How to Open a Distillery in Vancouver

Charles Tremewen is trying to convince the City to put a bike rack in front of his place of business. He’s at the foot of Hornby Street at the intersection of three bike lanes, and it seems prudent to provide a place for his patrons to park. The person on the line is telling him the install will have to wait for dry weather, and as it’s mid February that can be filed as indefinite. Tremewen is friendly but persistent and ultimately hangs up with a promise of within a month. He’s used to dealing with bureaucracy: his is the first commercial distillery to open in Vancouver in 40 years. “That went well,” he says with enthusiasm.

Portland, slightly smaller than Vancouver, has nine distilleries and another 17 just outside city limits. It was on a visit to this moonshine mecca three years ago that Tremewen, 57, a former product development consultant with Nature’s Path and Salt Spring Coffee, saw the light: what his hometown needed was a distillery to call its own. Long Table was born.

Then began the paperwork. Purchasing a Carl still from Germany was the first step-relatively easy in a procedural, if not financial, sense. Interaction with the federal government was also straightforward: they needed to bond the still to ensure the appropriate tax was collected, but that was about it. The province, however, was more involved. After a series of background checks, Tremewen was issued a licence-in-principle to operate a distillery in British Columbia (he’s currently one of eight distillers operating in the province) conditional on compliance with the appropriate municipal regulations, which were significant given that Long Table’s zoning is F1, reserved for distilleries and other endeavours that have to potential to go boom. Development permits. Rezoning application. Public consultations. Seismic upgrades to his one-storey, one-room spot. Next thing he knew, two-and-a-half years had gone by.

But he’s an upbeat guy, excited finally to be open, to be pouring samples of his vodka (filtered through Texada Island limestone) and his London Dry gin. And he knows that even with the mountains of paper he’s gone through he’s had an easier go of it than the pioneering craft distillers before him. Had he managed to open two years ago, he would have been required to ship his product to a B.C. LDB warehouse where he would in essence have been allowed to purchase it back to serve to guests-10 feet from the spot where it was created (a regimen that caused Peter Kimmerly of Hornby Island’s Phrog to quip his spirits had to take six ferry rides before he was allowed to serve them). Even better was the news in February that the province is further relaxing the standards for craft distillers: those that are fully made in B.C. may skip the LDB (and its dreaded 170 percent markup on spirits) altogether and sell directly to customers and restaurants. This new relative freedom has attracted the attention of several players: the Mark James Group and Liberty Merchant Companies are said to distilleries of their own in the works.

But if any of this fazes Tremewen, he doesn’t show it. Once the snow melts on the North Shore mountains he plans to dispatch foragers to gather botanicals for a West Coast gin. Maybe some Limoncello for the summer, when, God willing, there’ll be a place for patrons to park their bikes in pursuit of life, liberty, and a decent shot of hootch. 


      Distillery by Will Haywood

                                                                       Illustation by Will Haywood

Did you know? 

Making gin isn’t rocket science: marry juniper beries, orris, and a few botanicals with a neutral spirit, and voilà! Navigating the various provincial and municipal requirements? Now that’s an art.