SPOTLIGHT ON BUSINESS MAGAZINE
Family businesses are usually built from tradition and a deeply entrenched passion.
The Ampersand Distilling Co. is no different. It was born out of Jeremy and Jessica Schacht’s love of craft cocktails, combined with Jeremy and his father Stephen’s engineering backgrounds. Jeremy’s formal education in chemical engineering complimented his parents’ love of organic farming. The result? A craft distillery that combines education with passion to produce top-notch spirits. Although the doors to Ampersand only officially swung open in October 2014, the Schacht family spent the previous three years putting the physical assets together for a distillery. And here’s where things get interesting and unique. They designed and built their equipment by themselves. Just a couple of engineers with a drive for invention and a vision. The business was searching for specific stills that basically didn’t exist. So they took matters into their own hands. When the dust settled, they had created a traditional 1,000-litre pot still and a one-of- a-kind 500-litre column still. The latter is unique in that it is a ‘packed column’ still, responsible for the purity of their spirits. Spotlight on Business spoke with Jessica Schacht about their unique distilling techniques and the craft distilling industry in beautiful British Columbia, Canada.
By John Allaire B asically, with the packed-column still, the difference is, it creates a lot of surface area so the liquid and the vapour spend more time interacting with one another. And we extract only the purest alcohol. Everything comes off the still at about 96.5% to 97%. So that’s the base spirit that we start with for our vodka and our gin.” These numbers are up from a traditional still that would clock in purity levels of between 92%-95%. But Schacht explains that it’s not just the equipment that contributes to their unique spirits. The secret also lies within the process. “We’re batch distilling, as opposed to con- tinuous distillation. When you use a continuous process, you’re constantly feeding low wines into the still. So it’s very hard to separate all the heads and the tails from the hearts. Because we use a batch process, we are able to remove the heads and the tails to use for biodiesel and other things. We collect only the pure tasting hearts. We are able to make really clean cuts with not only the technology, but also with our palettes, smells and taste as well.” While this all may seem pretty technical, it is, in a way, a dream-come- true for Jessica’s chemical engineer husband Jeremy, who is fortunate enough to combine his passion for cocktails and distilling with his formal education.
“It’s been a really fantastic journey, and one we’re excited to still be on.”
“We’ve been able to increase our production by really only adding one member to tightening up systems and working on efficiencies.” the team but really
In case you left your chemical engineering degree in your other jacket, the simple explanation is, by carefully con- trolling the distilling process the unwanted components can be eliminated while maintaining all the substances of quality. This separation, or elimination, of the unpleas- ant and unwanted substances is called rectification and is obtained by removing the heads and tails of the distillate. The good news is, consumers of Ampersand spirits don’t need higher education to enjoy the unique tastes of their vodka and gin. The products speak for themselves, as does the curious name for the company. So let’s leave the chemical engineering to Jeremy and get down to the important marketing and branding questions. Why is the company named after a keyboardsymbol? (An ampersand is one of these “&” by the way, in case you can’t remember back to your grade 10 typing class.) Schacht answers with the certainty of an explanation she has deliv-
ered presumably many times. “Yeah, I’ve always heard that names joined together with an ampersand rather than the word ‘and’ signifies closer collaboration. So this being a family business, it was really a fitting distinction for our venture. We try to embody this notion of bringing things together. So the ampersand fits in Gin & Tonic… ingredi- ents & technology. We’re bringing together the art and the science of distillation. And just the way that cocktails can bring people together in conversation. That’s the ethos we try to embody as we work and create.” And while we’re talking nomenclature here, there was no doubt that we were going to end up with Latin origins and literal symbolism. But Schacht cleverly ties it into the company’s product line. “Ampersand is actually an amal- gamation of the words ‘and per se and.’ It used to actually be the 27th letter in the alphabet… so Ampersand Gin is our flagship product. It’s the spirits and the botanicals that
similar profile. The Ampersand Per Se Vodka became avail- able a year after the gin and, in fact, showcases the column still’s ability to produce the purest of spirits. The vodka’s base comes from 100% organic British Columbia-grown wheat that Ampersand mills, ferments and distills, then blends with their own spring water. It’s an unfiltered vodka with no carbon treatment, giving it a full-bodied texture, perfect for cocktails. Schacht points out that whiskey drinkers are fond of their vodka, as it stands alone as a great sipping spirit. “We try to embody this notion of bringing things together.” Ampersand’s use of organic ingredients and wild-harvest- ed botanicals runs deep into the distillery’s philosophical commitment to local and top-quality components. The distillery itself is located on Vancouver Island in the Cowichan Valley on a 5- acre organic vegetable farm. So it was important for them to use organic ingredients from local farmers. “As a craft distillery, we make our own alcohol from scratch from 100% raw BC agricultural goods. For example, the organic ingredients and BC wheat we use have a nice taste to it. Very neutral with a bit of sweetness to it.” The distillery keeps the sustainability cycle going by returning some by-products back to the farmers for their
come together Per Se is the name of our vodka, which is just the spirit by itself.”
