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Capturing lightning in a bottle

Edmonton entrepreneur credits County of Barrhead residents for being able to open his distillery
cropped-Richard Bogach-White Lightning Distillery, Sept 2020
Richard Bogach, founder of White Lightning Distillery, poses beside the still that is used to create Real Country Vodka. Barry Kerton/BL

BARRHEAD-Opening a business during a pandemic is not something Richard Bogach planned to do, but life tends to throw you unexpected curves.

That is what he told the Barrhead Leader during a tour of his White Lightning Distillery in the County of Barrhead.

Last month the distillery released its first product Real Country Vodka to select liquor stores in the area.

"It has been a long and difficult journey to get this far," he said.

And he means that literally. Early on in the process, Bogach decided he would buy local products whenever possible, including the main ingredient, wheat, which he purchases from Uwe and Nadine Quedenbaum. He gets his barley from Quedenbaum's neighbour.

And although right now the distillery only produces vodka, he is in the process of expanding his operation to include gin and whisky.

"It just makes sense to use local products. This is an agricultural community that grows quality products, so why wouldn't you choose to use it?" Bogach said.

It is also the reason why a picture of a Barrhead grain field is featured prominently on the outside label and a picture of a blue heron's wings on the inside of a unique double label. The blue heron is Barrhead's mascot.

Bogach has also taken the extra effort and expense to embed "Barrhead County" on the bottle itself.

"Barrhead's a great community, why wouldn't you want to publicize where the product was created?" he asked.

However, Bogach, who is from Edmonton, said the quality of the ingredients is not the only reason why he is such a supporter of the county.

"The people here have been so great to work with, from county staff who helped me get my development permit to the companies in the [Town of Barrhead] and the County of Barrhead who helped me get my operation up and running," he said. "If you deal with people in the city all they are worried about is money and want 50 per cent down. When you deal with people [in Barrhead] a handshake is good enough, that is the kind of attitude that makes you want to do business here," he said.

Bogach said he got into the distillery business by accident. A mechanic by trade, he started, as a hobby distilling his own 'sugar shine'. But after a while, he grew bored with this, and he decided to expand his knowledge and skills. One of the first courses he took, was a week-long course on distilling spirits in Kelowna, B.C. Other courses followed, some as far afield as Colorado.

After he decided to open his distillery and went through all the necessary regulatory processes through the Alberta Gaming, Liquor and Cannabis (AGLC), one of the next steps was perfecting the recipe.

Although vodka is defined as being a colourless, odourless, tasteless spirit above 90 per cent refined alcohol, the truth of the matter is every product has a flavour profile from the base products, whether it be sugar, potatoes or something else.

"I think it is a good product that has a creamy texture that helps coat your mouth allowing you to taste the full flavour. It also doesn't have that strong burn as it goes down your throat as some other alcohols do, but I will let people be the judge," Bogach said.

Bogach said in the future he plans to expand his product line to include gin and whisky, but noted the latter needs to be aged three years before it is released. And like the vodka, he once again plans to get his ingredients locally. The rye for the whisky comes from a Neerlandia farmer. He also hopes to get White Lightning Distillery products accepted by Liquor Connect, the AGLC's distribution network.

Of course, as with any new business, there are challenges. One of the biggest being when he learned is that to heat his industrial still, he would have to connect to a gas main over four kilometres away.

"You have to take these things in stride," Bogach said, saying the distillery business is a long haul, noting he started the process in 2017.

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About the Author: Barry Kerton

Barry Kerton is the managing editor of the Barrhead Leader, joining the paper in 2014. He covers news, municipal politics and sports.
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