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Barb Stefanyshyn-Cote and John Cote transitioned from farming grain to distilling by capitalizing on crops that thrive in their part of the Prairies.

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“Farm-to-flask” is one clever way to describe the philosophy at Black Fox Farm and Distillery, which makes a range of spirits in Saskatoon. Co-owners John Cote and Barb Stefanyshyn-Cote started off as grain farmers who wanted to do something different, opening the distillery in 2015. Today, the couple’s 80 acres grows 90 per cent of the ingredients they need to produce Black Fox Farm’s range of spirits, with the remaining elements sourced from its agricultural neighbours. “We grow the ingredients that go into our bottles,” Stefanyshyn-Cote says.

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It’s an approach that has earned the distillery accolades from the industry and beyond. Most recently, three whiskies produced under the SE Eleven brand racked up numerous gold medals including honours from the 2020 World Whisky Masters and the 2020 International Wine and Spirits Competition. Its Oaked Gin Barrel Two also earned a gold medal at the 2020 Canadian Artisan Spirit Competition. And this October, the couple has been invited by the Rolls Royce Enthusiasts Club to show their spirits in England in honour of Queen Elizabeth’s 95th birthday.

The couple's 80 acres grows 90 per cent of the ingredients they need to produce Black Fox Farm’s range of spirits, with the remaining elements sourced from its agricultural neighbours.

Handout

The founder of Artisan Distillers Canada, Alex Hamer, says that while the country has seen an increase in farm-based distilleries over the last 10 years, it’s rare for producers to grow a significant portion of their crops. Only around 10 per cent of Canada’s 250 small batch distilleries can take this approach. “It takes a lot of property,” he says. “You need to grow a lot of grain.” The character of Black Fox Farm’s whiskies, gins and liqueurs is strongly influenced by triticale, a hearty grain that’s a hybrid of rye and wheat ideally suited to Saskatchewan’s short, dry growing season.

Cote, who went to back to school in 2013 to learn about distillation, says he is inspired by the bounty of the Prairies, but his plans don’t always work out. “Last year, we had dandelions everywhere and I was determined to do something with them,” he says. “But honestly, I could not find any good uses for them.” Instead, rhubarb, cucumbers, calendula and other flowers contribute to the flavours of Black Fox Farm’s popular Gin #3. Haskap berries and mustard seed are given starring roles in other distinctive spirits.

Even Black Fox Farm’s aging process captures its unique terroir. Whisky barrels are stored outside all year, which makes for brown spirits with a specific range of sweet and spicy notes. More liquid expands into the wood during warm months and contracts during cold months, allowing the environment to play a role in a uniquely Saskatchewan product.

Cote and Stefanyshyn-Cote are seen as trailblazers for quality spirits in Saskatchewan. “Black Fox is the benchmark for what people should be doing,” says Dawn Wreford, division manager in charge of product procurement for Saskatoon Co-op. “They are doing everything from the ground-up.”

For more information, visit blackfoxfarmanddistillery.com

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