This afternoon’s guest has a firm belief in quality, Saskatchewan Mead and distilled quality since 2015 Blackfox Distillery has been Saskatchewan premier farm based micro distillery, located just minutes from Saskatoon, Barb Stefanyshyn-Cote is the co-owner of the locally owned and locally produced line of gin, whiskey and like yours that are shipping globally. Today’s episode may inspire you to take your beverages to a whole new level.
Welcome, Barb, thank you for being here.
Barb Stefanyshyn-Cote 0:26
Well, thank you so much, Barb, this is a real great opportunity.
Yes, it’s a pleasure to meet you. So tell me about your background because that doesn’t look like a traditional office. Where in the heck are you?
Barb Stefanyshyn-Cote 1:13
I am actually right in our retail section of Blackfox Farm and distillery behind me is the distillery itself the distilling room, you will see our our hybrid pot still is what it’s called. It is it was custom made for us in Germany.
Oh in Germany. Now I know very little about how alcohol is distilled. Even though I’m from Moose Jaw. You think given Al Capone’s history, I would know it inside out and can you give me the you know, pretend I’m five and explain how alcohol is distilled to me.
Barb Stefanyshyn-Cote 1:49
Absolutely, I can tell you in two minutes or less how to make booze, it’s really easy. So what you do is you start from green. And green has a lot of starch in it. And it’s the starch that gets turned into alcohol. Okay, so what you do is you take the grain, you grind it, and then you mash it, which means you add in water. And in our case, we add in enzymes as well. And the enzymes break those starches down into sugar.
Barb Stefanyshyn-Cote 2:19
Okay, then from there, you take it and you put it into a fermentation tank. And you add in yeast and the yeast does its magic and turns that sugar into alcohol. But the problem is, is that when it’s making the when the yeast is active, it doesn’t only make ethanol, which is the alcohol you can drink. It also makes methanol and butyl alcohol and fusel alcohols and all those other things that will make you go blind, right?
Barb Stefanyshyn-Cote 2:46
Okay. So the whole idea then is to put it into the still to separate the good, the bad and the ugly. Ah, as it travels through the still the the different things get separated and removed. And then at the end, you end up with your alcohol, your base alcohol.
And so is the process the same for each of the different products that you make.
Barb Stefanyshyn-Cote 3:09
So whiskey and gin is that the exact same process just a separate byproduct, then that’s exactly what happens. So if I take it from the still, and I put it in a in a barrel, and I age it for three years, it becomes whiskey. If I take it and I carbon, filter it and take it up to 96% alcohol, so very, very concentrated, yes. And then it becomes vodka. If I take it and then infuse it with botanicals such as Juniper and cardamom and all of the other fun things, then it becomes gin.
Barb Stefanyshyn-Cote 3:44
If I take it and put in fruit juice, it becomes a look here. So you do start with a base alcohol. And what you do with it after is how you make the different products.
So how did you learn all of this because my university education did not give me any of that. I may have consumed it.
Barb Stefanyshyn-Cote 4:02
But well, it’s interesting because our background too did not come with any recipes or any training whatsoever. When we decided to do this project, we were really green. And I the distiller is my husband, he’s the one who does all of this drilling. And he went and he took a couple courses, you can take courses on how to make alcohol. And he also worked a little bit in in one of the distilleries down in in Chicago where he went and volunteered for a week and spending time learning how to do it and then we came back and a lot of trial and error.
Yeah. Okay, now Who did you conned into trying some of those trial products?
Barb Stefanyshyn-Cote 4:44
Well, obviously it was us to start with and there were some I will admit that kind of went right back into the process again because they needed a lot more attention. So have you guys always been a little bit of a connoisseur for taste and flavor Reverse.
Actually, it’s interesting, you should say that because I, myself, I am not, but my husband is. So in our house, we’d like to say that I’m the cook, Chef. And so you know, he’s the one who is way has a much more of an appreciation and a far better palate than mine. Yep. Now that’s interesting to me. Because, you know, when you go to I’ll say, a fancy restaurant, which we don’t get to do too often right now. But when you go to a fancy restaurant, you have that nice meal, you really enjoy and appreciate the different flavors versus, you know, cooking at home. And it all starts to taste the same after a while. So I would think that that becomes a real, almost like an art. Right?
