SASKATOON – Standing in a Saskatoon liquor store sipping saskatoon berry liqueur, customers ask inventor Kay Kerr two questions.
“Why didn’t I think of this?” and “How come it’s not made in Saskatoon?”
Like the consumers, Kerr also wondered why a liqueur made from one of the prairies’ most popular native fruits wasn’t available. So she made one, although it took three years to perfect the liqueur recipe.
“It was mostly cooking and tasting and cooking and tasting,” said Kerr during an interview in the western Alberta community of Blairmore.
After each batch she would invite friends over for a taste testing and evaluation until she had the perfect mixture.
It took a lot of mixing to get the right combination of juice, sugar and alcohol. After trying rum and vodka she finally settled on a pure grain alcohol liquor base.
“Saskatoon berries can’t stand opposition,” she said.
Kerr has discovered several things since she set up a laboratory in her Lazy K company headquarters in the Crowsnest Pass community.
“Alcohol and juice don’t mix.”
During one of the experiments the mixture came out in “globs.” She also found the saskatoon berry can be elusive some years.
“Getting the product wasn’t as easy as I thought,” said Kerr who buys her saskatoons from local Hutterite and from Peace River producers.
This year was one of the best ever for saskatoons. Kerr used 4,082 kilograms of berries.
“Some are so big you hate to squash them. They should be in pies,” she said the day after her crew made the last batch of saskatoons into juice ready to be turned into liqueur at the High River, Alta., distillery.
From barrel to bottle
The eight barrels of juice make 900 cases of 750 ml bottles and 250 cases of the miniature 50 ml bottles.
“It’ll be a lot of booze,” she said.
Some things have changed since her first 200 cases of liqueur hit the shelves last spring. She no longer puts a few whole saskatoons in each bottle. It was feasible when the assembly line was slow, but is no longer possible with high-speed production.
“Having saskatoons in the bottles was a big hit,” said Kerr.
The original 200 cases sold out in three weeks. The liqueur is now in most liquor stores in Western Canada and the Northwest Territories.
“I can’t pass a liquor store any more. I have to go in and ask if they have it.”
The liqueur isn’t the great-grandmother’s first invention. When Kerr and her family owned a hotel in Frank, Alta., the cooks hated making the gravy. It took half an hour of stirring before it was ready. She experimented with gravy until she had the perfect mix, and it only took two and a half minutes to make. Now the gravy is used by Kentucky Fried Chicken franchises.
Her latest venture is producing corn fritters for Calgary restaurants.