Distilling it on the Rock: Vodka, gin coming out of Clarke's Beach

Move over, beer, and make some room at the table for vodka and gin with a distinct Newfoundland and Labrador flair.

'We are doing it from the grain to the finished product,' says co-founder of Newfoundland Distillery Company

Peter Wilkins, co-founder of the Newfoundland Distillery Company, says barley gives the vodka its smooth finish. (Heather Barrett/CBC)

The craft beer scene may be all the rage, but Peter Wilkins and William Carter of the Newfoundland Distillery Company say their beverage is boastworthy, too. 

"If you can crack vodka, you can do anything else … It's the base of all spirits," says Wilkins.

But Wilkins insisted this is the first vodka of its kind here at home, and it's produced in the former Garfield Ralph building in Clarke's Beach.

He said Iceberg Vodka, for example, is made up of iceberg water and then it's blended with a distilled spirit. According to Iceberg Vodka's own website, the latter is made from Ontario sweet corn. 

The Newfoundland Distillery Company operates out of the former Garfield Ralph building in Clarke's Beach. (Heather Barrett/CBC)

"So blending is a very important, essential process, but it's not actually distilling the alcohol. And we are doing it from the grain to the finished product," Wilkins said. 

Better with barley

Another reason why Wilkins thinks this vodka has the edge?

"Because we use barley, we think it has a bit of a better body … and so makes it slightly more interesting and it holds slightly better flavours when you mix it. But also it's very smooth when you actually finish it," he said. 

The bonding over barley has even created a bounty of benefits, according to Wilkins. 

On the rocks or neat? The company plans to release gin soon. (Heather Barrett/CBC)

"We're very excited to be working with Department of Fisheries and Land Resources, where the government is growing the barley," said Wilkins.

"We will be their industry partner and use the harvest barley, which we will then process and take the germ from, which is what we need. Then we will give the barley husks back to the farmers so they can feed livestock."

Bring on the gin

Wilkins said he's always been interested in making spirits, although the last year ended up being a bit more daunting than the duo anticipated. 

"We actually thought it would be quicker and actually quite easy to do," he said. 

Barley gives vodka an edge and it's grown locally on Newfoundland's west coast. From left to right, Peter Wilkins, MHA Scott Reid, farmer Ian Richardson, and MInister of Fisheries and Land Resources Steve Crocker. (Newfoundland Distillery Company/Facebook)

First, there was the required infrastructure, which included giant copper stills from Georgia, electrical and plumbing work — then you actually have to make it. 

"You grind the barley, you make a mash, you then ferment it for nine days, distill it three times, filter it four times, then we send it off to get it bottled at Rock Spirits in St. John's," Wilkins said. 

The product is now sold at more than two dozen NLC locations and in several restaurants in St. John's.

A labour of love, perhaps, but it's whetted Wilkins' appetite to craft more spirits. 

The company captioned this photo on its Facebook page, 'Triple distilled and triple filtered vodka. End of batch one.' (Newfoundland Distillery Company/Facebook)

"We have gin coming in hopefully two to three weeks," he said. 

And it too, will be crafted with a distinct Newfoundland and Labrador flair. 

"We're doing a cloudberry gin, which will be a lot of juniper, cloudberry — or bakeapple, but we're calling it cloudberry because it sounds more exotic — with a hint of savoury," Wilkins said.

With files from Weekend AM