Central Alberta’s first liquor distillery, Old Prairie Sentinel, is set to open for business this month in Lacombe.
The small-scale company is being launched by partners Rob Gugin and Steve Dick, who have nailed down the required government permits and will begin producing a couple varieties of gin and vodka by Jan. 31. They also plan to put out an aged rum by this time next year.
“We’re really excited about this,” said head distiller Gugin, who’s starting the business as a part-time venture around his day job in the public sector, “but we’re hoping to expand from there.”
Beer-making was Gugin’s passion for about 17 years, both as a home brewer and briefly as an employee of Edmonton’s Alley Kat Brewing. “But there are so many breweries,” he said, “the market is saturated.”
While the Red Deer region has a couple of “amazing” craft breweries, including Troubled Monk and Blindman Brewing, Gugin believes there’s plenty of room for a local distillery, since the closest ones are south of Calgary and in Leduc.
He feels Old Prairie Sentinel will put his beer-making skills to good use, since distilleries are a continuation of the brewing process. “Most spirits come from grain,” said Gugin, so once beer is produced, it must be distilled to separate the alcohol through various processes to create gin, vodka or rum.
Gugin and Dick have made a “significant” investment in equipment, and are already seek some payoff as local businesses express interest in carrying their product. Lacombe restaurant Cilantro and Chive has been the first to finalize an agreement to carry bottles of Old Prairie Sentinel.
Eventually, the partners would love to see their product available in restaurants and pubs in Red Deer and across Central Alberta.
The company’s name refers to old-style Prairie grain elevators, such as the endangered Mintlaw elevator near Blackfalds, which is pictured on the distillery’s label.
As a boy, Dick found a recipe for moonshine while exploring an old grain elevator that his father had been inspecting. Moonshine is just a term for illegal liquor, said Gugin, who now intends to produce the legal variety — using the same old recipe.
“We altered it a little, but we’ll be using it to make our barrel-spiced rum… it’s such a neat thing — kind of a throwback tribute.”
Old Prairie Sentinel will also operate an off-sales site in the Wolf Creek Industrial Park, right next to Blindman Brewing. For more information, please visit www.opsd.ca.