The Lucky Bastards of Saskatoon

If you’ve never spent time in sub-zero climates it’s hard to understand the kind of genuinely bone-chilling temperatures that Saskatoon experiences in wintertime. It’s the kind of cold that makes you want to Google how long it takes to lose a finger to frostbite if you venture out without gloves. And if you’re the kind of genius that not only forgot their gloves but also thought walking around in leggings and boots would be just fine, you quickly discover that no, it’s not.  This is a dry, biting, vicious cold which first numbs your limbs, then makes them burn and ache. And when you finally stagger back indoors you learn that the warmth makes you fear you’ve wet yourself; so oddly liquid is the feeling of your legs rapidly thawing. The strangest thing is that despite the brutal chill, the sun is like a searchlight; Saskatoon is one of the sunniest cities in Canada, its blazing blue skies a confusing counterpoint to its flat and frozen prairie land.


But say you made it through the minus 20 degrees glacial blast, you deserve a drink, right? Be glad you’re not visiting in the latter part of the 1800s, as Saskatoon was settled by a Toronto-based Temperance Society who’d been awarded sections of prairie land to set up a ‘dry’ community to escape the boozy badlands of the big city. Whereas Mayor Ford carries on those traditions of bad behaviour, Saskatoon is trying something new with the launch of its first micro-distillery, Lucky Bastards - and they run a fun distillery tour which ends with sampling their wares in the tasting room. 

Co-owner Michael Goldney has his tour guide routine down pat and can pitch to suit newbies or dedicated booze-aficionados alike. As LB distill from 100% Canadian prairie grain and use local organic fruit in their liqueurs, heck, you can even call this sightseeing. Currently aging in Kentucky bourbon barrels their first whiskey, a pure rye, won’t be ready to be released until March 2015, but in the meanwhile, you can sample their other spirits. Once you’ve admired the shining German copper still and toured the distillery floor, settle down at the handsome bar and try the Gambit Gin, made in the New Western Dry-style and perfect for those drinkers who hate that perfumed juniper smell of traditional dry gins. This modern style still has juniper (it’s not gin if it hasn’t) but other botanicals will round out the flavour profile; Gambit is distilled with coriander, angelica root, lemon peel, anise seed, cloves, chamomile and Saskatoon berries - probably the only gin in the world which uses them. 

Warm up with the spicy honey-pepper Horilka, a Ukrainian spirit. Why Ukrainian? Well, in 1872, Canada’s Dominion Lands Act encouraged pioneers to come to the prairies to settle and farm the land (it was a pre-emptive strike against the fear that America would invade the vast empty lands). The people of the Ukraine were targeted, and at the time as they were ruled over by Austro-Hungary, Poland and Russia, denied education and conscripted to fight for the Austrian army, leaving everything familiar to set off to a new life in Canada probably seemed like a better bet. There’s still a huge Canadian-Ukrainian community in Saskatoon and so, yes, Horilka. 

Sip and sample your way through the fruit liqueurs, a million miles away from the sugary sticky mass-made brands and taste local Seabuckthorn - a popular First Nations ingredient - and, of course, Saskatoon berries. Before heading out, bag clinking with products, bathed in a warm glow. Oh, and why Lucky Bastard? Cute story; they won the lottery and decided what they’d always wanted was a micro-distillery of their own. Cheers to that.

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