Young: Liquor distillery dream realized

Imust admit that I am continuously amazed at the calibre and uniqueness of the genuine entrepreneurs that I meet and interview for my Capital News column each week.

Last week, I had the pleasure of interviewing a young man who challenged himself to create a business opportunity from a passion that he enjoyed for a number of years while he continued his education and work experience.

Please join me in this story as we take a close look at how this Okanagan entrepreneur brought his spirit to life.

Born in Medicine Hat  with a father who operated a retail venture for a number of years, Mike Urban neared the completion of his electrical engineering degree in 1998 from NAIT in Alberta.

The workplace drew Urban and he quickly began his working experiences with Shaw Cable here in the Okanagan.

That was followed until 2005 with working with several electronics industry companies that honed his skills not only in the industry itself but also to the world of venture creation, operation and management.

As many people will testify, personal hobbies and passions evolve from many starts and sometimes when least expected.

Urban began his journey in alcohol distilling literally at the home table where he would experiment with a multitude of recipes challenging himself to produce a safe, enjoyable product he could share with his family and friends.

The distilling industry began to excite Urban while still employed in the electronics industry. That enthusiasm led to  begin longing to test himself in the entrepreneurial pathway.

Talking with him at his Kelowna distillery, warehouse and retail outlet, Urban recalled that it took a trip to a cognac distillery in France to absolutely convince him that this was the entrepreneurial spirit that he wished to embrace.

Urban began to  meticulously research his new field of interest in distillery venture development.

He contacted and visited alcohol processors in U.S. and Europe, and enrolled in several relevant educational programs in the U.S..

Eventually in 2010, he made the decision to devote his full-time efforts to design an Okanagan distillery that would be housed in Kelowna.

Once Urban completed his first business plan, he was able to achieve assistance from Community Futures to provide for his Urban Distilleries business launch on Jan. 15, 2011.

Since then, Urban Distilleries has brought a new excitement to the valley landscape through the creation of a small batch micro-distillery producing signature Spirit Bear vodka and gin products with rum and rye along the way targeted for 2011-12.

What I particularly enjoyed in my discussion recently with Urban and his team is the preciseness of the processing of their alcohol products—each batch being handcrafted in an artesian copper still from premium grains and meticulously filtered spring water—using local materials, something urban is very proud of.

The Urban product line is currently being marketed in various locations in western Canada while new product development is underway, such as for a coffee-infused vodka. This means I can have a coffee and a jolt at the same time, does it not? Just kidding, folks.

Mike’s Urban Distillery location is 6-325 Bay Ave. in Kelowna.

I highly recommend that you stop by to tour, taste and explore their retail sales bar.

The experience is memorable as you will become enchanted with Mike Urban’s entrepreneurial spirit and his commitment to raising awareness of the plight of B.C.’s  depleted White Kermode Bear population, the inspiration for his Spirit Bear brand titles.

Great job Mike, and yes your vodka is very smooth, in my mind surpassing at least two other premium brands that you will see on liquor store shelves.

Joel Young is an entrepreneurial leadership educator, consultant and  founder of the Okanagan Valley Entrepreneurs Society.


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