Today marks a truly auspicious occasion in the sometimes mirky history of Vancouver’s liquor trade. Long Table Distillery officially opens its doors—marking the launch of the city’s first distillery in several decades.
The path to pulling the wraps off the converted warehouse hasn’t been easy. “And nobody said it would be,” says owner and distiller Charles Tremewen, who with his wife Rita have seen their long held dream—fueled by a passion for sustainable, handmade products—come to fruition.
Walk in to their sparkling new tasting room at 1451 Hornby Street, just down from Pacific Avenue, and your eyes will be drawn immediately to the namesake long table (made from a single, giant slab of Sequoia redwood)—and then, beyond, to the gleaming, 300-litre handmade Christian Carl copper still, clearly visible through the full width rear window.
As we sip on a gin and tonic, garnished with a slice of cucumber, Charles and Rita explain how it all came to be, after a visit to Portland’s Distillery Row found them asking themselves, “Why not in Vancouver?”
Charles, whose interests extend from distilling to all things sustainable, went to work on a business plan, commenced studies in Artisan Distilling at Michigan State U—and embarked on a search for a location.
A keen runner, he’d noticed the building (which had morphed from art gallery to condo presentation centre) for a couple of years as he ran by, and thought its location would be good.
“We wanted to have people coming through the door as part of the business. It’s the social side—the chance to show people the product and let them enjoy it on the premises,” he says.
“It’s very central, between Yaletown, the West End and Granville Island”—a location that’s proved already to be ideal. Tremewen says it never dawned on him just how busy this street is, until one day he was parked outside and saw a steady stream of people heading down the hill to catch the ferry to Granville Island.
“We’re also surrounded by bike lanes which really fits with our sustainable model, he says.
Getting a space was also somewhat crucial, as their shiny new still had arrived.
“The line-up to get a still was getting longer and longer,” in no small part due to the boom in craft distilling south of the line.
“We thought we’d better buy one, so we put in an order for the Christian Carl—which is probably one of the better machines from a top German manufacturer, and we were able to come up with fairly customised version that suits our purposes: making a variety of apothecary style products—including gin and vodka”, (and later on limoncello, aquavit—and eventually whisky.
Charles has a background that includes senior positions with Salt Spring Coffee and Nature’s Path Foods, so it makes sense that his passions for sustainability and background in the food industry should be merged in the production of craft spirits.
Currently there are two products on offer. And we were truly impressed with both—the gin in particular though. It’s extremely pure and clean tasting with a definite up front juniper personality and a gentle citrus undertone, super smooth—and even though obviously quite happy with a G&T would definitely shine in a dry martini.
“Stoned Texada” Vodka is so named because it’s filtered through Texada limestone.
“We wanted to is create something a little different…so we ran it through the limestone to polish and mineralise it,” says Charles. The result is more mouthfeel and a definite mineral character, as well as a mild hint of lemongrass, thorough which it’s also filtered. Charles says he already has no shortage of “converts.”
(There’s a back story here: apparently Texada Isand’s Pocahontas Bay (on the north east shore) was once the site of the biggest Prohibition era whisky still north of Vancouver—busted in 1928.)
Right now the juniper is imported (as is the grain alcohol) but Tremewen plans to move ahead quickly to incorporate as many local ingredients as possible.
Once the snow has melted, he says, the first nations foragers with whom he works will be out in the mountains harvesting local juniper, as well as the likes of Mountain Ash, wild ginger, wild strawberries … and the list goes on.
Tremewen is keen on the idea of using as many BC ingredients as possible. Not only because it makes sense and fits with the ever growing locavore philosophy but also because, under new BC liquor legislation, it will likely enable Long Table to grow in ways unimaginable even just a few months ago.
“The difference with artisan distilling is control.” he says.
“We have the ability to produce small batches with a variety of spices or fresh fruits or herbs—and we’ll have a lot of fun with it.”
Already Long Table is discovering willing partners, from a bee keeper (whose high quality honey could wind up in a specialty vodka) to small scale raspberry and blueberry famers whose fruit would be welcomed.
“As a distiller, I’m excited when I can take that taste and combine it into a great flavoured product. What’s cool about it is: we do say we’re ‘all about local’ which really means working with local people too.
Long Table has hit the ground running. That maybe comes as no surprise, given the degree of professionalism at play here. Even though the timing may appear serendipitous (especially considering Victoria’s apparent new-found enthusiasm to give craft distillers a long overdue break) there’s still no shortage of questions as to just how craft distilleries will operate.
“As far as the shifting ground of liquor laws”, Tremewen says, “It’s still a bit unclear as to just what we can and can’t do.” But as a member of the Artisan Distillers Guild of BC, he’s optimistic that the Minister is listening. And the intent seems good.
Recent changes announced include the following:
“Distilled liquor products that consist of 100 per cent British Columbia agricultural raw materials and are distilled in B.C. by licensed distilleries are now eligible for mark-up exempt direct sales.”
“The challenge for distillers is attaining the 100% BC classification,” suggests Tremewen, who says the guild is working as a team to come up with some answers.
“It’s easy for wineries—who have only grapes to work with. But for us, as a distillery, the challenge is what to do if you want some diversity. For instance what do you do if you want to make rum? Or whisky using imported malt and barley?”
Then again, as he says, “It’s never easy being a trailblazer…. But I’m pretty proud that we’ve done this in Vancouver.”
And rightly so.
You can (and will want to) buy Long Table’s gin ($50) and vodka ($45) from the tasting room, 10 am- 6 pm, Friday and Saturday. They should be available at BCLS this spring. Distillery tours are offered at 4 pm on Saturday. Visits at other times by appointment only.