In 2011 Jessica, Jeremy and Stephen set to work with the goal of creating a local gin that would be amazing in any cocktail and be beautiful enough to stand on its own. With a small lab still to experiment on and perfect their recipe, and with the goal of building their own equipment, they set out to learn as much as possible about how to make a mash, ferment it and distill it. Others in the small but growing group of craft distillers and brewers in British Columbia were generous in their willingness to share their knowledge and skills, as seems characteristic of many in the local industry. At the same time Jeremy and his Dad, Stephen, put Jeremy’s chemical engineering degree and Stephen’s experience to good use and built the mash ton, pot still and column still in the small farmhouse building on their Cowichan Valley, Vancouver Island, organic farm that transformed into their distillery.
After some experimentation they settled on a 100% BC organic wheat base spirit that has a naturally sweet and soft character, and eight traditional botanicals that lend themselves to the clean, luscious, versatile spirit that is their gin. Along the way they experimented with produce from their own organic farm, such as using an artichoke base. Ultimately the organic wheat, sourced from mainland BC, and the organic botanicals, from a local distributor, yielded the results they were looking for. They named their flagship gin and their distillery Ampersand in honor of their small family business and the art, science and innovation of bringing beautiful ingredients together to make a lovely gin.
Ampersand officially launched their gin at the 2014 Savour Cowichan Festival and, as Jessica puts it, are proud to have grown organically since. Through their participation in the Duncan farmer’s market, their local community and their interaction in the industry, word of their gin’s awesomeness has spread fast. At this years’ Savour Cowichan Festival, on Ampersand’s first anniversary, they launched their Per Se vodka. The wheat brings a beautiful sweetness to the spirit that makes an amazing backbone to their gin, and is gorgeous to enjoy on its own. While their vodka is not yet widely available, their gin is currently being sold in stores all over the island and is being served in venues both on the island and on the mainland. The demand at times has them concerned enough to think about starting their own botanical garden to ensure a dependable supply of their botanicals.
What stands out about Ampersand Distilling Company is not only their genuine desire to support and represent their community, but their tenacious start from scratch, build and run everything themselves from the ground up mentality, that allows them direct control of their spirits, in the most elemental way possible. This can be tricky territory in the distilling world, given the almost personification that many gin distillers associate with their stills and the value associated with a long history. However, as Jeremy puts it, it all comes down to science – surface area, volume and temperature- and their self-made stills, in addition to producing excellent gin, are garnering attention of their own. At the end of the day, Jessica, Jeremy and Stephen bring innovation and a genuine desire to produce local, superior spirits, while making it a priority to support and be present in their local community.
– photos curtsey of Centric Photography