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From spuds to spirits, New Brunswick potatoes become vodka

Left to right, father and son Richard and Devon Strang stand outside their new distillery in Malden, N.B. Producing and bottling vodka is the latest venture at their family's potato farm.
Left to right, father and son Richard and Devon Strang stand outside their new distillery in Malden, N.B. Producing and bottling vodka is the latest venture at their family's potato farm.

MALDEN, N.B. – It’s taken a lot of hard work and much more persistence than he ever imagined.

But Devon Strang’s determination has finally paid off as he opened the doors of his new business on the family farm this month – Blue Roof Distillers.

“It’s definitely been a long process,” said Strang  “There were a lot of hiccups along the way; we had almost given up a few times. But we always kind of got a new spark that kept us moving forward.”

Now, five years later, Strang is excited to roll out his line of premium vodka, made from potatoes harvested from the family farm. Blue Roof Distillers is one of only a small handful of distillers in the country making the product. Strang also points out that it is the first “farm-to-bottle” micro-distillery in Atlantic Canada, if not across Canada.

“We are one of the only ones I know of with a truly authentic process from beginning to end,” said 25-year-old Strang, the founder and CEO of Blue Roof Distillers.

From the planting and harvesting of the potatoes, through to the mashing, fermenting and distilling, and even doing their own bottling and labeling of their vodka, the entire process is all done on the Strang farm in Malden, just a few minutes minutes drive from the Confederation Bridge along the Trans-Canada Highway. This allows them complete control of production, he said.

The idea to make potato vodka came from Devon’s father Richard, who had been tossing around the idea in his head for several years before suggesting it to his son. A business student at Mount Allison University at the time, Strang was intrigued. But there was one problem – how would they get the potato from the field into the bottle.

Sullivan Cullen bottles some of the premium vodka being produced at Blue Roof Distillers. Cullen was recently hired at the distillery to help keep up with demand for the new product.

“None of us really knew how to do it,” he said.

Since that time, Strang has traveled throughout Canada and the US, seeking out the experts, doing some research and basically “honing and mastering my craft.” He has taken a number of courses, in both fermentation and distilling with Bio Food Tech at the University of PEI; and was also able to tap into the scientific expertise of a research chemist from CCNB Edmunston, who conducted a number of studies related to the process that was needed to transform whole potatoes into a high-quality vodka product.

Strang said perfecting the recipe was the most important part.

“We really stressed from the beginning of the process, we wanted our vodka to taste a certain way or we didn’t want to do it.”

He was adamant about using whole potatoes, skin and all, rather than sending them away to be dehydrated or flaked as most other distillers do. This required specialized, custom-made equipment as well as developing their own unique way to cook, mash, ferment and distill the product; but the end result has all been worth it.

“That’s what gives it its flavor profile. That’s what makes it unique, different from other brands.”

Strang said he’s thrilled with “how good it’s turned out” and believes his vodka, which has been garnering rave reviews since it hit shelves, can rival some of the very best vodkas available on the market today.

Devon Strang explains the process they use to distill vodka from potatoes on his family's farming operation.

“The product is far superior than we anticipated,” he said. “Because of that, I think this will take us to places we didn’t foresee.”

Blue Roof vodka, which is currently available for sale in the farm’s storefront agency location as well as a number of New Brunswick Liquor agency stores including in Dorchester and Port Elgin, is expected to hit New Brunswick Liquor’s corporate stores over the next week. It is also available in a number or restaurants and bars across the province.

Blue Roof Distillers will mark their newfound success with a Grand Opening weekend from June 23-25. The event, which kicks off with the official ribbon-cutting ceremony on Friday at 3 p.m. with the Minister of Agriculture, includes tastings, tours, prizes and more.

Strang said the Grand Opening will not only celebrate the last five years of hard work to open the distillery but also the longstanding tradition of their sixth-generation farm, one that is on to a new adventure. The name of the distillery, of course, comes from the colour of the trademark roofs of the Strang barns and warehouses.

“Our product is really about our family farm,” he said. “So I’m glad we were able to add that personal touch, to link this to showcase our family heritage and our story.”

For more on Blue Roof Distillers, visit their Facebook page.

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