‘Moonshiners’ add a little spunk
to valley’s liquid refreshment market

Tumbleweed Spirits owner Mike Green with a whiskey tank affectionately known as Big Al.

Mike Green and Andrea Zaradic came to the Okanagan with wine-making on their mind.

Instead, they’ve added a little attitude to the otherwise quaint and fusty world of local liquid refreshment.

The owners of Osoyoos-based Tumbleweed Spirits join a burgeoning group of modern-day moonshiners making the most of unique Okanagan ingredients to create inspired gins, whiskeys and vodkas.

“You’re really only limited in spirits by your creativity,” explains Mike several days removed from a grand opening that had the curious lining up inside his Lakeshore Drive distillery for shots of five current offerings.

“We’ve done 17 different spirits so far. Some we’ll bring to market; some we won’t.”

Lower-mainlanders by birth, Mike and Andrea have a long association with — and affection for — the Okanagan. Andrea’s family summered at Hayne’s Point; Mike’s family routinely spent time in the Vernon area.

After Andrea bought land on Anarchist Mountain and brought Mike to visit, the die, as they say, was cast.

“We started spending a lot more time here and really loving Osoyoos and wanting to relocate. We love the community and the scenery,” Mike says.

Talk quickly turned to purchasing a small winery in the region, but that talk was flat. It didn’t hold the promise or the attraction Mike and Andrea were hoping to find.

“I like change; I like doing different things,” explains Mike. “I’ve got about 10 or 15 years of work left in me and I wanted to do something I enjoy instead of something I don’t.”

Mike was putting a barn on Andrea’s 10-acre property when a jar of Grandma’s Apple Pie Moonshine, brought by one of Mike’s friend as a gift from Las Vegas, landed on the kitchen table.

“That piqued our interest in craft distilling,” Mike says. “We started looking into it and thought maybe this could be our business in Osoyoos.

“The more we looked into it, the more we got excited. “

Tumbleweed was born and with it several seasons of experimentation, trial and error and tweaking.

Two massive mixing tanks — Big Al and Ginger — were hired out of Kentucky. Big Al was set to work producing vodka, moonshine and whiskey; Ginger is the gin queen.

Tumbleweed calls them handmade works of art — “kind of like Tumbleweed, if we do say so ourselves.”

The craft distillery now markets Vodka, Gin, a Fireweed Whiskey, a sweet Maple Moonshine and Rock Creek Rye.

At $42 for a 750-ml bottle, each offers a distinctive South Okanagan flavor.

“You don’t want really want to go to a craft distillery to purchase something that you can get in a liquor store,” Mike explains.

“Part of the attraction to Craft for us is making a great product, using as much local product as possible.”

The process involves gathering B.C. grains harvested at their peak and Okanagan fruit and botanicals, then distilling everything using time-tested European filtration methods.

After that, Tumbleweed proofs with artisanal spring water from Anarchist Mountain.

The result is a batch of distilled refreshment distinctive to the South Okanagan.

“Every batch of Fireweed Whiskey, for example, is going to be slightly different,” Mike promises. “We’re infusing cinnamon and chilies and using the fireweed honey to sweeten it. Those three ingredients can vary dramatically.”

He adds he could use artificial flavourings and colouring, “but that’s not what were about. We’re about quality and taste and showcasing the bounty of the Okanagan.”

Mike and Andrea had hoped to just cut their teeth with their first season, but already they’re thinking bigger.

They’ve partnered with four other South Okanagan distilleries — Dubh Glass in Gallagher Lake, Legend and Maple Leaf in Naramata and Cannery Brewing in Penticton — to market a distillery tour.

And even more flavourings are coming with the summer months.

A Cherry moonshine infused with Bing cherries is planned for July. At the end of August, Tumbleweed has scheduled the release of a watermelon gin.

It’s also working on an Apricot Vanilla Vodka that Mike promises will make “a delicious martini.”

“You get a sweetness and the apricot flavor and then you get a really nice creamy vanilla on the end,” he explains.

Tumbleweed Spirits is located at 6001 Lakeshore Drive. Through the remainder of June, the tasting bar is open Thursday through Sunday between 11 a.m. and 6 p.m.

In July and August, Tumbleweed will be open 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. seven days a week.

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