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Glenlyon

Random Rambling... Want better food? Make booze!

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I noticed another article in the local weekly newspaper this morning about my impending distillery. I wasn’t expecting it.

The headline read - ‘Distillery in the Creek Moves Ahead’

Good to know.

I was wondering how things were going. Considering the paper hadn’t actually interviewed me, the article was surprisingly accurate. As I browsed through it, I realized they had gotten all of the information from the public record. Interesting.

It got me thinking about my favorite subject: cultural development around food. In particular, what gets a community interested local food and in turn what convinces a community to produce food for the locals?

Why, booze of course.

Way back in the mid nineties, one day, on our way home from a dreary government gig, we stopped in at a tiny winery in the Southern Okanagan to take a break from the long drive. We knew nothing at all about wine.

The short visit was great. We tasted a few wines, saw some vines and bought a few bottles to go. We later came to learn, the winery we stopped at was terrible, but we sure enjoyed the wine we bought in our ignorance. And ultimately, those few bottles ignited a passion for craft beverages that continues to this very day.  

Over the next 100 days we explored every inch of BC’s brand new wine business flourishing since the recent introduction of free trade. During that time, the Okanagan Valley was mostly a fruit growing region, producing vast amounts of fruit largely for the super market business.

There were only about 20 wineries at the time. The BC government had just approved the idea of farmgate wineries (5 acres, direct sale) and there was only one decent restaurant in downtown Kelowna that we frequented with any regularity. Outside of that, food culture was pretty dull.

Over the next few years as we continued to return to the valley, suddenly great restaurants were popping up everywhere. Each one wanting to feature the best local wines and eventually beers and now distillates. They needed better food so the local farmers, switched to producing custom products for them. Bed and Breakfasts began to flourish and within a few years of the introduction of the farmgate wine business, the Valley was hosting over two hundred and fifty thousand new visitors a year.  

Today, there are hundreds of wineries in the valley and good luck getting a hotel room in the summer. Now wineries, brewers and distillers are everywhere and a major driver of economic activity and the Okanagan has a very bright future as a direct result.

How does all that affect our corner of the universe?

In the area where I live, we’re cut off from civilization, save the dubious ferry service. And, grapes don’t grow so well here. The only winery on the coast is pretty lame and I believe is closed right now. Up until a few years ago, there was little culinary interest and a lackluster agricultural presence.

Then, over the last five years, a couple of local breweries were built and each one was immediately popular and sure enough, restaurants began flourishing where they used to suck. And I mean they really sucked bad. They actually have to compete now. Farms are popping up, where there used to be none. Everything from vegetables to fruit to herbs to honey to meats are available in an ever increasing range and abundance.

A few days ago a new cider company opened. Now there is a rush on apples and the demand will continue for years to come. Luckily we had already secured our own sources. I stopped in the other day and they were packed.

On the way home I stopped in at the farmer’s market. Packed. More vendors than I’d ever seen. Loads of new food people and what’s this - a beer truck! Awesome.

I’m starting to worry we might be more popular than we’re anticipating. Already, we’re dialing back our opening plans to be a long quiet one with no fanfare.

One of the things the article pointed out was our commitment to secure much of my fruit needs through the local community. A positive look at what we’re doing. Nice. The other thing the article is telling us is that the community is already taking ownership of the idea.  Never before in my TV career did a newspaper publish a story about us without us putting a lot of work in to convincing them to run it.

I can now see the community is even trying to name us and in-spite of our every effort to resist, well, resistance is futile.

Want better food? Make booze.

Glen

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