That's the spirit: Local creators embrace DIY concept in crafting new drinks | Calgary Herald

2022-12-12 18:26:27 By : Ms. Kelly Chen

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Ed note: To’ a Tea looks awkward with the apostrophe, but is correct Stainless Steel Tumbler

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Looking for a grown-up gift for your friends this holiday season? Or planning to entertain?

Shop local by buying wine, spirits and cocktails made by Calgarians. Here are a few to consider:

Seven years ago, Calgarians Jaime and Jim Love were married in Kelowna and for their honeymoon, they visited some wineries. At one stop, Jim read a quote that said something along the lines of “I’m just a farmer, but I farm grapes.”

For Jim, the quote was life-changing. ”I had grown up on a farm but had never really thought about it that way,” he says. 

He asked Jaime what she thought about starting their own winery. She was hooked, too, and, by autumn 2019, they were working with a custom crush facility – a winery that makes wines for others – in the Okanagan Valley to create the first wines for their label, Hello Someday Wine.

The pandemic began just as they were getting their first wines into the market but they persevered and now have four: a riesling, pinot gris, syrah and a red blend entitled Crossroads in wine stores around Calgary. (The pinot gris won silver in the 2022 Wine Align National Wine Awards of Canada.)

Now rising interest rates are putting a damper on the couple’s search for vineyard land.

But the two – who still call Calgary home – are more dedicated than ever to making their business a success.

“The other day, Jim was telling me how excited he was to buy a tractor,” Jaime says with a laugh. “I said ‘You cannot buy a tractor until we have land. We don’t have space to store it.’”

Yet. “We’re both still so excited about the idea of doing this,” Jaime says. “And every time we’re out there, we know this is where we belong.”

A natural entrepreneur, Calgarian Zack Lister is no stranger to start-ups. The co-founder of Well Juicery, he was in the cannabis business shortly after its legalization in Canada, too. 

But after a friend poured him a tequila and soda, he realized no one in Canada was selling a pre-mixed tequila-soda cocktail. He saw a gap in the market and jumped at the opportunity. 

In late 2019, he launched Hecho Tequila Soda. (Pronounced “etch-o,” the name means “made” or “done” in Spanish.)

Made with 100 per cent blue agave tequila and a hint of lime, Hecho has zero carbs and zero grams of sugar. It’s for sale in Alberta and Ontario, plus six U.S. states including California, Florida, Texas and Tennessee. 

“The regulatory hoops and hurdles have been quite a challenge,” Lister admits. “Every state and province has different distribution laws.” 

Lister credits Wayne Henuset, Willow Park Wines & Spirits founder and owner of El Tequileno Tequila, for believing early in Lister’s vision.

NHL hockey player Matt Duchene – centre for the Nashville Predators – is now part of the team, too. Duchene had been looking for a similar business when his agent suggested they meet. “We started chatting and we hit it off,” Lister says. “He’s opened a lot of doors for us.”

Down the road, Lister plans to add more flavours and products to the lineup. “We have a lot of cool ideas and innovations in the works,” he says. “But right now, it’s a lot of what we like to call ‘sips to lips.’ ” 

Expat Brit mixologist Justin “J.D.” Darnes had been growing the Cocktail Concierge concept for a while, but the pandemic brought it to the forefront. He and his wife both work in the hospitality industry and as lockdowns began in March 2020, they realized they needed to find a new income stream. Pronto. 

By October 2020, Cocktail Concierge’s classic, ready-to-drink cocktails were in the market. 

The lineup is now for sale at cocktailconcierge.ca, at Two Rivers Distillery (where they are custom-made) and at more than 40 liquor stores across Alberta. They’ll soon be in the U.S., too. The nine bottles, which serve six drinks, include enticing named Hawthorn Hanky Panky, Smoked Walnut Old Fashioned, Wild Rose Vesper, Chai Negroni, Cacao Boulevardier, Paper Plane, Agave Old Fashioned, Bobby Burns and Port of Manhattan.

“You just have to pour it over ice in a glass, and you have a five-star cocktail ready to enjoy now, without fuss or compromise,” Darnes says.

“We’re enabling luxury cocktails to be attainable anywhere, in places that previously would be challenging or impossible, as well as enabling those without bartending skills to pour a perfect cocktail at home.”

Darnes’s resume is as impressive as the Cocktail Concierge lineup. In 2010, he was part of the team that reopened the legendary American Bar at The Savoy in London, England. For a time, he was a bar manager at the Cannes Film Festival, and he worked in Hong Kong, too. After following his heart to Vancouver, he and his wife realized they’d never afford a house, so they jumped at the opportunity to move to Calgary.

The rest, as the expression goes, is history. Cocktail Concierge is racking up accolades, including nods at the Made in Alberta Awards and Alberta Beverage Awards. 

It’s a good feeling, Darnes admits. “Our product is quite niche, but bottled cocktails are a growing category. We’re treading new water,” he says. “Our cocktails are top quality and we hope people realize the value and quality that goes into each one.”

Longtime friends Chad Labelle and Bobby Zinkan grew up in the same Calgary neighbourhood. They played hockey – including stints in the WHL. (Labelle played for the Medicine Hat Tigers; Zinkan was with the Swift Current Broncos.) And they both studied at the University of Prince Edward Island. (Zinkan was in environmental studies while Labelle was in business.)

There, Labelle had to create a business plan for a class. Seeing a trend, he chose ready-to-drink cocktails. The two friends – then roommates – realized he’d found a viable business idea. 

“The seltzer category was starting to take off but we could see a gap in that ‘better for you’ category,” Labelle says. “We wanted something that was non-carbonated, not too sweet and made with simple ingredients. There’s no googling necessary when you look at our list of ingredients.”

Teaming up with Calgary’s Two Rivers Distillery, they developed a gin and, then, a green tea blend. They combined the two, put it in a can and called it To’ a Tea. 

The first flavour – Pineapple-Citrus – is now for sale in 10 liquor stores in Calgary, as well as Sylvan Lake and Lethbridge.

The second, Apple Cinnamon, will be launched soon and plans are in the works for more.

“This is all we talk about and think about and do,” Zinkan says.

“We’re hoping these cocktails will suit everyone else to a T, too.”

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