Drinking in Saskatoon’s finest
Story by Adrian Brijbassi
SASKATOON, SASKATCHEWAN — As Cary Bowman tours me through his distillery, it occurs to me that there are very few places where Lucky Bastard could be possible. It’s not that craft distilleries are rare — they are booming in Canada, with more than 100 licenses issued — or that Saskatoon has a pedigree for making great spirits — it was, after all, home to a strict Temperance Colonization Society during the early decades of the 20th century.
Lucky Bastard seems to suit the Saskatoon of today because the small business on the outskirts of town embodies the city’s recent prosperity. The micro distillery is the result of a lottery win, a stroke of fortune that could happen anywhere but seems apropos that it occurred here, in a prairie boomtown where jobs are aplenty and the energy is so palpable people are likening it to a mini Calgary. It’s also the result of community and ingenuity.
Bowman was a financial advisor and one of his clients, Michael Goldney, walked into his office one day after winning millions of dollars. He was, of course, seeking advice. It just so happened that Bowman was a Scotch aficionado and his own dream was to operate a distillery.
“He was searching for something to do with his money and I suggested the spirits business. I told him I’d be his partner in it,” Bowman says. He then explains the company’s name with a laugh: “He’s lucky and I’m the bastard.”
They didn’t set out to start just a distillery to satisfy local consumers. They wanted it to be one of the best in the world. And they’ve accomplished the aim. Lucky Bastard has won international awards for its premium spirits that include whiskey, rum and gin. There’s also a spicy Hungarian vodka and a range of liqueurs, including one made with Sea Buckthorn, the hearty berry that grows in frigid climates and is known for its super-omega nutritional value. Lucky Bastard’s products have stocked many bars in Saskatoon, including the one at Ayden Kitchen & Bar, ranked 10th among the 2014 Vacay.ca Top 50 Restaurants in Canada Guide.
“I was surprised to find something this good up here but I’m glad I did,” says Christopher Cho, who runs the bar at Ayden and moved to Saskatoon last year. “It’s always good to have local products but it’s not always easy to find ones of this quality.”
With Lucky Bastard, Ayden, Prairie Harvest Cafe (No. 33 on the Vacay.ca rankings), the James Hotel and a range of cultural offerings, including the annual Saskatoon Jazz Festival, the city is a destination for more than just business travellers scoping out the agricultural and natural resource enterprises or road-trippers looking for a pit stop on the prairies. Saskatoon is a place to be.
The city’s economy has remained torrid for several years. Labour statistics from July listed a total work force of 596,400 people, the highest number of workers ever employed in Saskatoon. For 18 consecutive months Saskatoon has been the owner of Canada’s lowest unemployment rate, 3.9 per cent (the national rate is 7.1 per cent). While the housing market may be softening slightly, according to recent real estate statistics, the boom shows no signs of abating. Construction projects — including three major hotels and an arts centre — are under way and the agricultural market continues to benefit from global demand for products that Saskatchewan cultivates as well as any jurisdiction in the world. In July, Saskatoon hosted the Pulse and Special Crops Convention, heavily attended by importers from India, where the vegetarian population is large and the subsequent demand for lentils and yellow peas is relentless. The province accounts for 65 per cent of the world’s lentil production and 54 per cent of the world’s pea exports, according to Canada’s Ministry of Agriculture.
Let that sink in for a second.
This province of 1 million people is supporting the consumption of healthy food products by the second-most populous nation in the world. And the demand is only increasing. India imported more than 1 million tonnes of lentils and yellow peas from Canada, almost all of it from Saskatchewan.
While that’s all good for the people of the province and its most prosperous city, it also has benefits for the visitor. The economic impact has led to a rise in unique small businesses that are run by people with a vision and a passion. They are craftspeople who may not otherwise have the support to do what they want elsewhere but in a city where there is discretionary cash, they can make it work.
As a result, visitors will experience some of the best new tourism and hospitality offerings in Canada. There isn’t a lot, but what is here is outstanding enough that you’ll want to sip a few drinks, stroll the lovely Meewasin Trail and leave whatever perceptions you had of Saskatoon behind, and linger for a while in its bountiful glow.
MORE ABOUT LUCKY BASTARD (OR LB) DISTILLERS
Address: 1925 Ave B North, Saskatoon, SK (see map below)
Hours of Operation: Monday-Wednesday, 11 am-5 pm, Thursday-Saturday, 11 am-6 pm
Tours: Visitors to the distillery can learn more about the products through tours of the facility. Most tours are complementary. For information, telephone: 306-979-7280.