Pemberton and Lillooet spirit makers making headlines 

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This has been a good couple of weeks for spirit producers to the north.

First, we learned that master distiller Tyler Schramm was named one of Canada's Top 40 Foodies Under 40 for 2012 by Western Living magazine. Next, Fort Berens Estate Winery in Lillooet celebrated the release of its first estate wines.

Western Living acknowledges Schramm, 33, for his bold decision to open a distilling operation in a province with tough liquor regulations that make getting started in the spirits business a challenge.

According to the magazine, Pemberton's master distiller has created "a beautiful, round, mouth-filling potato vodka that can compete with the world's best."

The Pemberton Distillery recently released an organic gin and there are plans to follow the gin with a single-malt whisky just over a year from now.

Western Living puts Schramm in with some impressive company. It has also named Brad Stanton, 36, and Terry Threlfall, 35, of Hawksworth in Vancouver in the Top 40 list. Hawksworth won six awards at the Vancouver Magazine annual restaurant awards last month. One of the awards was the coveted Restaurant of the Year award. Stanton is the bar and lounge manager while Threlfall is the wine director. Vancouver Magazine named Threlfall Sommelier of the Year.

"I've been a bit surprised by how much people have told me they saw my name in Western Living magazine," Schramm says after giving a Saturday afternoon tour of the distillery in Pemberton.

All the products coming out of his distillery are based on a potato spirit. Schramm's potato Vodka is available at B.C. Liquor Stores and in a number of places in Alberta, but the gin can only be found in private liquor stores at this point. Schramm says the classic London dry gin is just one of only two potato gins being produced in the world. The gin can be purchased at the Nesters private liquor store. Of course, all the products are available for purchase at the distillery in Pemberton as well.

The Schramms describe their operation as a family-owned organic artisan distillery. The Schramm story started with the potatoes. Tyler's brother Jonathon and Jonathon's wife have a small potato farm. In 2002, the brothers were discussing what Jonathan and his wife could do with their potatoes. Over the winter of 2008 brothers Tyler, Jonathon and Jake built the distillery and a year later they bottled their first batch of vodka.

Now, as they branch into other spirits the awards and acknowledgements are rolling in for the Pemberton Distillery.

Lillooet grapes

A quick 90-minute drive and 99 kilometres to the northeast from the Pemberton Distillery takes us to Fort Berens Estate Winery. It also moves us from potatoes to grapes as the Lillooet winery is celebrating the release its first estate wines.

The first bottles of wine produced using grapes grown in Lillooet were opened on the last day of April.

MLA Pat Bell, who represents the riding of Prince George-Mackenzie, was one of the first to congratulate winery owners Rolf de Bruin and Heleen Pannekoek.

"As Minister of Jobs, Tourism and Innovation I am pleased to congratulate Fort Berens on the release of the first wines from the newest wine region of B.C.," Bell said in a release. "Although my portfolio has changed from the time that I first pursued the idea of a winery in the Lillooet area the release that you are announcing today is one of the most exciting developments in B.C.'s Agritourism sector."

The release of the first wines handcrafted with grapes grown on the 20 acres of estate vineyards in Lillooet have the wine sector declaring Lillooet as "Canada's Hot Spot" wine region. Lillooet has an average summer daytime temperatures slightly hotter than the south Okanagan.

Fort Berens is based in a rustic farm building now and in the future the plans include the construction of a gravity-flow winery.

While Fort Berens is getting attention for moving from using Okanagan grapes to producing wine only using Lillooet fruit, Canada's newest wine hot spot is also home to at least two other wine producers.

Former Lillooet mayor Christ'l Roshard and her family have been growing grapes and making wine dating back to 1972. Roshard and her family have never produced wine for a commercial market, but they certainly pioneered the industry in Lillooet.

In 2009, the same year Fort Berens started operations, Eckhard Zeidler and Brad Kasselman started growing grapes at Texas Creek Ranch. Zeidler and Kasselman are Whistler residents helping Lillooet transform itself into Canada's next big wine producing town after stints as a gold rush town, a logging community and a ginseng source.

Fort Berens award winning wines are available through the winery's wine club, private liquor stores and a number of restaurants in southwest B.C.

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