Richard Bogach had a small still at home, and he wanted to learn about the intricacies of making spirits.
So, he enrolled in a spirit-making course in Kelowna, and he found that pretty well everyone there was intent on starting his or her own distillery. It wasn’t just a how-to course, it was a theatre of dreams.
“And that’s where I got the bug,” he says, standing inside a quonset hut that is the heart and soul of the White Lightning Distillery. He started planning in 2017, and White Lightning released its first vodkas and gins this past September.
The distillery is located in Barrhead County, near Lac La Nonne, on the property of what was once Bogach’s weekend getaway. A cabin is nearby, and a number of jays and sparrows gather at the bird feeders in the woods.
For cooling, he built a pond near the hut. Locally sourced grain is stored in large containers at the top of a hill, then brought down by an auger built along the slope. And, if you were driving past on the country road, you’d have absolutely no clue a distillery was located on the property.
The operation is built so Bogach can operate it solo. There is no tasting room.
“I don’t see why people would come to the middle of nowhere to taste,” he says.
So, his challenge is, during an era of COVID restrictions, to spread the word about his products. White Lightning is available in over 20 stores in Alberta, and Bogach is at the Downtown Farmers’ Market on Saturdays, and the Salisbury Greenhouse Farmers’ Market on Thursdays. He’s applied to sell at more markets.
While many Alberta distilleries have opened since the provincial government removed production minimums, allowing for small-batch producers to flourish, Bogach believes that the days that distilleries can charge premium prices for clear spirits are numbered.
“Most people won’t pay $50 for a bottle of vodka, in my opinion.”
But, despite keeping under $40 at farmers’ markets, Bogach’s Real Country Vodka is very smooth, with no rubbing-alcohol afterburn. After a couple of sips, you’ll feel caramel on the tongue. There’s a back-end sweetness that’s pleasant.
White Lightning also makes a couple of gins, a traditional variety and a Triple White, infused with three “white” ingredients — peppercorns, pomelo peel and blueberry-pomegranate tea. The drink is very floral, and rises to the nose quickly.
Also in barrels are plans for rye and blended whiskey. So far, they’ve aged six months. And, yes, you read that right — blended whiskey. Bogach knows that we’ve become obsessed with single-sourced varieties, he says it’s the influence of American whiskey makers on the world as a whole. But, he says that, in the right hands, a blend can offer the best of different varieties.
“After all, Crown Royal is a blended whiskey, and I’d love to be even a fraction as successful as that.”