Edmonton Business Review: Hansen Distillery

A bit of family history before being led into the production area.

Opened mid-December of 2016, Hansen Distillery was, by a slim margin, the second producer to enter the Edmonton market. Strathcona Spirits beat them to the punch by just a day. Although, to their advantage, Hansen Distillery has been welcoming customers through their doors from the very start.

Located in the west end of the city at 174 Street and 111 Avenue, their warehouse and retail space sits in the middle of a largely industrial area, which would be easy to miss. Nevertheless, the shop’s sweet lounge (available Tuesday to Saturday) as well as the tour and tasting offered Thursdays to Saturdays have given locals a great reason to pop by and expand their knowledge and palates.

Back around the Christmas holidays, I was given a certificate for two people to attend a tour and tasting at Hansen Distillery. I had been meaning to redeem it for a while, but I ended up holding onto it. Upon researching potential wedding venues in the new year, I came across their retail space as an option. I decided to reach out to owner Shayna Hansen to inquire about renting it out. Since I’d never been there, I thought it would be a wonderful opportunity to use my voucher and to preview the place in person at the same time.

My fiancé and I were scheduled in for the 2:00pm slot on a Saturday afternoon. When we arrived, there were no formalities. We were simply asked if we were there for the tour and when we nodded in confirmation, we were told that we could just relax until the rest of the group made it in. As we waited for things to start, I walked around the room snapping photos. For a business that has only been open for a little over a year, they have certainly done a fantastic job with the branding. The custom logos, signage, metalwork and bar are a perfect mix of rustic and industrial design. Along with that, history and Albertan roots are hammered home here.

Several minutes later, our tour kicked off with Shayna talking about her family’s long tradition. Moonshiners go back four generations to her great grandparents who made it through World War I only to have to deal with the Great Depression. In those years, the spirits were made as a means of trading for food to keep the family fed. Fast forward to a framed photo of her grandparents driving a 1928 Ford Model A (the same vehicle sits in the showroom) in a parade with “Moonshiners” blatantly painted on the side. Things certainly have changed from then to now where moonshining has become a legitimate business. The trade passed down to Shayna’s parents and, after some hesitation, down to Shayna’s now husband, Kris Sustrik, who handles it all from the distilling down to the bottling at Hansen Distillery.

When we passed through the doors into their production area, we got our first glimpse of the gorgeous copper still, named The Mistress. It happened to be distilling a batch of their Barn Owl Vodka on that day. Unfortunately, I didn’t retain the exact details of the distilling process. I will chalk it up to the fact that I’m encouraging everyone who reads this to book their own tour and tasting in support of this local business. Yet, I can relay that we were allowed to taste vodka directly from the machine by dipping our finger into a tiny pool of the liquor. I probably wouldn’t do that under normal circumstances. However, Kris assured us, at 98 to 99 per cent alcohol, it was extremely sterile. The lick of vodka was strong, but also quite sweet.

Each ingredient used for their spirits are natural and/or locally sourced. The single fake ingredient (Kris was very honest about this) is the stabilizer in the cream used for their cream liqueurs, giving the products about a year of shelf life. As soon as a batch of liquor is ready, they bottle it right there. On a typical day, they’ll likely be able to do 500 bottles and labels, although the record stands at over 700. It’s actually such a small crew, that Kris pretty much has his fingerprints on every single item that leaves the warehouse.

Expanding their current line of vodka, rye, gin and moonshine, they’re just over a third of the way to finishing their first batch of rye whiskey, which by Canadian standards must be mashed, fermented and then distilled in a wood cask for a minimum of three years. When the barrels are ready, they’ll bottle and sell everything through the shop to ensure fans of Hansen Distillery get to be the first to try them. Explaining the steps and how the wood of the cask affects the flavour, I could tell that Kris is incredibly passionate about the craft. A year in, they’ve already won a couple of awards. Call it beginners luck, or perhaps it’s a real knack. Either way, Hansen Distillery seems to have a good thing going for them. If anything, they’ve come into it at the right time, acting as influencers in a new and burgeoning industry.

The tasting begins.

As the tour came to a close, we were led to a long table laid out with popcorn, water, and taster cups sitting in specially made horseshoe-shaped trays. While most of the hard liquors were quite smooth, admittedly, I’m not inclined to drink them straight, so I only had small sips of their vodka (a bit like disinfectant), Border Crossing Rye (a decent precursor to an aged whiskey), and Trouble Gin (lots of juniper berries with a hint of citrus). They absolutely knocked it out of the park with their seasonal spirits though. After initial tastes of the two cream liqueurs (Saskatoon Berry and Chocolate Hazelnut), Ring of Fire, and Cherry Rye, I went back to finish each of those off as they were all delicious on their own. The one that took me by surprise the most was the Ring of Fire. As a rye spirit, I was fully expecting not to like it, but the cinnamon really comes through and the chilli peppers provide just the right amount of heat to warm the body.

