Shuswap Highland Stills owner Simon Koczwarski gets to mark his first year in business with a pair of awards.
Two products from the Salmon Arm distillery, the Wee Nip Coffee Spirit and the Gneiss Vodka recently earned medals in the 2023 Canadian Artisan Spirit Competition. The coffee spirit received a bronze medal in the Infused or Flavoured Vodka category. Gneiss was awarded a gold medal in the Vodka-Contemporary category.
Having opened last March, Koczwarski said the awards, determined by judges across the country, were a sign he’s on the right track.
“That was definitely the number takeaway,” said Koczwarski. “We sort of felt legitimized – Ok, you’re doing it right!”
Prior to becoming a distiller, Koczwarski was involved in the wine industry. He said he became interested in distilling when he was working at a winery in New Zealand. He said he was working in the tasting room and at the back of the winery was a “gigantic, handmade Portuguese still” that the assistant winemaker was learning how to use.
“I had to do tours and describe what distilling was to all these paying customers, and I kind of was learning the crash course of how to make all this stuff just talking about the process of distilling,” said Koczwarski.
When he returned to Canada, Koczwarski said he went to work at a winery in West Kelowna that also had a distillery. He said he was was pouring in the tasting room for a couple whose son started a distillery. He learned the son “had a very good palette and he created a very good gin and everyone loved his gin and now he’s a distiller.”
Koczwarski said he thought, ‘Oh, that sounds doable. I think I should do that.”
In the summer of 2019 he took a course in Oregon and in 2019 he incorporated the business. Next came the purchase of a piece of agricultural property in Salmon Arm.
“We got this farm with the idea to grow what we were going to supply our distillery with,” said Koczwarski. “It was an apple orchard with some really old trees on it and we have some other fruit – plums, cherries – and I turn it all into different types of spirits.”
The Gneiss Vodka is an apple-based spirit, as is Wee Nip. Koczwarski said he uses four varieties of apples grown on his property and from neighbouring orchards. He said he’s gone as far as Vernon for a batch of apples but, as far as ingredients go, he tries to keep things local.
The chocolate-infused coffee spirit uses beans provided by Shuswap Coffee Company.
“We do a three-day cold brew with the Shuswap Coffee Company beans, just kind of in a big 55-gallon drum, stir it away and make a fairly caffeinated coffee – it gets diluted in the process but, it definitely kept me up a few nights doing the tester batches,” laughed Koczwarski.
Recently, Koczwarski opened a tasting room that is currently open to the public between 1 and 4 p.m. He hopes to expand opening hours in the spring and summer. Koczwarski can also be found selling Shuswap Highland Stills products at farmers markets. His spirits can also be purchased at independent liquor stores throughout the Shuswap.
Shuswap Highland Stills is located at 4540 50th Street NE (Highway 1). For more information, go to the business’ Facebook page or shuswaphighlandstills.com.
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