VERNON - When the shiny pieces of Okanagan Spirits' new state-of-the-art copper stills arrived, there was only one problem: The instructions were in German.
With no one fluent in the language, setting up the 50-plate still and 1,500 and 2,000 litre copper pots—now the largest in Western Canada—was an entertaining process, laughs owner Tony Dyck. The columns of the still are so tall, the roof of the distillery’s new location on 24 Street had to be punched out to accommodate the top 10 feet of the equipment.
The new 16,000 square foot location (four times as big as the former site on 28 Avenue, near Okanagan Springs Brewery) and equipment upgrade are part of a major expansion at Okanagan Spirits, which recently brought home a number of international awards.
“We outgrew the old space,” spokesperson Rodney Goodchild says. “From the holding of product, the addition of barrels, warehousing—everything was getting bigger and bigger, and the space kept getting smaller and smaller.”
Already a leader in the world of fruit liqueurs and brandies, the enlarged space will allow the company to expand its foothold in another classic beverage: Whiskey.
“Whiskey has always been huge, it has a great following,” Goodchild says.
Okanagan Spirits has released whiskey on a small scale over the years, but because the product has to age at least three years, there’s never been enough room to make large batches. It’s so popular, Goodchild says, that it sells out as soon as it hits the shelves.
“You need to build up an inventory,” he says. “In five to ten years, if we have quadruple, or five or six times our production (of whiskey) and we hold it and age it, it will put us in a great footing with provincial, and even international, markets.”
In a nod to the direction its taking with whiskey production, the new facility features a 1920s prohibition theme with a moonshiners shack for a tasting bar. Visitors will also notice a local flair with reclaimed posts from the old Fruit Packing House and wood material from the gym floor of a closed down elementary school in Enderby.
“That’s always been our story, very local,” Goodchild says.
When Okanagan Spirits started a decade ago, it was the first craft distillery around, Goodchild says. In the years that followed, the industry expanded, now with 23 licensed distilleries across B.C.
Something key to the Okanagan Spirits concept is education, owner Tony Dyck adds. That’s why all the copper still equipment was left visible to visitors, not even a glass screen between them. Patrons will be able to watch the stills in action and learn about the process that gets liquor to their glass.
“We do well at the competitions, but when you see your friends buying a product, using it and promoting it, that does make you feel good. To make a product people are happy and proud to serve, it’s rewarding to be able to do that,” Dyck says.
The official opening for the new location is April 24 and will feature an open house, but visitors are welcome to stop by before then to sample products and look around.
“By all means, the door is open,” Goodchild says.
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