For about an hour and approximately three ounces worth of alcohol, the usual price of $7 per person for the Hansen Distillery tour and tasting is well worth it. Plus, if inclined, grab a bottle of a favourite as they’ve recently lowered the prices of their bottled spirits, passing along savings incurred when the Government of Alberta and the Alberta Liquor and Gaming Corporation reduced the markup for small manufacturers who self-distribute products. When the tour and shopping spree is over, the cozy lounge space is ideal to relax and chat over a cocktail, too. Heck, it’s so adorable that I really could picture having a wedding reception there. At about thirty seats, including the bar, it would be quite intimate. A few extra tables could be squeezed in though. It may not work for me and my fiancé. Yet, it could be another couple’s dream spot.

Overall, this was a fun, casual learning experience. Shayna and Kris have been hitting it out of the park. With more than twelve months under their belt, I wish them the best of luck as they continue building the family’s legacy. They are the true embodiment of the entrepreneurial spirit in Edmonton and Alberta, and I look to them as an example for what can be accomplished here in my hometown.

A fun use of storage in their warehouse.

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Edmonton Restaurant Review: Tres Carnales

Aspiring to bring the traditional, authentic recipes of the various regions of Mexico to life in a fresh and bold way, Tres Carnales burst onto the Edmonton food scene back in 2011 and hasn’t looked back. Number 25 on The Tomato‘s top 100 eats and drinks in the city, it certainly has left a footprint in the downtown core. The restaurant is dedicated to the close food movement, farm to table, sustainability and community, which is felt as soon as you walk in the door and sit down for a bit to eat. You also get a glimpse of their support of local artists with the mural painted by @CurlyBlackBeret (Trevor Peters) on the south wall and the paintings by Justina Smith on the opposite side of the room.

The mural by @CurlyBlackBeret

The mural by @CurlyBlackBeret

Chris Sills and Dani Braun, owners who watch over the place with a passion and sometimes man the tills, love to walk around the restaurant to say hi to diners and ask their opinion on the food. They create a friendly atmosphere with their personable attitudes, making it a joyous place to be. The servers are the same and seem genuinely happy to be working there. They aim to please. And, in my experience, if you Tweet them enough (@TresCarnales), they might go out of their way to make sure your cravings are satisfied (the duck tacos were to die for).

I’ve been there many a time and I can say, without a doubt, that my favourite dishes are as follows: Pato Tacos (duck), Al Pastor Tacos or Quesadillas (slow roasted, marinated pork), Pescado Tacos (lightly battered and fried fresh Pacific red snapper), and the Guacamole Y Totopos (housemade guac and chips). Unfortunately, the cost to bring in fresh duck meat has relegated the Pato Tacos to an occasional featured menu item, but, should you ever have a chance to try them, do not pass them up. My friend did, and, to this day, she still regrets it. To quench your thirst, I recommend you give one of their agua frescas (“fresh waters”) a shot. I especially like the Agua de Jamaica, which is made using hibiscus flowers. On occasion I’ll go for the Agua de Horchata, which Chris once told me was like Christmas in a glass. I think it takes a little getting used to, but I quite like it and it’s refreshing.

Al Pastor Quesadillas and a view of the restaurant's large shared table and @CurlyBlackBeret's previous mural.

Al Pastor Quesadillas and a view of the restaurant’s large shared table and @CurlyBlackBeret’s previous mural.

Ultimately, I would say the food is absolutely addictive. When I take a break and don’t go for a while, I’m okay, and I can show some restraint, but, as soon as I eat there once, it’s dangerous and I’ll probably be back several times within a short span because it’s hard to get the flavours off your mind once you’ve had a taste.

A single order is a good portion size for one person. You’ll feel full, but not overly stuffed. Want to try a few things? The plates are great for sharing with your companions. It’s also a fantastic lunch place for those who work downtown because the service is always quick and you’ll usually have no problem getting in and out within an hour-long break.

If you have yet to dine there, here are some additional things to know: it works as first come, first serve with the tables, it’s similar to restaurants like Famoso (see my previous review) where you order at the counter and then they bring your food to you, you typically order at the till before you grab a table (they will sometimes let you sit first and start a tab), sometimes you may need to share a table with strangers, the tarot card they give you once you’ve placed your order is how they know who to bring the food to, gluten-free items are available, they have two tills – one for those eating in and one for those getting take out – to help speed up the ordering process, and they are closed Sundays and holidays.

Come summertime, I hope that their patio will be open again as it increases the number of available seats and allows patrons to enjoy the few months of warmth we get in Edmonton.

