St. Albert welcomes first craft distillery

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A new craft distillery is close to calling St. Albert home. Black Diamond Distillery is waiting on the Alberta Gaming and Liquor Commission to give them the green light before uncorking spirit sales and liquor tasting.

“We’ve had so much positive feedback,” said Andrea Scade, part-owner of the business.

Located in Riel, the 1,400 square-foot space will offer spirit tastings, spirits for purchase and an upstairs room for party bookings.

Andrea’s husband David Scade is co-owner and the master distiller behind the business. Scade said he started making spirits in his basement as a hobby.

He said people who tasted his homemade vodka and whiskys quickly fell in love with his product. From hot chili vodka to apple pie liqueur, David said the list is long for how many flavoured spirits he’s developed.

“So far the biggest reaction is that everybody loves it,” he said. “I keep telling people not to just tell me the good stuff, if something needs work tell us and we’ll adjust the recipes. We want the negative feedback as well as the positive, but we’ve got none in terms of negative feedback.”

Once the AGLC changed its regulations, Scade said he and his wife decided to open the business. He said before spirits could only be produced in large quantities, making it nearly impossible for craft distilleries to get into the market.

As soon as the AGLC permits the business to sell spirits, Andrea said you won’t find their product in many liquor stores across St. Albert.

Instead the craft distillery plans to sell their product from in-house as well as provide some stock to locally-owned retailers, such as local restaurants or liquor stores.

“We want to stay small-batch, we want to know our customers and we want our customers to know us,” she said. “In the short-term and long-term we don’t see ourselves mass producing.”

Spirits and science

People may be surprised to find that the duo are not big fans of drinking. Andrea said it was the science behind brewing that sparked his interest.

“We kinda geek out on the science behind it moreso then the actual finished product of it,” she said.

When David brewed spirits in his basement as a hobbyist, he said he used a basic steel pot that held 14 litres, which drained into a plastic pail. The equipment in his distillery far surpasses the bare-boned fixtures he once used to create spirits.

Making spirits at the Black Diamond Distillery begins with basic grain-based materials. Heading over to a large steel cylinder capable of holding 400 ml, called a mash tun, barley or wheat is dropped in.

The mash tun turns Alberta wheat into fermentable sugars. Once the process is complete, the liquid is stored in barrels while yeast bubbles and ferments the sugars.

Since yeast is so temperamental, heating bands have been fastened around the barrels to regulate the temperature to 24 C.

After seven to 12 days when the sugars are gone, the substance is transferred to a stil, which distils the liquor. The one at Black Diamond Distillery has six columns, which means the spirit will have been distilled, or purified, six times before being bottled.

David said he paid for a more expensive copper stil, which he said adds flavour and better purifies the product.

Once distilled, the liquor drains into a glass jug. It’s divided into three parts: the head, the heart and the tail.

He said the first part of the alcohol is called the head, which is flavourful but not the best tasting part. It’s stored and run through again at a later time.

The middle of the liquor pouring out is called the heart, which David said tastes the best. This is what ends up being bottled for consumption.

“It’s typically higher per cent and typically tasty stuff,” he said.

Once the heart starts collecting, David pours a sample into a beaker and measures its alcohol content with a hydrometer, which looks like a thermostat. Each glass jug contains up to 91 per cent alcohol, akin to rubbing alcohol.

From there, water is added to the liquor to bring down its alcohol percentage. Once it’s the right number, it’s now ready for flavouring.

The type of spirit  that is being made will determine how long it sits for. David said whisky, for example, needs to sit for three years before it can officially be called a whisky.

Lastly, it’s time to cork and sell. Black Diamond Distillery will sell two sizes of bottles: 375 ml and 750 ml.

Andrea said they would offer special flavoured alcohol depending on the season, such as cranberry and apple for fall. The craft distillery will also create spirits for any special occasion, such as weddings and birthdays.

“It’s been such a nervous and exciting experience for all the hard work that’s gone into getting to where we are,” she said.

Andrea said the distillery could be open later this week or early next.

The business is located at #200, 16 Renault Crescent. For more information on the opening date, check out the Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/blackdiamonddistillery/.

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Dayla Lahring

Dayla Lahring joined the St. Albert Gazette in 2017. She writes about business, health, general news and features. She also contributes photographs.