Distiller relies on good water

This is the first of five business features highlighting Saskatchewan companies that are finalists in the Sask. Trade & Export Partnership’s 2018 Exporter of the Year Award. 

If you’re an entrepreneur who’s looking for a spot to set up a new alcohol distillery, bottling facility and distribution center, there’s a good chance that the wheat fields south of Blaine Lake, Sask., aren’t going to rank as your location of choice.

But for Paul and Jayden Riben, the decision on where to base Radouga Distilleries Inc. was never in question.

They chose the family farm, overlooking the Radouga Creek, about 70 kilometres north of Saskatoon.

“Water quality was a huge factor,” said Jayden, Radouga’s production manager, when asked about the decision to set up shop in rural Saskatchewan.

“We’re sitting on top of an interglacial aquifer and our water quality is excellent. Our water, after we treat it … is very close to neutral. There’s no taste to it. That’s the key to making good vodka.”

In the grain fields outside of Radouga’s new multimillion-dollar production facility, harvest crews are working busily to take off this year’s wheat crop.

But inside, Jayden is managing production of a different kind.

He and a handful of employees are producing and bottling Radouga’s core products — Provincial Vodka, Provincial Spiced Vodka, Paul’s Apple Pie Liqueur and Paul’s Blueberry Pie Liqueur.

In 2017, the company produced more than 70,000 litres of spirits.

That number has already been surpassed in 2018. And by March of next year, the Ribens expect to eclipse 200,000 litres annually — an amount that will rank them as a national distiller.

“It’s been a wild ride for sure,” said operations manager Lawrence Eberle, who joined the company in early 2018.

“We’re already Saskatchewan’s largest micro-distillery, (but) there’s just so much untapped potential here. The sky’s the limit.”

Radouga Distilleries had humble beginnings.

Paul’s interest in distilling started as a hobby several years ago but it eventually morphed into a fledgling business venture.

Radouga’s first commercial production took place in a retrofitted two-car garage in 2014.

Within two years of acquiring a production licence from the Saskatchewan Liquor and Gaming Authority, demand for the company’s products had taken off and Radouga was stuggling to keep up with demand for its vodka.

So in 2016, the company broke ground on a new state-of-the-art production facility, located about 100 metres away on the other side of the farmyard.

Continued growth since 2016 has already prompted Radouga to launch its next phase of expansion.

Ground work has begun on a 44,000 sq. foot building that will provide additional production capacity, warehouse space and a fully-automated bottling line.

When the new building is complete, Radouga will have enough space to accommodate 30 commercial stills, up from two currently.

“We’re expanding out of necessity,” says Eberle, who left a 23-year career in retail management to join Radouga.

“Sales have been doubling, tripling and quadrupling year over year. We have to expand just to keep up with demand.”

Although Radouga is a relative newcomer to the alcohol industry, it is quickly becoming recognized as a producer of high quality spirits.

In a few short years, the company’s products have earned more than a dozen medals at festivals and product expos across Canada and the United States.

In 2016, the company’s flagship product — Provincial Vodka — won a gold medal at the prestigious New York World Wine and Spirits Competition.

More recently, Provincial Vodka won a platinum medal at the Sip Awards in Los Angeles, where it also captured the Consumer’s Choice Award as the best vodka on display.

Recognition at the local, national and international levels has helped to boost the company’s sales in Saskatchewan and abroad.

Radouga’s vodka products are now available in Alberta and throughout the United States.

Paul, a gifted promotor, is also developing new markets in Japan, China and other parts of Asia.

“I’d love to take credit for all of it,” Paul said when asked about his company’s success at a recent show in New York.

“But it really is a combination of knowing the ingredients that the product is made of, being fortunate enough to have a water source that really is as rare as can be found in nature, and the care and attention our people take to make the best spirits we can every day.”

Flavours used to produce Radouga’s liqueur products are all natural, with no preservatives or artificial flavours, and are derived from pure fruit concentrates.

Radouga’s vodka is seven times distilled in a process that gives it a distinctive smooth taste that rivals the most expensive vodkas on the market, Eberle said.

“We compete with (the best) in terms of quality,” he said.

“The growth potential is astronomical for us. We want to run with the big boys.”

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