Mexican souvenirs

Mexican souvenirs decorating the east wall

This is my top pick for Mexican street food in the city. I always look forward to going there with friends and co-workers and, every so often, on my own because it’s a place where I feel we are always welcome. Tres Carnales represents the young, entrepreneurial spirit that is so present in Edmonton nowadays and I expect that they will be here for the long haul.

For a more in-depth look at the establishment’s involvement in the community and its efforts towards sustainability visit The Local Good to read my profile of Tres Carnales.

10 Things I Learned At E-Town Festival

The masters program that I just completed has lured me into many things. Blogging, tweeting, an addiction to TED Talks to name a few. This September, it opened my eyes to one more thing: E-Town Festival.

This was the inaugural year of the event and, unbeknownst to me, the intention of the festival was to bring together entrepreneurs and allow them to exchange ideas on a larger scale. I was lucky to attend on a student rate and one look at the list of speakers was all the convincing I needed to go. The event was put together within a six month period and I have to say that they really went above and beyond.

Keynote speakers for the first year of what I hope will continue to be an annual occurrence for a long time to come included Bruce Croxon, David Usher, Chris Hadfield, John Herdman, Guy Kawasaki and Tiffany Shlain. All six of these guests were engaging, interesting, inspiring people who, most of all, seemed very down-to-earth.

What I would like to share here are 10 things I learned as an attendee of E-Town Festival. There were many more, but I could probably fill a book.

#1 – Chris Hadfield – Take care of your body, learn all the time and set a goal. In this YouTube video he addresses an attendee’s 10-year-old son.

These three pieces of advice from Colonel Chris Hadfield are things we are all likely aware of already. However, when a bonafide astronaut tells you that these are the things you need to do to succeed in life, you listen harder.

It’s true that if you don’t have a healthy body, you probably won’t live long enough to fulfill all your dreams. I want to experience a long life well lived where I will be able to achieve my goals. So, now I’m reminding myself to take care of my body and I’ll pass this on to you as well.

The second piece of advice was to learn all the time. Chris Hadfield said that if someone is willing to teach you something for free, learn it. He also said that everyone you meet knows something you don’t, even a three-year-old. Be open to reading a book, watching a documentary, going to a lecture, viewing art at the gallery; whatever you’re interested in, aim to learn all you can about it.

The third piece of advice is important, but personally I’ve always found it to be a difficult task to set a goal, especially long term ones. I feel like it is very hard for me to define what it is I’m aiming for. I think it is because I don’t really know what I want yet. Mainly that applies to my career. I’ve worked in advertising as a coordinator, researcher, sales planner and online administrator over the last six years. It has provided me with a lot of experience. Coupled with the Masters of Arts in Communications and Technology degree I’ve just finished, I’m looking to change my path. But where do I want to go? I enjoy blogging and the more I learn about and use various social media I’m inclined to look for something that fits in there.

#2 – Guy Kawasaki – Say what you need to in 10 points – people know how long it’s going to take. Hence the title of this post.

Guy Kawasaki once worked for Steve Jobs as chief evangelist at Apple. He could have run Yahoo!. And he is now the special advisor to the Motorola unit of Google. He is also a bestselling author. Needless to say, he has accomplished many things in his life.

Unlike Guy, the fact that I’m using 10 points in this post does not guarantee that I will be very succinct. However, as he stated, if you have 10 points and it’s interesting and entertaining, it’s okay. If you have 10 points, but it’s boring, it’s not okay. Hopefully I fall within the former category.

#3 – Tiffany Shlain – Being online all the time isn’t good for you, so take a break from the Internet and electronics once a week.

Tiffany Shlain is an inspiring cloud filmmaker and it was very interesting to hear her speak about what was important to her. Every week she takes one full day off from all things digital.

I think we are starting to see the tide turn and people are more inclined to step back from the world of the virtual and the screen. We’re too invested in this vast expanse of code that is emitted through our LCD or LED monitors and it’s starting to take its toll on us. Our eyes and brains literally hurt from staring at computers, phones and TVs constantly. It’s not healthy. This thought also ties back to Chris Hadfield’s advice. I wholeheartedly agree that we need to rediscover the world around us. Whether you play a board game, go for a walk outside, read a book, work on a DIY project or meet with friends, everyone needs to separate themselves from technology once in a while.

#4 – David Usher – Everyone is creative, but in different ways. Creative vision is important, but execution will deliver you.

I’ve been a David Usher fan for a long time. In fact, since I was in elementary school and he was still in the band Moist (they’ve reunited for a tour and perhaps new music!). His presentation blew me away because not only is he a musician, but he runs a company called CloudID Creativity Labs that pulls collaborators together to develop new ideas and projects. Additionally, David sits on the Institute for the Public Life of Art and Ideas advisory board at McGill University and is a co-founder of the Connexion Creativity Conference. From time-to-time the Huffington Post also utilizes his writing skills for a column on innovation. This tells me that David Usher follows what he says because, in order to do all of this, he must have excellent execution when it comes to his work.

