What Pemberton Distillery in Pemberton, British Columbia lacks in convenience it makes up for in extraordinary spirits. Founded 2008 as an outlet to use the valley’s abundant, world-class, potatoes in an award-winning connoisseur’s vodka, the distillery has come to offer a full suite of options including whisky, gin, liqueurs, brandy, schnapps and absinthe.
On a recent tour with owner and master-distiller Tyler Schramm I had the opportunity to taste all of the above. One nose of the whisky took me back to a favored trip to Speyside Scotland and its famous distilleries.
This shouldn’t be surprising. Schramm learned his craft in the Brewing and Distilling school at Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh. His Pemberton Valley Organic Single Malt Whisky would comfortably keep company with offerings from Macallan, Glenlivet or Aberlour.
“Man on a Mission”
Schramm used this phrase when describing his year-long crash-course in distillation across the Atlantic. While in Scotland, Schramm said he experimented with roughly 100 different vodka recipes before landing on the combination of ingredients and processes which would become Schramm Vodka.
He had a lot to learn. Schramm’s background was farming, not spirits. Schramm’s family owned farm land in the Pemberton Valley and it is his ingredients where Schramm finds his greatest passion.
“We decided before we started that being certified organic was going to be part of the plan stemming from my interest in organic farming,” Shramm said.
The distillery’s mission to “express the character of the Pemberton Valley in the highest quality organic spirits” stands as more than lip service. Pemberton Distillery is Certified Organic to Canada, the US and European National standards. The process of becoming “certified organic” in Canada took three years.
Worth the Extra Effort
“It is a costly and time consuming process but something that we believe in so we are willing to take on the extra effort,” Shramm said. “We can only work with organic suppliers for our raw materials, all of our inputs have to be approved by the organic body, and our process is also approved by the organic body. Our cleaning agents, storage of materials, everything happens in accordance with the organic rules.
We undergo an annual audit and inspection by a third party verification officer. A large part of it is keeping detailed records so that the Organic Certification Board can see that you are doing what you say you are doing and calculate whether or not non-organic raw materials are entering the process.”
Pemberton Distillery produces all of its spirits on-site from 100% BC grown organic potatoes, grains and fruits. It prides itself on being able to track each spirit batch to the very farms the ingredients were grown on.
This painstaking process obviously isn’t for everyone. Pemberton Distillery offers the world’s only organic potato vodka. Schramm’s pain, however, results in your pleasure.
A Vodka Unlike Any Other
While gin, also made from potatoes, has become its best-seller, the potato-based vodka started it all for Pemberton Distillery.
Pemberton bills itself as the seed potato capital of Canada. The Pemberton Potato is 100% pure, never having been effected by any of the world’s numerous potato illnesses. Pemberton Potatoes are used to “seed” other potato fields across Canada and the United States – Idaho included.
That question, “what to do with all of these potatoes,” set Schramm on his journey. Pemberton Distillery uses over 40 tons of organic Pemberton potatoes annually to make its spirits. Five different varieties go into the recipe and Schramm prefers using “cull” potatoes – those too big or too small to sell commerically.
Using potatoes to produce vodka is inefficient. Potato spirit takes twice as long to distill as grain spirit and grain yields three times more product. Today’s mass produced vodkas are more likely to be the result of grains, fruits or sugars than potatoes for those reasons.
Distillation of one batch of Schramm Vodka in its hand-operated copper still takes 17 hours.
Schramm’s vodka further bucks contemporary trends by not attempting to strive for “flavorlessness.” Schramm wants his vodka to have flavor, to have a personality, to more closely resemble a single-malt scotch than a tasteless vehicle college kids add orange juice to in order to get drunk.
He has succeeded. I’m not experienced enough in vodka to compare Schramm Vodka to any other. I can tell you this: I don’t typically like vodka and I thoroughly enjoyed what I tasted – neat – at Pemberton Distillery.
It did have character and flavor. It was savory, smooth and easy to drink. Both my 70-year-old mother and 30-something wife also found it appealing. If you’re after the unusual, Schramm Vodka is a must-try.
Good Things Come in Small Batches at Pemberton Distillery
Schramm’s operation now includes two additional employees: his wife and younger brother. Pemberton Distillery is small. It produces only 5,000 liters of spirit per year. The Scrhamms are involved in every step of the process from sourcing the ingredients to bottling the product. They constructed the building which houses the distillery themselves.
It’s a 24/7/365 labor of love which has the three working almost around the clock. While Schramm looks forward to growing the distillery, he admits a scale much larger would not allow for the rigorous quality-control standards he follows.
Pemberton Distillery is located on a lonely stretch of British Columbia Highway 99 roughly 30 twisting miles north of Whistler-Blackcomb ski resort (1954 Venture Place, Pemberton, BC). This is how my family came to find Schramm – on a ski vacation.
The distillery sits less than a mile off the main road in an industrial “park,” shall we say. You will not find a paved parking lot. The reward for your efforts are Schramm’s easy hospitality and the wonderful spirits.
Within British Columbia, Pemberton Distillery products can be found at select liquor stores, restaurants, bars and farmer’s markets. Online ordering with shipping within Canada is available at www.pembertondistillery.com.