It’s a bright, hot April day in Vancouver and I’m speaking to Gordon Glanz, owner of Odd Society Spirits: a three-year-old distillery in the city. An Edmonton native, Glanz attended Strathcona Composite High School, and it was around that age that he first developed an interest in distilled spirits.
Vue Weekly: What did you do before you started distilling?
Gordon Glanz: For some unknown reason, we used to distill our water at home. I’d use my mom’s water distiller to make spirits from wine that I made. It was pretty awful, but my brothers and I found it fun.
What really planted the seed for making alcohol was right after high school: I lived in Mosel, Germany for a year and worked on a vineyard that had alembic stills to make kirsch [fruit brandy] and tresterschnaps [German grappa]. They even made a yeast schnapps, which I’d never seen before. One day I walked in and the distiller had fallen asleep in front of the still, and that looked like the best thing in the world. I thought, “Someday I want to do that.”
VW: Is that where Odd Society Crème de Cassis came from?
GG: Actually, the cassis was total serendipity. Where we live in East Van, our close neighbour is a French chef. He told me, ‘If you have a distillery, you must make cassis.’ His family has made cassis for generations. He came to the distillery and showed us his family recipe. We’d never have thought to make it and it fell into our laps.
VW: There’s no shortage of Canadian gin, and (soon) new styles of Canadian whiskies. But there’s a shortage of properly made Canadian liqueurs and amaro. Odd Society has entered the market at the right time with bittersweet vermouth. Tell us about that.
GG: The vermouth was born of necessity. Originally, anything served in our distillery lounge had to be produced on site. We needed vermouth, which meant we had to learn to make it without knowing anything about how to make it.
Now, I’m absolutely bonkers about vermouth. I think it’s amazing, neglected and super complex. Even the cheap stuff has up to 40 herbs in it. I have so much respect for the category, and there’s room to have craft vermouths that are different and interesting.
A friend gave me a book from the 20th century with recipes, and I started adding local botanicals. I was headed in the direction of a dark red Italian-style vermouth, but stopped at the rosé bittersweet and said, “The next one will be red.'”
VW: The stills that you bought came from Switzerland?
GG: Yes. Funny story: when the old distiller came to Canada to help teach us how to use them, it turned out he couldn’t speak any English—so my ability to translate German came in really handy. We became friends, and he gave me stacks of his old liqueur recipes, such as his coffee liqueur. Someday, I’m going to really explore them in our releases.
VW: What are the big releases for 2016?
GG: We have three. Mia, our daughter, is doing a wacky amaro. She studied ethnobotany at UBC and learned about aphrodisiacs used by South American tribes. We decided to do a bitter liqueur using unique barks from Peru, mixed with local ingredients. These barks have really interesting flavours.
Secondly, we are going to have a tiny release of our single malt whisky.
Third, for summer we are releasing our Salal Gin. We are taking a big group and heading to Salt Spring Island to pick the salal berries and infuse the gin right on site. It’s our version of sloe gin.
VW: Have you contemplated creating a spirit that is inspired by Edmonton, or the prairies?
GG: That’s really interesting. My original idea was to produce whisky from the barley grown on my family’s farm near Millet, AB. It can’t work right now because of the rules for craft distillers. I would love to make a single malt whisky with grain grown just south of Edmonton.
VW: Do you have anything else to add?
GG: We thank our supporters. It’s an exciting time. The rules regarding distilling changed in BC, in 2013, now we have over 50 distilleries. Alberta is starting, too. This is the start of the Golden Age for distillers in Canada. V
Tarquin Melnyk is an Edmonton native who has been tending bar in numerous cities for the past six years. Named bartender of the year at the 2013 Alberta Cup, he is a published cocktail writer and photographer, and a partner in justcocktails.org.