His creativity was impressive. He and his guitarist John demonstrated their new musical experiment at the festival. They took a heart monitor and hooked it up to an audience member’s finger. Her heartbeat acted as percussion for their music. It was incredible. They showed us that our bodies truly can be used as instruments.

While I’m not a musically creative person, I’ve been an artist of sorts since I was a little girl. I loved to draw, paint, design and sew. I still enjoy those activities, but the time I spend on those things is few and far between, so I feel like I have to rediscover that passion in the arts again. At the end of August I exclaimed on Facebook that I was graduating from my Masters program and I asked my friends what I should do with my new found free time. My cousin suggested I help him write a screenplay. About what I do not know, but I’m inclined to say yes. Maybe that will be where my creativity lies.

#5 – John Herdman – Passion will take you places. Also, the lines of the Canadian National anthem are a great way to live your life by.

John Herdman is the coach that took the Canadian Women’s Soccer Team to the 2012 Summer Olympics in London.  Under his leadership the team rose to the occasion, representing Canada very well by showcasing an unbeatable spirit that took the country by storm. His passion is what pulled the players from the negativity that they had wallowed in prior to him taking over as their coach. He iterated that our national anthem was their model for success. “The True North strong and free” meant knowing what your true north is and letting it guide you in the right direction. Whether that be literal or figurative, it’s important to recognize where you’re heading. “We stand on guard for thee” for the team was their promise to our nation. On a personal level this should be a promise to yourself to live life by your values and morals.

#6 – Bruce Croxon – Success comes from organizational development, values and vision. Don’t compromise on your core values and don’t get stuck in the day-to-day muck because you’ll lose the overall vision.

Working for a company that has seen many ups and downs over the last several years, I can certainly see why Bruce Croxon, co-founder of Lavalife and current dragon on CBC’s The Dragons’ Den, thinks that organizational development is so important. Just because the company is experiencing hardships, it should not mean that the development of employees and the organization, as a whole, should be forgotten. Employers need to demonstrate that there is a reason why the employees they have are still here and show them that their skills are important to where the organization is intending to go. When a company doesn’t provide a nurturing culture that is when staff get stuck in the day-to-day muck that Bruce Croxon talks about and that’s when everyone loses the overall vision and they start to jump ship. People have a tendency to focus on the negatives in life, but we have to look past the little nuisances and keep the positive picture of the future in view.

#7 – Bruce Croxon – Don’t work with arrogant people. You need someone who’s willing to accept other people’s ideas and sometimes admit that their idea might not be the best one.

We’ve all met arrogant people at some point in our lives. They’re usually the loudest ones in the room, which often means their ideas are the ones used, but it might not be because they’re the best or right, it’s simply because no one wants to deal with listening to them anymore. So, if you can avoid them, do yourself a favour and choose not to surround yourself with those kinds of people. This is similar advice to something else Guy Kawasaki said about avoiding bozos.

#8 – I’m not an entrepreneur, but I felt like I learned so much going to this festival. It was inspiring and thought provoking. I’m glad I took a chance. Attendees were welcoming and ready to meet, mingle and discuss.

My advice for entrepreneurs as written on the button I created.

My advice for entrepreneurs as written on the button I created.

#9 – No idea is too silly or stupid.

I lean towards creative thinkers, so more people like David Usher or Tiffany Shlain would be great to see at future events. Chris Hadfield as the man of the moment was such a fantastic get. To me, the theme I think I saw running through the E-Town Festival this year was “dreamers.” Entrepreneurs have to be dreamers because they have to picture what their vision is and bring it to life. And you cannot be a dreamer by putting down ideas that others may deem to be silly or stupid. Sometimes those ideas are actually brilliant.

#10 – There’s probably someone out there who is wondering or thinking the same thing as you.

All of the sponsors were given a chance to pose one question each to the attendees of the festival. The questions were posted and we were tasked with providing answers. I always tried to answer first and then read what others said and, surprisingly enough, many people came up with similar responses. It’s not to say that we didn’t have original thoughts because what we added may be something the sponsor never considered before, but it was interesting to see how many others could see the same potential.

Various answers to a question posed by the City of Edmonton.

Various answers to a question posed by the City of Edmonton.

All-in-all, I had a fantastic time at E-Town Festival this year. Kudos to everyone who played a part in putting this wonderful event together. I think this wrap up video sums it up well (yours truly at the 15 second mark).

I look forward to next year. The bar was set very high in 2013, so bring on the speakers, networking, music and food trucks again!

If you are interested in participating or volunteering, E-Town Festival will take place from September 11-13, 2014 in Edmonton, Alberta.

http://www.e-town.ca/