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Faaiza Ramji, owner of Field Notes, is pictured where her product is made at The Fort Distillery in Fort Saskatchewan, Alta. on Friday, June 25, 2021.Megan Albu/The Globe and Mail

When Faaiza Ramji started her own culinary business, she turned to her grandmother’s South Asian cooking, brimming with a mix of healthy pulses, for inspiration.

Her company, Field Notes, initially set out to create a unique snack using lentils and peas but she eventually headed in a different direction: using peas to make amaro, an herbal liqueur.

“My family is not vegetarian, but my grandma especially balances out her diet with a lot of these pulses,” she says. “She’s passed the habit along to us and it’s comfort food, something I’ve always loved.”

As she began exploring the versatility of field peas with her business partner, farmer Lindsey Good, she also tested out a dairy milk alternative before trying to distill peas with the assistance of the Fort Distillery in Fort Saskatchewan. Through trial and error she eventually created her Don’t Call Me Sweet Pea Garden Amaro.

“When I first tasted the base spirit, it was great, but I also recognized that we already make so many amazing gins and vodkas in Alberta,” she said. “Creating this amaro gave me the flexibility to put some more unique, local botanicals in there and give people something completely different.”

Ms. Ramji is among a growing list of spirit makers on the Prairies who are innovating with local ingredients to make their products stand out in a crowded market. Canadian-made amaro is especially unique.

The history of the herbaceous Italian liqueur dates back hundreds of years, but only a handful of distilleries in Canada, such as Odd Society Spirits (Vancouver), Wild Life Distillery (Canmore) and Stumbletown Distilling (Saskatoon), have put their spin on it. The amaro from Field Notes, which uses Prairie-grown aromatics, florals and roots, is the only spirit being made in Canada with peas.

The Garden Amaro is set to make its debut at liquor stores across Alberta in late June. It will also be available at Edmonton’s Color de Vino and select Highlander Wine & Spirits locations as well as award-winning establishments Biera and Smokey Bear.

“It’s great to have been embraced by people who are playing with local ingredients and pushing the boundaries on food, teaching consumers and customers how to eat differently. I think having them make cocktails with a special amaro like this will help them tell that story,” she says.

Saskatoon’s Craig Holland is another out-of-the-box distiller who gained buzz back in 2018 after opening Stumbletown Distilling and using a rare purple wheat to create his debut vodka. Since then, Mr. Holland has created everything from the Prairies’ first amaro, using a South American tea called yerba mate as an aromatic base, to a hop-infused gin.

His ingenuity when it comes to unorthodox ingredient combinations has led Stumbletown to find much success in Saskatchewan.

“My motivation for starting this company was always to do something creative and different. It’s our reason for often venturing from the beaten path,” says Mr. Holland. “We’ve always been in love with the cocktail scene here and we view ourselves as a distillery that can create unique spirits, some of which aren’t necessarily available in our province yet.”

His latest conjuring is a take on the English classic sloe gin using Saskatoon berries in place of the traditional sloe berries. Like Ms. Ramji’s pea-based amaro, there are hardly any sloe gins to be found in Canada, or even North America for that matter, and none created specifically with Saskatoons.

Mr. Holland’s spirit was released several weeks ago and is a collaboration with Michael Brownlee of Mabel Hill Farm in Nipawin, Sask.

The pair recognized that their region “lacked varieties of sloe gin, so we decided that it would be pretty cool to do a Prairie version using the local fruit that is native to our province,” he says.

While local restaurants and bars are just starting to acquaint themselves with the Saskatoon Sloe Gin, Mr. Holland encourages folks to swing by the distillery to try a sip of the spirit, which radiates Saskatchewan terroir.

Looking beyond Stumbletown’s robust lineup of spirits, the micro-distillery was also the first in the province to launch a line of seltzers. Since their debut last summer, they have proved to be a massive hit for the company.

“It’s a perfect type of beverage to maximize our short, but hot summers here,” he says. “There is still a lot of room for growth and creativity in this province, so we will be releasing some new canned cocktails in the coming weeks as well.”

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