Salt Spring Island’s first licensed craft distillery has opened. On January 7, Michael and Rie Papp, founders of Salt Spring Shine, invited islanders to their light-filled tasting room to sample their first distilled beverage―vodka. And they will re-open their tasting room tomorrow, Thursday, January 26, for weekly sampling.
Tasters sit at a long maple counter and face a wall lined with rows and rows of Salt Spring Shine’s vodka. The bottles are eye-catching. They have labels reminiscent of the era when alcohol prohibitions were lifted. The corked bottles glint in the sunlight, creating an effect that hints at the clean and subtle flavours within.
Behind where the tasters sit is the distiller itself. For those uninitiated into the world of distilling, this is a curious creation. And for the scientifically minded, it’s a beautiful piece of equipment with the capability to distill any alcoholic beverage imaginable. And that’s what Michael―who seems to distill ideas with the same moxie as he does alcohol―plans to do. After vodka, comes gin, mead, possibly schnapps and whiskey, each with the distinctive taste of quality that craft distilleries produce.
Salt Spring Shine is a “small batch” distillery. The distiller can hold 200 litres, but not all of that distillate is bottled. Michael artfully cuts out the “heads” and “tails” and collects the only “hearts,” which are bottled and sold as vodka. The more skillful this process, the cleaner the vodka―and Salt Spring Shine’s vodka is pure to both the nose and the palate.
Pleasing the palate is not new to Michael and Rie, who are both Cordon Bleu chefs and ran their own restaurant for 8 years in Ontario. Then they transitioned to Salt Spring Island where, for 2 years, Michael managed the Garry Oaks Winery, owned by Marcel Mercier and Elaine Kozak who generously shared their knowledge.
In 2013, the B.C. government established a licence for craft distilleries, and Michael and Rie leapt at the opportunity to start their own business. To qualify for this licence, distillers must use B.C. grown inputs. Michael sourced 100% certified organic raw wheat grain, which he uses to create his own malt. This differentiates their vodka from others in that it’s organic, although they haven’t pursued certification.
The combination of certified organic grain, on-site malt production, and small-batch distillation has resulted in a light, distinguishable vodka that will contribute to the overall reputation of the Salt Spring brand of quality.
Salt Spring Shine will be another great place to bring off-island visitors. Starting this week, you can visit the tasting room on Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays from 12 to 5pm. Hours may increase during the summer.
Whether you’re a vodka drinker or someone who enjoys making your own vanilla extract from beans, you can purchase Salt Spring Shine from 194 Kitchen Rd. when the tasting room is open or from the Salt Spring Mercantile Grocery in Fulford.
Any restaurant owners or liquor store managers interested in purchasing larger orders should contact Michael and Rie at 250-221-0728.