There’s, there’s some art and there’s some science in there. Because just because your husband likes it doesn’t always mean that the general public likes it. Oh, this is so true. And in and there’s so many things that are I agree, you know, I agree with what you’re saying is, a chef looks to his ingredients to make something that’s unique and special. And that is something that we’ve actually cottoned on to as well, ingredients that you start with that really make the difference in that end product. And again, what may be special to you may not resonate with the entire, you know, the entire industry. And it depends who you’re trying to, to target because that makes a difference. There I was reading a magazine about these specialty beers, and one person came up with a beer that you can shampoo with and I thought that’s great. Not for me. Yeah, no, no, thank you. So that makes me to think of two things. So before we we started our conversation today, you talked a little bit about tier one and tier two. I understand that you are a tier one distiller, can you just tell us a little bit about what that means to you? Sure.
Barb Stefanyshyn-Cote 6:58
So in Saskatchewan, we have just recently they’ve altered the designation for craft distillers to have a type one and type two distiller type one is are those that start from the raw ingredients, the grains and the botanicals themselves. And a type two distiller is allowed to bring in pre made alcohol, or pre made ethanol from other large distilleries. We are really proud to be a type one distiller farming is our background. We were grain farmers for a lot of years. We understand agriculture, we respect agriculture, and it gives us that opportunity to show off our specific terroir that we have here. And that’s it me, it really does mean a lot to us. And I think it means a lot to the customers as well.
Yeah, and I agree with you, I think it means a lot. Now, one question that comes to mind with only two distillers in the province.
Are all of the and let’s see beer, for example. So is beer also in that same tier one or tier two? Or does it depend on the type of alcohol?
Barb Stefanyshyn-Cote 8:08
No, they’ve they’ve what they’ve done with this tier one and tier two, it’s across all alcohol as in beer, wine, ciders and and hard spirits.
Wow. Okay, so then the second question that comes to mind because consumers are, I’ll say very used to maybe not a premium product. Did you guys find as you were finding your flavors, that you had to keep in mind that most of us as consumers are kind of generic or how did you really start to weave those those special flavors in that really do make you that premier product?
Barb Stefanyshyn-Cote 8:50
Again, it came back to my husband who’s the pallet in our in our operation, which was really good. But it also you know, we do we’re known in Saskatchewan for producing the best grains for breads for pastors. Why should not should we be known for producing the best spirits and brews and and wines that are out there? Well, not wind, sorry, wind doesn’t come from green. Right? What’s really interesting is that we do have some very remarkable terroir here, and which is often a term that you only hear that applies to wine, but it isn’t. And there’s a really, there’s a growing body of evidence that terroir shows up in whiskey especially, but we think it also shows up in our genes and our liquors and everything else.
Okay, that sounds good. So take me back to before 2015 your husband and yourself you’re talking about what’s next. Family farming is changing rapidly and drastically in this province and across the country. How did this conversation come about?
Barb Stefanyshyn-Cote 10:03
Yes. So actually, our journey started in 2010. So 10 years ago, yeah, we were grain farming about 5000 acres. And we also were partners in a fuel and fertilizer dealership, we ran a livestock nutrition consulting business from the farm. So we had a few things going on. But things were changing. And we came to a crossroads, we recognize that grain farms were getting bigger. And for us to stay in the business, we either needed to expand and go that route, or we needed to do something different.
Barb Stefanyshyn-Cote 10:37
Yeah, two things kind of played in here in that, at the time, there was no chance for expansion close to our existing farm, because our neighbors had already got this idea of expanding, and they were already at 15 and 20, and 30,000 acres. So there was no land available to expand. And the second thing was is that when we looked at our lifestyle when we looked at our children when we looked at our, our operation, and what we and what we like to do being large grain farmer, wasn’t it? Yes. And so that was when we made the decision to sell the family farm and do something different.
Oh, so you didn’t just diversify you actually change complete lines of business? Yes. Ah, okay. I didn’t realize that. So you’ve obviously kept, you know, an acre a section A quarter or whatever to have the distillery Have you not?
Barb Stefanyshyn-Cote 11:34
Actually no, we sold entirely, and we’ve relocated 100 kilometers south.
Got it. So you are actually purchasing your inputs from farmers around you probably those that you’ve known for years?
