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Tyler Schramm: Master distiller masters flavour



Tyler Schramm is on the hunt for organic corn.

The master distiller and co-owner of the Pemberton Distillery would like to add bourbon whiskey to the company's growing menu of organic spirits and he's decided to put out a request via yours truly to see any grower comes forward. So if there are any organic farmers out there with the necessary produce, do get in touch.

"It's very challenging to find it and we'd really like to try this out," Schramm said, standing in the tasting room of the distillery, which is located on the edge of Pemberton's industrial park.

In the meantime, the family-owned business has a new batch of 2012 Apple Brandy that will be available at the end of April. This will be added to their all-organic range of gin, absinthe (they grow the wormwood themselves), single malt whisky and their five flavourful extracts, including vanilla, cinnamon, and rhubarb & ginger.

Then there's the vodka.

The distillery began, as so many things in the Pemberton Valley do, with the Holy Spud. Launched in 2009, the organic potato intensity in Schramm's Vodka has brought home prizes to the valley, in particular "Double-Gold" and the "Spirit of the Year" awards in 2010 at the World Spirits Awards in Austria. Bring an open bottle up to the nose and it's like sensing the warm damp earth underfoot as the freshest of potatoes are dug from the ground.

They have been part of a trend which has been tied into the craft beer movement. To that end, they try to produce a refined spirit, said Schramm.

"It's only in the last four year that we've been in operation that spirits have started to be treated quite differently. We've seen a lot of changes, more serious for sure. People have started to recognize that mainstream products are made for the mass market and they don't have a lot of unique characters to them," Schramm said.

With 4,000 bottles produced in 2012 from this entire range of spirit options, Schramm — who perfected his craft by taking a master's degree in brewing and distilling in Edinburgh in 2005 — describes Pemberton Distillery as a "micro-micro-brewery." Essentially, the distillery is a three-person operation with Schramm, his wife Lorien acting as director of product development and his brother Jake working as assistant distiller.

"We're a smaller producer and we can do exactly what we want. We don't have to worry about mass market appeal, so we can produce uniquely flavoured products and very robustly flavoured products that don't necessarily appeal to everyone, but the people that like them tend to love them," Schramm said.

But then the brand developed along with the taste buds.

"In our first year we really had to explain to customers why it tasted different, what was unique, but we've noticed in the past two-and-a-half years that customers are now coming to us and looking for products that are flavoured this way," he said.

Lorien agrees.

"The craft beer market has really helped us because you get people whose palates have just been expanded because they're used to it and they are curious," she said.

There's the drinking, then there's the cooking. Pemberton Distilleries products have been embraced by chefs in and around Whistler, and led to a few recipes within the Schramm household.

"The Fairmont Chateau has used the gin in their tableside soup which is tomato based, a gin and tomato soup," said Lorien. "They use the vodka in a salad dressing with an organic farm beet salad. Alta Bistro used the apple brandy in a pulled pork."

Other uses that of the spirits in food that have developed over the years have included curing fish in the vodka or adding it to beet soups.

"It's been pretty impressive, what people have done with our spirits, such great combinations," Schramm said.

Pemberton Distillery spirits can be found around the Sea to Sky region, as well as on a limited scale elsewhere in British Columbia, Alberta and Manitoba. As of April 1, the distillery has taken over sales and distribution themselves, following the changes to liquor licensing rules that will allow them to sell directly to stores.

"It allows us to sell it to those outlets a little more competitively than we could before. Selling 4,000 bottles a year, that's about a third of what the big distilleries will produce in a day," Schramm said.

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