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St. Albert company is pioneering alcohol-infused gelato

Happy hour will be getting much cooler this summer
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Thanks to a St. Albert dessert company, a pint of gelato will have you feeling the same buzz as a pint of beer.

St. Albert’s DaVinci Gelato Originale is close to launching its line of alcoholic gelato, a dessert with a four to six per cent alcohol content.

As the first company in Alberta to blaze the path of boozy gelato, the local family-run company had to overcome many hurdles.

CEO and Gelatiera Yvonne Irnich, her husband and CFO Johannes Irnich and their son and COO Felix Irnich had been working to make the alcoholic gelato a reality for just under three years but continuously came up against roadblocks.

“We’ve waited such a long time for this to happen,” Yvonne Irnich said.

The family had been working to sell their unique product for years, but because the gelato has a high alcohol content, it needs to be regulated by the Alberta Gaming, Liquor and Cannabis Commission (AGLC) and sold in liquor stores. Because the company is the first in the province to try to sell an alcohol-infused gelato product, they had to jump through a lot of hoops to get their product to market.

Finally, after years of work, just two days before Christmas, the family received the nod from the AGLC that they could officially start making their product.

“I had tears in my eyes when just before Christmas I had this permit in my hand. We were there! We made it. I’m still getting goose bumps,” Yvonne Irnich said during a tour of the facility on Wednesday.

One of the problems the AGLC had with the product was that they didn’t have the ability to store it. All of the alcohol products that are sold in the province need to go through the AGLC warehouses, but none of the warehouses had a freezer in which to keep the frozen desserts.

The company was able to find a way to deliver their product directly to liquor stores.

“We had to get through that hurdle that we are allowed to go legally to the liquor store and deliver it. So we bought a big truck … that is going through all Alberta and will deliver directly to the liquor stores,” Johannes Irnich said.

“It was really challenging for them to find ways to manage within the existing rules,” Johannes Irnich said, adding the AGLC had been supportive of finding a way for the company to get its product to market.

Despite all the challenges, the family kept pushing hard to get their product to their customers. They had already figured out how to get the alcohol to freeze and mix with the gelato – a trade secret they won’t share – but were just working on securing the proper approvals to sell the product.

“I think we probably love the challenge,” Yvonne Irnich said.

“It’s not a problem, we just haven’t found a way yet to solve it,” Yvonne Irnich said of their philosophy for overcoming all the challenges they faced during the process.

Once the family got the green light to start processing the alcoholic gelato, they had to begin making their own spirits in-house. Under Alberta liquor laws, they are not allowed to use other companies pre-made spirits in their products so they had to set up a distillery in their shop.

“In general, if you have a liquid to buy from the store and you add it to something else, you’re adulterating the liquor and that’s illegal,” Felix Irnich said.

Luckily, Johannes Irnich grew up watching his grandfather make spirits back in Germany. Johannes said he was only nine or 10 years old when he looked over his grandfather’s shoulder and helped him make apple-based spirits using much more basic equipment.

“It was quite a steep learning curve to get the memories freshened up,” Johannes Irnich said.

Yvonne Irnich, who is the brains behind the gelato recipes, also learned her trade in Germany in her youth.

The local dessert mogul got her start making gelato in Germany when she was 17 years old. An Italian gelato expert taught her everything he knew about making gelato and shared his traditional recipes with her. Yvonne Irnich spent two years practising and perfecting the creation of the ice-cold European dessert.

Yvonne Irnich mastered her craft but at the time there was no money to invest in making gelato. Instead she started working in the construction industry, got married and had two sons. Her family immigrated to Canada and Yvonne continued to work in construction for most of her career, all the while her heart was really in the gelato industry.

“I would have never have thought that something that happened so far in the past is now our passion again and our life,” she said.

The product will launch with four flavours: Apple Pie Moonshine, Chocolate-Orange Liqueur, Red Wine and Peach Chardonnay Sorbet.

They tested out the flavours at special events, like the Rocky Mountain Wine and Food Festival, where they collected feedback from the public to help decide which four flavours should be featured in the launch.

“It was crazy when people were lining up to taste it. It was kind of slow at first, and then they told their friends. And then the lineup is huge, like half-an-hour wait just to get samples. They tasted, they get back in line,” Felix Irnich said.

The Irnichs said the product will be sold in select Sobeys liquor stores likely in mid-May and curious customers can check out www.davinci-gelato.com or www.happyhourgelato.com to see where the product will be sold.

The family is also keeping an eye on the legalization of cannabis edibles and said they have a few ideas in the making.


Jennifer Henderson

About the Author: Jennifer Henderson

Jennifer Henderson joined the St. Albert Gazette in 2016. She writes about municipal, provincial and federal politics; court and crime; general news and features.
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