Barb Stefanyshyn-Cote 11:49
No, actually, right now we grow the ingredients ourselves, we rent some land, and it’s grown specifically for us. So we choose the variety, we choose the fertilization program, we choose a lot of the things that go with it. And that’s how we still claim that these this is our grain that we grow.
Yes, exactly. And again, you know, absolutely all of the inputs then right from the fertilizer you’re using on the grain to Okay, that makes more sense to me.
Barb Stefanyshyn-Cote 12:15
And the other part of it is is we do we bought another farm. So we have land here, we have 80 acres now. Okay. And originally, the idea here was, we wanted to do something closer to the customer. As a grain farmer, you don’t get those touch points directly with the customer so that you can actually, you know, find out Am I doing a good job. Do you like what I’m producing? Do you not?
Barb Stefanyshyn-Cote 12:38
When we first purchased this land, we thought it was going to be vegetables and a winery. Can we started off growing several vegetables and we had a few good RX with some vegetables and decided that vegetable sucked. And then we switched. And right now for those of you that aren’t familiar with black box, we actually do hard spirits. So we’re a distillery and a flower farm. So we went from vegetables in a winery to flowers in a distillery. And it was a bit of a process. That’s why the distillery was only open five years ago, you know, it was the concept probably was started seven or eight years ago, by the time you build and get every all the equipment into place. And everything else we opened our doors in in 2015. So tell me about how the flowers fit in here. Because I didn’t see that when I was preparing for our discussion today. And I thought, Hmm, I don’t know how this fit. So I actually didn’t keep that language in there. So explain that one to me. So when we had our little bit of a disaster with the vegetables, we started growing flowers, again, another very long story, another podcast.
Barb Stefanyshyn-Cote 13:48
But what we did is we sold flowers to that we sold at the farmers market. We sold to some grocery stores, we sold to some florists, we did weddings, we did events and we weren’t the largest cut flower farm on the prairies. Mainly because we were the only ones. Okay, now a lot of business that people do. But we were also we had up to seven acres of cut flowers, which is absolutely massive in the small cut flower industry. Exactly. Now since cut back to about two or three acres of flowers depending on the year. Okay, and we we do a you pick so people could come out to the farm and pick their own flowers.
Yes. You know what, now that you say that an explain that I have heard about you. But I have never had the opportunity to be there. I have a very good friend who actually used to have a radio show as well. And he and his partner had been out to your place and he talks about the u-pick and I the connection just never happened until right now. So So is it still like flower stores and weddings and stuff that are purchasing from you. So it’s it’s where’s it all you pick
Barb Stefanyshyn-Cote 15:00
No, it’s all you pick now and it’s open to the public. And it is an opportunity to draw people out to the farm into the distillery and introduce them to all of the products that we make your black box. So from the gins and the whiskies and everything else. But it’s also another opportunity for us to engage them in agriculture. Yes, this is how things grow. This is, you know, what happens when there’s too much rain. This is what happens when there’s not enough rain. This is what happens when the insects come. So it’s our chance to have a dialogue with urban customers that sometimes you don’t always get that opportunity to do.
Exactly. Now, we talked earlier, so you have already expanded globally, and I know even within Canada, some of the provinces can be kind of challenging, but between global expansion, trying to find retailers locally, who will carry the product, how does that happen? Is that all on your plate as well? Or does your husband do that part? Or, or how does that come to life?
Barb Stefanyshyn-Cote 15:59
Well, it’s really interesting when you start a business like ours, because it starts with two people. And then two people realize that, oh, my goodness, there’s way too much work here for two of us to do and then you start bringing on a team. And I am so pleased to say that our team is expanding all the time. And we’re really thrilled to have that opportunity. We now have a salesperson on full time we have a marketing person, we have a controller we have, you know a we have an assistant distiller now that just started with us last fall. So it is it’s really nice to have those extra people and to they bring ideas, and they bring suggestions and and it’s just it’s amazing how that synergy just expands with with more people. And we have an amazing team. We’re very thrilled to have our team Leon events coordinator.
And so yes, so you know when that’s really interesting to me, Barb, because as a small business as well, there’s times where you want to bounce something off someone and when you’re still really small, that’s hard. Even if it’s as simple as you know, the flowers you’re planting or the you know, new flavors you’re working on, the more people who are involved and have that input. Typically the better product you can have in the end. Right now, is everybody located where you are right now?
