the best in the world, giving us the ability to carefully manage the most minute flavour detail to precision.”
The product will be sold like wine, where one can trace products back to specific farmers, fields and grain varieties.
The 750 millilitre bottles are corked and sealed by hand, and the first runs of vodka are available in some Calgary liquor stores.
The distilling byproducts are going to a local bison farmer.
Message from Mayor of Turner Valley: Kelly Tuck
“We are really pleased to see this type of interest and investment in the community. This is exactly the type of business we are trying to attract; one which uses locally-grown and developed products to create an amazing blend of premium spirits while promoting the culture and heritage of the region.”
Mayor Tuck explains that the business model aligns nicely with the economic development framework set out in the Town’s vision to expand cultural and tourism-related experiences, and to grow business from within. Not only will it fill a commercial vacancy, but it will bring vibrancy to the downtown core by restoring a historically significant building – the former Turner Valley Theatre.
Check out the website for more details about the distillery and the secret of quality spirit making.
WATCH FOR YOUR INVITATION TO THE OPENING via Calgary Region Focus.
Shari Fenn is a communications strategist and advocate for healthy and sustainable living in the Calgary Region.