There is no denying the quality of the liqueurs and other distilled products produced by Maple Leaf Spirits, though up to now, there was only one place you could purchase them.
Proof of that comes from the multiple awards Jorg and Anette Engel have won with their entries to the Destillata in Austria, where they faced competition from some 2,000 entries, representing the best craft distilleries in Europe. That includes a gold medal this year for their oak-aged Italian Prune fruit spirits and a 2008 Spirit of the Year award for their grappa-style Pinot Noir Skinny.
But while this tiny Penticton craft distillery is making waves at the world’s largest liquor tasting and has been has been fully licenced as a commercial distillery since Oct. 2005, the only place you could purchase their finely crafted spirits was directly from the distillery on Carmi Avenue. At least until now. That’s because in June, Maple Leaf became the second distillery to qualify under the province’s new regulations and be licensed as a craft distillery.
Now, they will finally be able to sell their artisan spirits, made from 100 per cent B.C. fruit and grapes, directly to other licensees like restaurants and private liquor stores.
“As well, we can open a special event area, or an outside lounge, just like the wineries. Basically, the same permission that is given to the wineries,” said Jorg Engel.
The B.C. government launched the new Craft Distilleries Policy last February to find ways to support the craft distilleries. According to the Engels, this policy change will do just that by allowing sales directly and be exempt from Liqour Distribution Branch markup. Taxes and the LDB markup, along with production costs meant that only a small profit was made from each bottle.
“It was not a profitable business, it was an expensive hobby,” said Jorg. “With the new changes, we are basically at the same level as the wineries now.”
Under the new B.C. liquor law, distilleries have to commit to using 100 per cent B.C. agricultural raw products in order to be licensed as B.C. Craft Distillery. This commitment has to be proven in an expensive LDB audit. Maple Leaf Spirits Inc. is the second distillery in B.C. certified as following these criteria. The other certified distillery is Meridale Cidery on Vancouver Island.
“From day one, we always used 100 per cent B.C. product. That was our goal and never changed,” said Jorg, adding that all the fruit and grapes they distill their spirits from come from local growers.
The Engels have been advocating for these changes since they first opened Maple Leaf with their signature Maple liqueur, made from South Okanagan cherries and certified-organic maple syrup.
“When we started eight years ago, I never expected it to take that long to convince the government that the change they did for the wine industry was a positive change and the same will happen in our case as well,” said Jorg, noting that there are some 22,000 small distilleries in southern Germany, where they grew up.
In contrast, there are only seven craft-style distilleries in B.C., though they have been told there are license applications pending for 16 more.
Right now, there are seven similar distilleries in operation but there are pending licenses for a total of 16 more.
“With that new agreement, I could see 50 distilleries in the next five years,” said Anette, adding they often get visitors who want to start a distillery. “We have met a lot of people that are interested in doing this. It’s not easy, it’s an art.”
Maple Leaf’s craft distillery room at 1386 Carmi Avenue in Penticton is open to the public. Call 250-493-0180 to arrange a tour or visit them online at www.mapleleafspirits.ca.