James Lester, alongside with his partner Richard Klaus are the founders of Sons of Vancouver Distillery. The North Vancouver-based company is taking part today in BC Distilled, the industry's annual festival.
Lester sat down with North by Northwest's Sheryl Mackay to talk about the process of creating craft spirits.
How did you go from bartending to making your own alcohol?
We both knew the physics behind the how to do it. We caught the BoltBus down to Seattle, brought a whole bunch of Canadian whiskey, went to every distillery we could find, shook a lot of hands and made a few friends.
Eventually that led to interning with distilleries down there. We worked with a couple of guys making vodka, bourbon, gin, limoncello, and anything we could get our hands on.
You have three products available right now. What are they?
Amaretto - It started off really humbly with a recipe that my mom gave me. We wanted to create something that was our own recipe. We found that by using our high percentage alcohol we were able to adjust the percentage and pull out different flavours
Amaretto is known as an almond liqueur, but it's actually made from bitter almonds which are in no way related to the almonds that we eat.
Regular vodka - Being a craft vodka, there's a bit more flavour in this one. I don't do typical fruit jucices, because it's awfully sweet on its own.
Something like this works best with martinis. Throw a couple of olives in a glass and a bartender's spoon of olive juice with 2 oz of vodka nicely chilled.
Chilli vodka - We say this is our most polarizing vodka. 30 per cent of people absolutely love it. They send us emails. 70 per cent of people hate it, they send us emails too.
It smells like you chopped a chilli in half and shoved it up your nostrils.
Are there other projects you're working on?
I found out that Tabasco sauce is aged in ex Jack Daniel's barrels for 3 years. We've been working on getting some of those Jack Daniel's barrels to age our chilli vodka in.
I don't know how it's going to be, it could be terrible.
What would you recommend to anyone who is interested in the idea of craft distilling?
Honestly if people are interested in distilling, they should just go take as many distilling tours as they can. Distillers are really generous people.They always have a great story with how they ended up there and they're always interested in sharing it.
The BC Distilled event brings together 22 different distillers to showcase their work. The event takes place today from 4pm - 9:30pm at the CBC Studio in Vancouver.