Barb Stefanyshyn-Cote 17:23
Yeah. And then we’ve got a summer staff team that comes out as well to help with the yard maintenance and the plantings and the flowers and taking care of all of that and we do a fair a lot of events out here at the farm.
Barb Stefanyshyn-Cote 17:38
People can come out right now we have a winter patio bar going so very cool. Yes. I’m very cold to some days.
No kidding. A January. Nobody wanted to, you know, funny.
Barb Stefanyshyn-Cote 17:52
So actually, January was good. February has been miserable. So Oh, see? And I guess just you know, the little bit of distance between us, BB I’m gonna get you to just scooch to toward There we go. Yeah, yeah, there we go. We’re just out there cutting you off a little bit. Sorry, I’m moving too much.
So if you were to go back and do it all over again, is there anything that you would do differently?
Barb Stefanyshyn-Cote 18:21
Yes, there’s a few things I think we would have tried to pick something sooner and focus on it. You know, we started off with the vegetables and then you know, in thinking winery, so we’ve planted fruit trees and realized quite quickly that we didn’t know anything about fruit and didn’t even like wine. So why on earth would it be a winery, then we you know, then we were with the flowers and we we like the flowers.
Barb Stefanyshyn-Cote 18:47
But the distillery is definitely where the the operation needs to be. And that’s where we you know, where our income is coming from. So I think if we had focused a little sooner, it probably would have helped. We ended up our name originally was Tierra del Sol, which is Land of the sun. Okay, and we had Tierra del Sol and blackbox spirits. The very first marketing company that we worked with, took us aside and said don’t have two names. People are too confused with two names. So we had to come up with a single name that encompassed everything. So that’s where blackfox farm and distillery came from, which is incredibly long and cumbersome, but it does tell you exactly what we do. Yes, it does.
But excuse me, where does the black Fox part come from?
Barb Stefanyshyn-Cote 19:37
So a black fox is from the Redbox family. Okay, it is an anomaly a genetic anomaly, just like an albino, but on the other side of the color spectrum. Okay. And when we looked at it, we thought that well first off when we were living at our other Farm in leask, we had a black Fox come and live in our yard one summer
Barb Stefanyshyn-Cote 20:00
The whole summer and it was just a really unique and beautiful animal to see. It would sleep underneath our semi that we were hauling grain with, then in the morning, it would scamper away, I got to see it in a red box playing together one time. So it was something that was really unique. Yes, that’s what we thought our distillery would be there’s that core red fox is common. But a black box is unique. There are many distilleries that are common, but blackfox farm and distillery is unique is very unique.
Exactly. And where’s your industry going? There seems to be I’ll say a bit of an explosion around craft brewers, which we’re learning today is now always necessarily the case. But where’s the industry going?
Barb Stefanyshyn-Cote 20:44
onward and upward. I really do feel that consumers and customers now really want to know more about their product and where it’s coming from. And so we are that Danette that direct connection, right to the land, right to the where it’s coming from, like they can they can know and they can celebrate where and who makes their product. And I think that’s, that’s something that we’re really excited to be a part of. And that’s the part that we like the best. So, in an industry like ours, you have to like people. Absolutely. That’s we like people yes. Well, and and you’re welcoming people almost into your home, because they’re coming out for you pick and I expect that they you know, purchase other merchandise while they’re out there. So yeah, don’t you really have to tell like the the people side of it?
Yes. Yeah. Do you know offhand how many retailers you have globally at this point?
Barb Stefanyshyn-Cote 21:40
How many Canadian provinces? Did you say we have so far?
Barb Stefanyshyn-Cote 21:47
Um, so we are in obviously, in Saskatchewan. We are in Alberta. We are available in Ontario. And we are around the world. We’re available in China. And we are available in Europe.
So did you did you consciously pick Europe and China? Like was that very conscious that you wanted to get into those markets? Or was that one of the just happened kind of things?
Barb Stefanyshyn-Cote 22:10
on those two markets in particular, we were very blessed that we had distributors from those two countries come to us and say I want to carry your product. And so that was very fortunate. And now what we’re doing is we’re doing a lot of the marketing behind it, help support those those distributors in those countries? So that’s been interesting. And we’re doing the same in Alberta. And we’re doing the same in Ontario, too.
