Distillery opens shop in shopping hub

Later tonight a Bernard Avenue business will be humming with music, local nosh will be in abundance and style savvy men and women seeking a snifter of something unique will drop by.

It's regular fare for any number of restaurants or cafes in Kelowna's downtown these days, except in this case the hub of activity isn't another new eatery or wine bar, rather Okanagan Spirits — one of a number of  small spirit producers multiplying across the country and showing up where their predecessors never tread.

"We wanted to put a distillery in the downtown," said Tyler Dyck, CEO of Okanagan Spirits, Wednesday, of the business that turns B.C. fruits and berries into a wide array of brandies, liqueurs and spirits.

"We've had a distillery in an industrial area in Vernon for eight years, but decided a few years ago that we wanted to expand the theatre of production side and offer a high end environment to mirror the qualities we go for."

It was an idea that required significant thought, not to mention "dollars, sweat and tears."

As Dyck wryly noted, ensuring all the Is were dotted and Ts were crossed has amounted to the most fire-proof shop on Bernard Avenue, which is a quality bound to delight building inspectors.

For those less interested in the mechanics and more into the theatre, however, there's ample material to gravitate toward.

In trying to bring to life an homage to the high end spirits they produce, the history of the Okanagan and the industry it grew up on, no detail was overlooked.

A shining brass German still that  turns fruits into spirits, anchors the room. It's antique predecessor—both  from a family business that spans five generations— resides in the front window.

Below them are floorboards made of reclaimed wood from the Gellatley Bay Packinghouse. Above are beams from the Laurel Packinghouse.

Scrape past the wax that brings them to their shiny new state and there's even more story to be told.

"This building belonged to David Leckie, and in 1912 he saved the Laurel Packinghouse," said Terry. "So, with this, we brought the Laurel Packinghouse back to Leckie."

The ironic topper to the narrative is that Leckie's son was also the person who brought Alcoholics Anonymous to Kelowna.

"Both the environment and the product create a story," Dyck said.

"We really wanted to reflect the quality of the spirits," added Rodney Goodchild, who speaks to the boozy side of the business.

In the short lifespan of the distillery, Peter von Hahn's concoctions have racked up numerous awards and a strong following among foodies who value  locally produced goods.  Okanagan Spirits's products can be found in a number of high end restaurants, liquor stores and at their own shops. If all goes well in Kelowna, their presence may even spread to a Granville Island based shop.

After all, the bounty of good agricultural stock in this province isn't going anywhere; sometimes, even when it should, pointed out Goodchild.

"We were started by a European that realized so much fruit grows to waste in the Okanagan," he said, grabbing  a wax apple from the shelf in front of him.

"If you're going to grow apples— they better be perfect."

By his estimates, Canadians have been brainwashed to believe that fruit should be gorgeous before it hits their mouths.

"If it rubs against a branch, then it's damaged and nobody wants it," he said. "But nature isn't like that. Nature isn't perfect."

With that in mind, the distillery picks up less than physically perfect apples and pears and plums from packinghouses.

In other cases, they are even more unique in their methodology.

"We get apricots from a guy who has a tree in his back yard," said Goodchild. "We got tickleberries from a picker who went to the boonies to pick them for us."

They've even used seabuckthorn in some of their spirits.

It's not a system that leads to a mass production, like the Hiram Walkers before it, but that's not the point.

"Volume really isn't important," said Goodchild, pointing out that it takes 24 pears to make the 375 millilitre bottle of spirits.

Okanagan Distilleries isn't the only one making spirits in the local area, although at eight years they're the oldest micro distillery in Western Canada. Urban Distilleries opened in Kelowna last year.

"Just like micro breweries, it's about bringing in different tastes from different areas," said Goodchild, of the potential competition.

Opening Night is Thursday December 8 from 5 pm to 8 pm.  Everyone is welcome   taste some of their award-winning spirits and liqueurs, as well as our newest product: Okanagan Spirits GIN.

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