Alberta has seen a boom in gin and vodka production. The Alberta Craft Distillers Association has almost 30 members, and they are taking advantage of the grains available from this province’s farms.
But, business partners Faaiza Ramji and Lindsey Good are eschewing the kernel for the pod. Instead of distilling grains, their company, Field Notes, makes a liqueur that’s distilled from peas.
That’s right, peas. Like the Green Giant. Good operates Stirlingville Farms near Carstairs, which supplies the pods.
Don’t Call Me Sweet Pea is now available throughout the province. It’s an amaro — an after-dinner digestif — that uses a pea-distilled liquor as its base, and then it’s steeped for 10 weeks with 15 botanicals. At 30 per cent alcohol, it’s meant to be a sipper.
“I wanted something approachable, something you could take into your backyard and sip it on ice,” says Ramji.
The Fort Distillery makes the amaro, under the supervision of Nathan Flim. Ramji recalls how he reacted when she first asked him about the idea of distilling peas. They knew it was possible; in Scotland, Arbikie Estate had broken new ground by becoming the first in the world to make a “climate-positive” pea-distilled gin.
“He said, ‘I don’t know if it’s possible, but bring them over, and I’ll try.’ He had just the right attitude.”
The first yield was a strong, once-distilled vodka, a “sort of experiment to see if we could distill alcohol out of peas instead of grain.” And while the initial product was harsh, Ramji says she was surprised by the flavour notes.
“I took a little sip and, once I stopped coughing, it’s got a sweetness to it. It had a sweet, grassy taste I was surprised by. When we use that as the base, it goes really well with some of the other things we’ve put in there, the black teas, the dandelion, the sage. It truly tastes like a garden.”
They then steep that base in botanicals and distill the alcohol again to lessen its bite — and add a touch of Alberta honey. The amaro is priced at under $40 for a 500-ml bottle. Why go the digestif route? Why not keep it as a vodka, or do as Arbikie did and make a gin? Ramji says that the Alberta boom in distilleries has already created a very crowded marketplace for craft gin and/or vodka.
“There are so many great gins and vodkas already out there. Why would somebody pick this up instead of something they are already in love with? It’s not going to be so they can make a better version of the same drink. It’s not going to be because they love the packaging. There has to be something different. But we have no local amaro in Edmonton, made with ingredients that are specific to this area. An amaro gives people another reason to be curious and to try it.”