A sense of adventure, special skills and an unusual hobby are the foundation of Summerland’s new craft distillery that is both helping the community during the pandemic and receiving increasingly widespread attention for its high-quality spirits.
Alchemist Distillery located at 101-18006 Bentley Road, which is owned by Simone Buttet, opened its doors December 2018.
Buttet thinks both alchemy and distilling are a blend of art and science and named his business accordingly.
Originally from France, Buttet and his wife, Sandrine, arrived in Canada in October 2014 and travelled across the county looking for a suitable place to realize their dream of opening a distillery.
“We left everything behind and went for an adventure,” Buttet said.
The couple who have a two-and-a-half-year-old daughter, Zoe, now live in Penticton where Sandrine is employed as an optician.
A chemical engineer by training, Buttet worked in Australia and Switzerland before coming to Canada.
The desire to establish a distillery grew from his hobby of making absinthe.
Summerland was chosen as the distillery’s site because it’s a tourist destination, has a vibrant winery association and is located between Penticton and Kelowna.
All four of Alchemist’s products start from the same base made from the juice of a mix of Okanagan apple varieties, primarily Gala, Ambrosia and Spartan, obtained from Sun-Rype.
“I make a cider and then distill the cider which gives the base a cleaner or higher alcohol content and a distinct apple flavour,” Buttet said.
Several more distillations yield a flavourful, velvety smooth vodka.
“I’m pretty proud of it,” Buttet said.
Gin is made adding juniper, lemon, orange, coriander, lemon grass, lavender, and black pepper plus seven other botanicals to the distilled base.
Star anise, wormwood and fennel seeds are the main botanicals in absinthe.
For the apple liqueur the base is infused with cinnamon, orange, and apple concentrate.
“It’s apple pie in a glass bottle,” Buttet said.
The sweetness of the liqueur comes entirely from fruit sugar with no other sugar added.
“Gin is our best seller in the summer and the apple liqueur in colder months while absinthe is a year-round niche market,” Buttet said.
Released last month, Alchemist vodka is rapidly becoming a favourite of aficionados.
Buttet used his background as a chemical engineer to design and assemble distillation equipment that produces especially clean alcohol.
At the heart of the process is a 2-metre glass column with thousands of copper rings inside which exposes the distillate to at least 20 times more copper than that used by other distilleries.
The taste of the resulting distilled spirit is improved by the reaction with copper.
It also removes foul tasting sulphur which is naturally created when yeast ferments.
When the COVID-19 pandemic began in March, Buttet decided to use his facilities to produce alcohol-based hand sanitizers.
Until government agencies relaxed their regulations regarding licenses to sell alcohol as a beverage, Buttet provided sanitizer on a donation basis.
He subsequently sold hand sanitizers to the RCMP, Penticton Regional Airport, Transportation Canada, and numerous other agencies and businesses.
It is currently available to the public by the litre.
Alchemist won its first award, the audience choice award for its absinthe at BC Distilled, the premier artisan distillery festival, in April 2019.
Since then, Buttet has consistently won awards at Canada-wide competitions.
Recently, Alchemist’s apple liqueur received bronze at the International Wine and Spirits Competition in London.
Locally, Buttet won a business promotions competition sponsored by Bell Media.
Advertisements are being aired on traditional radio and online stations in Kelowna, Summerland, and Penticton.
Alchemist will be featured in an article in the Globe and Mail in September.