Pemberton to get vodka distillery 

Spud Valley potatoes key to B.C.-only product

Vodka drinkers across the province will soon get a taste of Pemberton, as the village has issued a development permit to build a distillery in its industrial park.

Pemberton Distillery Inc. is the brainchild of Tyler Schramm, a Pemberton resident who came up with the idea in the summer of 2002. He and brother Jonathan, who had recently bought land in the Pemberton Meadows, were drumming up ideas on what to do with it.

“He was leasing out the farm to a farmer who was growing potatoes on it at the time,” Tyler Schramm said. “We were sort of tossing around ideas of what he could do with this land, one of them was doing potato vodka.”

He dismissed the idea for a time, but it slowly came back to him in 2005 when he decided to go to Scotland. It was there that he got a master’s degree in brewing and distilling with the intention of coming back home and starting a distillery of his own.

That vision is now coming to fruition. The development permit approved on Sept. 16 will allow Schramm to construct a 4,000 square foot distillery at 1954 Venture Place.

The facility, according to Schramm, will be constructed in accordance with “strict rules” the VOP has set down for buildings in the industrial park.

“The outside of it, it’s a steel building,” Schramm said. “They have to be industrial-looking… nothing special on the outside.”

The main area, however, will be a processing area with German-made copper and stainless steel stills. Schramm also hopes to have an onsite shop and tasting area for the vodka.

Getting vodka from potatoes isn’t exactly getting blood from a stone — Schramm said you can make vodka from pretty much any starch source. The starch content of potatoes is then distilled several times to make a “pure ethanol” product, according to him.

First off you need potatoes, yeast and enzymes — and Schramm intends to use organic ones grown in Pemberton. The enzymes are used to convert the starch into sugars. Then you add the yeast, which “metabolizes” the sugars. The byproducts of this process are ethanol and carbon dioxide, Schramm said.

At this point you have a strong beer, a product that is then put into the stills.

“Each time you run it through the still it refines it into a higher percentage alcohol,” Schramm said. “The goal with vodka is to distill as close to 96 per cent alcohol as you can… and then you dilute it down to around 40 per cent.”

He hopes to sell the product exclusively in British Columbia, with an initial focus on the Whistler and Vancouver markets.

“It’s small scale and I want to keep it fairly exclusive,” Schramm said. “I definitely have my limitations in my production capacity, it’s definitely going to be a B.C.-only product.”

He wants to keep it in B.C. because he likes the idea of having products available locally, but he also feels there’s a gap in the market for spirits made in the province.

“I’d essentially like to be a local supplier and have people drinking it locally.”

The project is still in its early stages but Schramm’s goal is to start producing test batches in November and full production in December. He expects to have the product available in liquor stores by January or February.

Schramm estimates Pemberton Distillery will create about four to five full-time jobs. He also expects to be in Pemberton a long time and see the distillery become a successful venture.

“A lot of the profits will definitely be invested back in the community,” Schramm said. “All my potatoes are coming from local farmers.”

Pemberton Mayor Jordan Sturdy is excited at the prospect of having a vodka distillery in town, but he said the idea has been floated around for years.

“I guess my only surprise here is how long it took someone to actually do it,” he said. “Potato vodka is top of the line vodka.”

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