An intoxicating idea takes root
After two decades of running an organic u-pick apple orchard on Warren Grove Road near Charlottetown, it wasn’t the fruit on the trees that led Mike Beamish to his next adventure, it was the ones that fell to the ground.
“I was losing a lot of apples, thousands of pounds were going into the compost,” Beamish said. “I was racking my brain on what to do, because 80 per cent of the apples on the ground are perfectly fine if you collect them every day.”
Canada food laws won’t let farmers sell cider from ground apples unless it’s pasteurized, but a pasteurizer is an expensive investment. That’s when Mike’s homework led him to distillation, the age-old practice of making alcoholic beverages.
“I read that alcohol and the distillation process kills any bacteria ground apples may have – and government was encouraging micro distilleries to help the industry – so I took a training course.”
Deep Roots Distillery was born, and in 2016 it was one of 10 Island companies chosen to receive a $25,000 Ignition Fund grant from Innovation PEI.
The distillation process doesn’t happen overnight. He set his first batch of spiced apple brandy in an oak barrel to age two-and-a-half years ago, and this year it is finally ready to bottle. He now has various vats and barrels at different stages of readiness.
Besides the flagship apple brandy, Beamish also produces spiced apple liquor, maple liquor, Island Tide (like moonshine) haskap berry liquor, and absinthe, which he says has been popular with the arts community.
“It’s got quite a following,” he says of the legendary 'green fairy' that’s made from soaking herbs like star anise, fennel and wormwood (a common plant on PEI) to make the 72 per cent alcohol drink. It was the drink of choice in Paris cafes at the turn of the 20th century, some claiming the wormwood contained traces of a hallucinogen called thujone.
The finished products can be found at liquor stores, wrapped in an instantly recognized label featuring – appropriately -- a tree with deep roots spreading underground.
Beamish plans to use his Ignition Fund grant to work with local farmers on producing a buckwheat whiskey only available in one place in the U.S. and another in Europe. He’s hoping the buzz over these new Island spirits lasts a long time.
Prince Edward Island is the Mighty Island - we may be small, but we make big things happen.
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