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  • Writer's pictureCalgary Brewery Tour Guy

This Calgary Distillery Has A 100-Year Old History Hidden Inside.

Updated: Jun 20

image of distillery equipment being built

Vendome Copper and Brass Works 

Founded around 1910, Vendome Copper and Brass Works of Louisville, Kentucky, is widely recognized as a leader in the manufacturing of copper stills, cookers and vats. The company's Canadian origins can be traced back to the U.S. prohibition era which began in the state of Kentucky in 1919 and lasted until 1933. During that time, Vendome's founder, Elmore Sherman, who had honed his craft at Hoffman, Ahlers & Co in the late 1800s, found himself in Vancouver, British Columbia (where the alcohol ban had ended in 1921), with all the equipment from a Henderson, Kentucky distillery that shut down during the U.S. prohibition. Sherman had been hired here to reassemble it alongside the Fraser River at 8900 Shaughnessy Street in 1925. After completing the task, Sherman returned to Kentucky, and his newly reconstructed distillery became Vancouver’s first, 'United Distillers' in 1927. As liquor production was permitted in British Columbia, but remained illegal in the US until 1933, United Distillers, and to an extent Sherman, heavily contributed to a rich history of rum-running from the Pacific province to the U.S. and Alberta.

Fast forward almost 100 years, and Sherman’s legacy continues to be alive and well in Calgary. When Bridgeland Distillery owners Daniel Plenzik and Jacques Tremblay decided they wanted to start making world-award winning spirits, they knew they had to invest in top-quality equipment. Having crafted stills for esteemed distilleries like Buffalo Trace, Jim Beam, Maker's Mark, and even Wayne Gretzky Estates, Vendome Copper and Brass Works was an obvious choice.

The still at Bridgeland Distillery which was constructed in Kentucky may be the only one of its kind in the world as it was designed by Tremblay to not only fit within the walls of the former Eisenberg Fine Furniture building on Edmonton trail in the city’s northwest, but to fully maximize century old practices learned by Vendome, paired with Tremblay's understanding of science, tradition and his passion for crafting fine spirits.

A Vendome employee constructing Bridgeland Distillery's equipment
A Vendome employee constructing Bridgeland Distillery's equipment

Why Copper?

The use of copper in distillation (from the Latin 'destillare' for 'drip’ or ‘trickle down') predates both Vendome and Bridgeland Distillery by thousands of years. Early civilizations around the world developed some form of alcoholic beverage during their history and artefacts discovered in China, Mesopotamia and in ancient Egypt, where beer was used as currency for pyramid builders, suggest that distillation for the creation of perfumes and medicines was practised as early as 2000 BC. 

Although copper’s true qualities may not have been fully understood thousands of years ago, it has proven to be an ideal material for manufacturing stills, cookers and vats.  Not only is it relatively malleable and easy to work with, but it also possesses special properties that allow it to chemically react with unpleasant sulphur compounds found in some grains and created during fermentation (alcohol production). These compounds can impart undesirable flavours and aromas to the final spirit, and copper facilitates the reactions that convert these sulphur compounds into less obnoxious forms which can be skimmed off, or that gather on the tank as salts and flake off when dried. 

Additionally, copper's resistance to corrosion and excellent heat conductivity make it invaluable in distillation. An even distribution of high temperatures throughout the pot or column ensures consistent and controlled production. When coils are incorporated into the still, as is the case at Bridgeland Distillery, they provide a longer pathway for vapours to travel, increasing contact time with surfaces. This results in more effective condensation of vapours back into liquid form which is crucial for separating desired components from the mixture. Think of steam from a kettle landing on a surface and creating droplets. Moreover, more copper means more compound conversion, resulting in a cleaner and more refined final product, enhancing the smoothness and refinement of the spirits, a technique that is on full display at the world-award-winning Bridgeland Distillery and which can be witnessed first-hand on a Calgary Distillery Tour.

Sampling Whisky at Bridgeland Distillery
Sampling Whisky at Bridgeland Distillery

Although the true origins of alcohol as we know it being produced in a copper still may be uncertain, one thing is for sure, if not for Elmore Sherwood, the Canadian Distilling landscape may have turned out a little different. 

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Mar 14
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