The Head Distiller: Gareth Jones was on the hunt for a head distiller. “I was looking for a unicorn,” explains Jones. “And I found one.”
That unicorn is Megan Moore. Discovered in a bar where she was overheard talking about distilling by Meghan Porath, the marketing manager of Jones Distilling, Moore was introduced to Jones soon after.
“It quickly became apparent I wasn’t interviewing her; she was interviewing me,” Jones says.
“Then it just ended up being a conversation between two people with the same passion,” Moore explains. “We were asking each other about our goals and what we saw for our dream distillery, and they were the same.”
Twenty-four-year-old Moore is a master distiller, though she modestly shrugs off the title. “I have so much left to learn, I can’t use that name yet,” she laughs.
Moore has been in the industry since she was nineteen and got a job on the ground floor of a craft brewery in the process of opening. She was in the midst of completing a tourism diploma and realized she had no passion for office hotel work. Brewing though, called to her.
Over the next four years, Moore learned the science of brewing beer and was given a large amount of creative freedom to master her own recipes. “Every Friday we would release a cask, about 40 litres. Here, I could try all sorts of ideas, and while not everything was a success, a lot of them were really popular.” Multiple recipes of Moore’s were on tap for six months at a time.
When the company she was working for gave her the opportunity to try her hand at distilling, Moore found herself wanting to focus on distilling over brewing. “The craft beer scene had really exploded,” she explains. “I wanted to be on the leading edge of something new distilling was it.” Shortly after she headed to Kelowna to take the master distiller certification.
The Distillery and the Creation of Vodka: Jones Distilling is located on the first floor in the historic Revelstoke building that was once Mountain View School, the historic brick structure completed in 1914 for a sum of $40,000. (It was strategically located next to the Presbyterian Manse, and boasted the highest pass rate in the province in its first year — 83.33%). High ceilings and large windows keep the space open and bright. There are comfortable couches for lounging and tasting with the distilling equipment just feet away, roped off but visible. From nearly any angle the views of Mt. Macpherson and Begbie beckon from the windows. “It’s really easy to be inspired to write recipes here,” Moore explains. “I look out at the mountains and think, ‘Oh, the raspberries will be ripe in a month,’ and then I figure out how I could incorporate raspberries or any other seasonal ingredients that are grown in right in our backyard.”
The distillery uses local products wherever possible. Moore believes the highest quality ingredients translate into the flavour, consistency and quality of the vodka produced. As she explains the distilling process, it becomes apparent that, while the views and mountain air offer inspiration, the creation of vodka lies in an exact science. Moore explains it as a combination of biology and chemistry where precision is vital. Moore believes success is measured by consistency.
“The basic recipe is the same, every time, and really similar to brewing.” Moore says. “For vodka, there are three base ingredients; malt, water and yeast. We control fermentation to within a tenth of a degree for consistency; it has to be perfect.”
There are three pieces of equipment integral to the creation of vodka at Jones Distilling. The first is the masher. Here, cracked grains and hot water steep. The process is faster than one might anticipate – the masher is used for less than half a day.
Moore then takes that mash and transfers it into the next bit of equipment, the fermentor, a large cylindrical affair where the yeast eats the sugars at a consistent temperature. Fermentation takes four days before a wash is produced and transferred to the final and smallest machine, the still.
Here, new technology is the equivalent of a traditional 48-plate still. In the Jones Distilling, the still is able to distill 500 litres of wash at a time. It’s here where the liquid is evaporated precisely and condensed repeatedly through the copper rings, which provide a greater surface area of copper than traditional stills. At a point decided by the distiller, the vapours move up the column and condense to be collected and filtered. The still produces 96%-proof alcohol. Moore will proof it down it with distilled water until it is 40% alcohol. It will be tasted against a master bottle, the bottle that every other batch must match perfectly before it is deemed worthy.
It’s clear that the science is real, not just in the recipe, but in the equipment. “Everything in here is cutting edge and ahead of its time as far as technology,” Moore says.
For Moore, Jones Distilling fits with her distilling ideology.
“I’ve met master distillers who fall into the habit of doing the same thing; if it’s not broke, don’t fix it. But creating and growing and striving to keep getting better is so important to me,” she says. “Here, I have creative freedom to make the best product I can.”
Jones Distilling’s Mr. Jones Vodka is available in town at Kawakubo, The Regent Hotel, Bierhaus and Cheers Liquor Store. The distillery itself is open for tastings and purchases throughout the summer Tuesday-Sunday 11–5 p.m., though there is currently no cocktail bar or individual drink purchase available. “We aren’t in a rush,” Moore explains. “We’re doing it right, taking our time and building our brand before we add more products.”
The brand lends itself to the notion of what Jones was looking for when he found Moore, the distilling unicorn, something unique and fresh but steeped in quality. Jones Distilling is worth checking out.