Field work

Potatoes fuel the spirit at Langley’s Roots and Wings Distillery

Distilling is a labour of love for Rebekah Crowley. Katie McTiernan photo.

If you want something done right, do it yourself.

It may be a truism, but for Rebekah Crowley and Rob Rindt it’s also the organizing principle that inspired their newly opened Roots and Wings Distillery in Langley, and the reason their handcrafted vodka exists.

“We were always looking for good potato vodka, and we couldn’t find anything local, so we thought, why couldn’t we make it?” Crowley tells me on a visit to their 30-acre Fraser Valley farm. We’re standing on the front porch of the distillery’s Wild West-styled tasting room and gift shop, watching her sons, eight-year-old Oliver, and six-year-old Tate, squeal in delight as they launch mobile airplanes in the yard beyond. This family affair is completed by Zeke, a four-year-old black Lab cross, and the recently arrived Archer, a purebred German shepherd puppy.

You can’t beat an original product. A lot of the vodka available now is cheap and mass produced — it’s pretty much moonshine.

“I’m a vodka drinker,” Rindt declares. “Out of all the vodkas I’ve tasted over the years, potato vodka is a traditional vodka that stands out,” he says. “You can’t beat an original product. A lot of the vodka available now is cheap and mass produced — it’s pretty much moonshine.”

Potatoes are boiled in this Hillbilly Still. Katie McTiernan photo.

So, in September 2015, Crowley completed the five-day Master Distiller Workshop through Kelowna’s Canadian Craft Distilling Institute. From there, the Victoria expat and full-time tech saleswoman self-taught her way to developing Roots and Wings’ distillation process.

Opening the door to their roomy still house, she warns me: “We do have a batch going so it gets a little stinky in here.” But I can’t help secretly savouring the rich pungent aroma that engulfs us. She walks me past a grinder — “it’s amazing, one of my favourite tools in here because basically I drop the potatoes in the top and they come out like potato soup at the bottom” — and an 80-gallon mash fermentation tank. Checking the alcohol content in the 30-gallon copper kettle still from Hillbilly Stills, Kentucky, she nods approvingly and we head back outside.

While Crowley might be a relatively new chief organizer and still master, Rindt has been working towards his role of president and farmer extraordinaire all his life. He grew up on this farm and, along with his five brothers, runs B.C.’s largest sodcompany. He also now plants and harvests the six acres of Kennebec potatoes and four acres of corn that, along with the property’s natural spring water, go into Roots and Wings’ Vital Vodka.

GLASS WARES: Roots and Wings produce Vital Vodka in 375- and 750-millilitre bottles. White Knight Whiskey will be available later this year.

I follow him past the trim three-bedroom farmhouse to the storage shed, where he pulls up the retractable siding to reveal two huge heaps of spuds that rise above him. Starting with potato-only batches, the couple’s more recent corn blend brings out the sugar content and improves flavour. “So it’s a little bit sweeter, it doesn’t have that burn to it,” explains Crowley.

Back at the roadside tasting room, Rindt puts the finishing touches on the bar top and lower wall panelling — the wood courtesy of a wind storm that blew down two large cedars at the back of the property last year. There are plans to add a wrap-around deck that would look out to Golden Ears in the distance.

There they go again: doing it right by doing it themselves.

It’s a family affair: Rebekah Crowley and Rob Rindt work 30 acres of corn and potatoes. Katie McTiernan photo.



DOWN TO BUSINESS: Housemade infusion packages and a cocktail menu with ties to nearby businesses are planned in the coming months.

—by Sheila Hansen

Read more about Roots and Wings Distillery.

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