Central City Brewers launches its first distilled spirits

Seraph gin and vodka | BCBusiness
Seraph gin and vodka behind the bar at Guilt & Co.

Like micro-brewing and winemaking, craft distilling is a growing industry in B.C.

With its new Seraph vodka and gin, in liquor stores by early November, Central City Brewers + Distillers joins a growing number of B.C. micro-distillers. In 2013, the provincial government eliminated the markup on distilled liquor made from 100 per cent B.C. agricultural products if directly distributed by the producer.

“Basically they align the craft distilleries in the province with the wineries,” says Tyler Dyck, CEO of Okanagan Spirits Distillery and president of the Craft Distillers Guild of British Columbia. “Until about three years ago, only five of us were really producing much, and still very small quantities, but a lot of guys were waiting on the sidelines until the new regulations changed. As soon as it became economically reasonable to start producing, that’s why you see all these guys jumping on.”

There are now 23 craft distilleries in B.C. recognized by the BCLDB, but Central City is not one of them. Although Seraph vodka and gin are made from 100 per cent B.C. ingredients, Central City uses neutral grain spirit (NGS) from out of the province in its Betty’s vodka iced teas, making all its products subject to BCLDB’s markup.

Central City had hoped to benefit from the new craft distilling regulations, but “Betty’s is a big business for us now. We can’t give that up,” says Tim Barnes, Central City VP of marketing and sales. Central City launched Seraph vodka and gin, which are quick to produce, partly to fund its single malt whiskey, which must be barrelled for at least three years. “Whiskey is going to be our focus longer term, but short term it gives us an opportunity to sell some stuff,” says Barnes. “If we happen to do really well with vodka or gin, then obviously we’re really happy, and if it doesn’t and it just pays the bills, then we’re okay with that too. At $44 a bottle, it’s a premium priced spirit, and so we’re not expecting to sell a huge amount at that price.”

Barnes says Seraph’s major difference from other vodka and gin is that it is single malt and has a distinctive taste. “The typical approach is to remove as much flavour as you can, whereas when we’re making our vodka and our gin, there is flavour—and we want there to be flavour.” Central City is also experimenting with rum and expects to launch its first batch of sour beer in 2015.

“We’re one of many craft distillers in B.C., and we’ve taken a much different approach from anyone else in the sense that we’re basically dabbling in both the ready-to-drink category and the distilled category as well as beer,” says Barnes. “We’ve always wanted to have distilled as part of our program, and for us making great products is the focus.”