So does that involve some translation then for the product when you’re overseas? Yes, it does. So in China, we just finished the Chinese negotiation of everything they’re doing. So did you run into any nuances where the translation, let’s say the translation of blackfox was something you couldn’t use? Or were you able to keep everything consistent across the board? So so far, it was, we’re very lucky in.
Barb Stefanyshyn-Cote 23:04
in Mandarin, there’s a term called Mwah. Ha. And I’m sure I butchered that for any Mandarin speaker terribly sorry. But it refers like it’s a, it’s probably more like Ebony Fox than it is black Fox. But hey, it’s very similar. Okay, so it didn’t have a negative connotation, because we see that in translation, right? Or, or black Fox could be an unlucky sign when it’s translated or something.
Okay, that makes sense. So how, like, are you? Is your focus on the retailers and getting your product out there? or How are you marketing then to the consumer?
Barb Stefanyshyn-Cote 23:44
Well, a lot of it is, obviously through social media that is by far, we’re very blessed that every once in a while, a podcaster, reaches out and touches base with us. So that’s, that’s been very advantageous. We do a lot of So here, we like to bring people here. So Mark, the second Saturday of June on your calendar, because that’s world gym day. And we always have a celebration here. And so we’ll do something, whether it’s virtual or in person.
Barb Stefanyshyn-Cote 24:17
When it comes to out of the province, in Alberta, we do a lot of tastings in event era, you know, in the in the stores and such, any chance that we can to touch the customer is is what we’re looking for. Obviously COVID has changed a whole lot of things, but it will go back and we’re looking forward to it. Yes, we’ll have a whole new normal when this comes out, was COVID in some ways, good for you because people were at home and purchase their products from for home or what what, what kind of impact did you see COVID did a lot of things for us both beneficial and, and? And well, I would almost say mostly beneficial, but because but it worked both ways, because we’re here on the farm.
Barb Stefanyshyn-Cote 25:00
We have a lot of space. And so we were able to invite people out to the farm to enjoy the space to enjoy nature to have like to seriously walk and smell the flowers. And when other places couldn’t do that, so that was definitely an advantage to us. It also,
Barb Stefanyshyn-Cote 25:20
it was an advantage to others as like to the to our customers as well, because now they had a place to go where they would be physically distant. And you know, they would they wouldn’t have to worry that way. At the very beginning of the pandemic, we too started making hand sanitizer that was so necessary in our industries.
Barb Stefanyshyn-Cote 25:40
Interestingly enough, we did buy in pre made alcohol to make our hand sanitizer. Yeah, because ours is just too valuable to use for that.
Yes, exactly. I can completely understand that bar. Believe it or not, we’re out of time already. So can I get you to quickly wrap up for us? And like how do folks find you? Where’s your website? What are your social channels?
Barb Stefanyshyn-Cote 26:03
Well, thanks so much for that. Our website is blackfox farm and distillery.com. We are on Twitter and Facebook and Instagram. We are at on Facebook. It’s blackbox farm and distillery on Instagram, it’s blackfox underscore spirits. So you can find us that way. And Twitter is at blackfox farm.
Perfect. You know the one thing good about a long name is no matter what channel you go to, you probably found that your name was available. The history Yes, it was surprisingly you know, but we just didn’t want to go that long. Exactly. No, I totally hear you. Excellent. Well, we are out of time for today.
Thank you very much Barb for being here for educating me as I say I had no idea how my whiskey really got into my glass and I do like my whiskey. So I if you would like to be on the guest. If you would like to be on the guest. If you would like to be a guest on the show. You can email me at BB at Google girl.ca or reach out on Facebook and Instagram at above the fold. ca. Just a reminder, you can also submit questions in advance of our show on our Facebook page. I’m your host Barb McGrath, local business owner and Google girl. Remember, you were charged for your success. Don’t keep it a secret. Bye for now.
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This afternoon’s guest has a firm belief in quality. Saskatchewan-made and distilled quality.
Black Fox Farm and Distillery is Saskatchewan’s premier, farm-based micro-distillery, located minutes from Saskatoon.
Barb Stefanyshyn-Cote is one of the co-owners of the locally-owned and locally-produced line of gin, whiskey and liqueurs; distributing their spirits around the world.
Today’s episode may inspire you to take your beverages to a whole new level!
Connect with Barb @ Black Fox Farm and Distillery
Missed an episode?
Catch up here: https://abovethefold.live/secret-life