product. The idea to produce gin and vodka, rather than whiskeys and ‘“brown” spirits came directly from Jessica and Jeremy’s love of classic cocktails, and gin in particular. As consumers and enthusiasts, the couple found that gin worked well in a range of cocktails. Their initial idea was to put their own twist on a classic. That ‘twist’ included using local organic ingredients and only the finest botanicals. “In starting out, it was really important to us that our gin be really well balanced, maintaining that classic profile with a bit of a twist.” She stresses that the process is important, but the ingredients make the difference. “We’ve got juni- per-forward, fresh lemon peels for the citrus element, the coriander, adding to the classic flavour, and then we add spices like cardamom, and we round things out with some earthier botanicals. Then we blend it all with our own spring water. What that does is produces a gin that has a top, a middle and a base note that is well-balanced for cocktails, but can also stand on its own.”
Ampersand’s Per Se Vodka was more-or- less born from the success of their gin.
Customers were so impressed by the crisp, clean nature of their gin that requests staring rolling in for a vodka with a
use. “Because we don’t ferment on the grain, once we remove all the sugar, we take the grain out and we give it to local farmers to use as livestock feed. So we put it back directly into the food chain.” While the distillery is making strides toward growing their own botanicals, obviously, some plants are better sourced from their native agricultural zones. But that doesn’t mean there is a compromise on quality. They choose only wild- harvested products from all over the world. Their location in the Cowichan Valley plays a significant role in the development of the crops for the distillery. The weather tends to be much warmer than the surrounding districts, lending itself to fertile soil and lush crops. The property they occupy includes a natural spring — water that they use in their spirits. Thus, unlike many business- es that merely occupy land, Ampersand is working it and contributing to the local agriculture. This has led to exper- imenting with some of the crops they are growing along- side other locally-grown organics, finding ways to use less traditional botanicals in new recipes. In fact, to showcase these experiments, the distillery plans on issuing a “limited edition release” of a Nocino liqueur in time for the holidays. The family-run business appears content to keep up with demand in their home province. But what about the rest of the country? Are there plans for wider distribution? Schacht explains that they currently have the right to direct dis- tribution. That means they can deliver directly to private liquor stores, bars and restaurants who want to carry their products. They can also sell at markets, which affords them the opportunity to interact directly with customers. “For the time being, supply and demand is great enough in BC. So until the laws change making it easier to transact across provinces, we’ll probably just remain available in BC.” It’s probably a good choice, as Ampersand’s efforts haven’t gone unnoticed in British Columbia. BC Distilled, the premiere distilling event in the province, awarded their spirits “Top Gin” and “Top Vodka” two years running! From an operations perspective, Ampersand focuses on improving efficiencies over adding to the payroll burden. Since the company opened in 2014, the Schachts have only found the need to take on one full-time employee. Jessica chalks that up to getting better at the everyday operations. “We’ve been able to increase our production by really only adding one member to the team, but really tightening up systems and working on efficiencies… we have divided the work up according to expertise, but we all pitch in and do things like bottling and events away from the distillery. It works.” Above all, there’s a real sense that Ampersand has achieved a real connection with their customers and their supply chain. Schacht points out that one of their favourite activ- ities is to connect directly with people at events like the weekly Duncan, BC market. “It’s been a really fantastic journey, and one we’re excited to still be on.”
“As a craft distillery, we make our own alcohol from scratch from 100% raw BC agricultural goods.”
many thanks to our advertisers
AMPERSAND DISTILLING CO.
4077 Lanchaster Rd. Duncan, BC
as spotlighted in the OCTOBER 2017 issue of SPOTLIGHT ON BUSINESS MAGAZINE
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