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bottle & glass: farm-crafted canadian vodka

Hi all! It’s Amy’s husband Michael. I’d like to introduce you a new series coming to, called Bottle and Glass. We'll be sharing our passion for fine drink, especially those made here in Canada. We want to tell the stories of the growing craft distilling scene in Ontario and beyond, and the hard-working people making it happen.

For my first column, I'm introducing you to Ken and Liz Beattie and their family, proprietors of Beattie’s Distilleries in Alliston, Ontario. The Beattie farm has been a major potato producer for five generations, but recently they took the leap from farming to distilling vodka from potatoes. And the first back of Beattie's Distillers Farm-Crafted Potato Vodka is now on shelves at the LCBO.

Vodka. Usually made from grains or potatoes, and historically distilled a number of times through a column still to achieve a refined and subtle spirit. I can’t think of a single drink that demands to be distilled in Canada more than vodka, and yet the shelves of most liquor stores are stocked with European brands. We have all of the inputs in abundance and have the cold running in our veins.

Vodka has been popular for hundreds of years from Sweden to Bulgaria, but if there is one area where Canada should be flexing its muscles, it’s craft vodka. And yet, while we produce at the low-end of the spectrum, only in the last five years have Canadian craft distillers been producing high-quality spirits at the top end of the spectrum.

Vodka has been made from potatoes for centuries, and is exceptionally popular in Poland in particular. Many of you will find the differences between a potato vodka and grain-based vodka to be imperceptible. To connaisseurs, potato vodkas can achieve more a viscous, sumptuous mouthfeel than their grain-based cousins. I asked Ken Beattie to talk a little about potato vodka.

“Well, we like to think that old school is sometimes best. And the history of vodka dating back to the 15th century is that potatoes were the first ingredients used to make vodka. We think potatoes make the purest form of distilled vodka, and a large number of experts agree with us. Our product is very pure, very clean and the taste has a subtle butter cream taste to make it enjoyable. We like the fact there is tradition and quality to potato vodka, because that’s how we lead our business for four generations now.”

I snagged a bottle from the Beatties’ first public release at the LCBO on Bank and MacLeod and tried it at room and freezer temperatures. It was a bit strong on the nose, but very clean on the palate, with subtle citrus and cream flavours peaking before a smooth finish.

The Beattie’s contender certainly had that expected mouthfeel to it, which would make this a good vodka to sip cold on its own. Overall I found it to be a solid contender at its $34.95 price point. This is more expensive than several competing vodkas (notably Wyborowa and Luksusowa) but less than premium segment competitors like Chopin.

Farming being the most demanding of industries, I asked the Beatties how they came to make their busy lives even busier by opening the distillery. “Vodka and whisky have long been a passion of ours. We like tasting and trying new products, but it was in 2012 when Liz and I were on holiday in PEI and we stumbled across a potato farm that was making vodka, and we thought to ourselves, ‘we could do that.’ So we got together with some folks who knew the industry and the helped us build our distillery, create our recipes and introduce us to the LCBO.”

They certainly faced barriers as all new distillers do in this province, but were pleased to reach a distribution deal with the LCBO so now you can find their product on shelves throughout the province.

“Despite the provincial regulations on tax and distribution limiting our exposure of the brand - compared to craft beer, as an example - we must say that the buying team at the LCBO have been incredibly supportive of Beatties Distillers and the market. Indeed, you just need to look at how many new craft products are on shelf to understand how progressive the buying team are.”

The Beatties have been hitting the road since their debut, working the farmer’s market circuit to drum up interest in their product. While they distill in Oakville at the moment, they are looking to build a new facility closer to home in Alliston to fulfill their farm-to-still objective.

Opening to the public on September 1, the new distillery will help grow their production, and will support the local community by keeping quality employment in town. In addition, Beattie’s Distilleries donates proceeds from each bottle to help support a variety of community associations, such as the local hospice and food bank.

As a recent entrant to a growing market, the Beatties are optimistic and eyeing a positive future for them and their industry. They've purchased equipment that will help them expand their line, and they believe that the market for Canadian craft spirits has plenty of room to grow.

“We are generally excited that the market is extending. We think it's great to support local, and the market can certainly sustain new local businesses.”

I share their optimism!

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