Saskatoon

Farming, flowers and now a gin joint: grain growers start distillery near Saskatoon

New distillery comes with a homegrown twist.

Farmers use homegrown ingredients to make spirits and liqueurs

John Cote and his wife now produce spirits and liqueurs made from homegrown ingredients. (Leisha Grebinski/CBC)

A couple living just outside Saskatoon has branched out into the liquor business using their own produce, flowers and grains to make vodka, gin and other spirits. The Black Fox Spirit distillery is set to open for business this summer.

John Cote and his wife, Barb Stefanyshyn-Cote, used to have a grain farm in Leask before buying a stretch of land on Valley Road, just outside Saskatoon, five years ago.

They wanted to try something different and still make money off of the land so they established Tierra Del Sol, a flower business and an orchard.

They had been exploring different business models to market what they grow, and that's when the idea of a distillery emerged. 
Field-grown flowers produced by Tierra Del Sol. The flower farm is located just outside of Saskatoon. (Leisha Grebinski/CBC)

"We know what we grow very well," said Cote. "We can pick the best things that we have, and we can make distilled spirits, out of it, and voila, we're here."

It's much like being a chef. You can take a lot of different flavours and combine them into something you like.- John Cote

Cote says they start with a careful selection of grain to make vodka or a neutral spirit. After that they add flavourings to make products such as cucumber vodka.

He said he also likes making gin. 

"It's much like being a chef," Cote said. "You can take a lot of different flavours and combine them into something you like." 

Cucumbers, raspberries, haskap berries and rhubarb are just a few of the 150 crops grown on the farm. 

"It's just a matter of using your imagination and seeing what's out in the gardens and using them."

Learning the still life

Cote had to learn how to distill by taking courses, visiting other distilleries, reading a lot and hiring good people.

The learning curve in making spirits can produce some interesting new flavours, especially when making gin. 
John Cote and his wife are about to open Black Fox Distillery, just outside of Saskatoon. They use ingredients grown on their land to make and flavour their spirits. (Leisha Grebinski/CBC)

"We separate out all the little pieces in gin," he explained.

"The botanicals are sitting in a basket and your vapour is running through them and it's slowly picking up all the flavours out of the botanicals and that's the coriander, and the juniper and the cucumber that we have in there."  

Cote said the ingredients come off at different times and you can alter flavours by changing temperatures.

"Even though it may be a mistake you can take it and say, 'Oh that really makes an interesting gin.'"

'The way things used to be done'

The move into the liquor business will not be about competing with the large brands. 

"We can't compete with somebody like Crown Royal," said Cote,"and that's not where we intend to be."

Instead he said they will produce small batches and focus on producing something unique and creating a fun experience for people who want to visit the distillery. 

We're almost getting our memory back. Because this is the way things used to be done.- John Cote
Field-grown flowers produced by Tierra Del Sol. The flower farm is located just outside of Saskatoon. (Leisha Grebinski/CBC)

He said the business fits in very well with the current popularity of the foodie movement.

But he noted that distilling is really an old-fashioned craft. 

"We're almost getting our memory back. Because this is the way things used to be done."

The Black Fox Spirit distillery is set to open in a couple of weeks.

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