Love Your Way: Pemberton Distillery
by Ted Savage / September 4, 2012
What does it take to make the break from convention and follow your heart? Our crew of passionate iconoclasts have taken many paths - artisanal chocolate, radical local vodka, DIY electronic music machines, hand-crafted leather gear for your bike - to find their Way. So the question is, how DO you start earning your living by doing what you love...?

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The tale of Tyler Schramm and his journey to creative freedom is a long and winding one that crosses continents, spans years, and ends in a sea of premium potato vodka. As Master Distiller of the impeccably organic Pemberton Distillery, Tyler handcrafts world-class spirits in tiny batches, and keeps it local and in the family all the way.

The Booze: Pemberton's flagship Schramm Vodka practically invents the class of sipping vodka singlehandedly. Strictly organic, unusually flavourful, it even has an aroma. So unexpected and exceptional, in 2010, a year after its launch, it beat 65 distilleries from 25 countries, to win Double Gold and Spirit of the Year at the World Spirits Awards in Austria, a best of the best honor among industry insiders.

The Decision: Poetically enough, the resolve to strike out on his own happened on a mountain top: "I actually made the decision to go ahead and do this when I was at the top of Whistler Mountain," says Tyler, working at the time for a company installing chairlifts. The initial inspiration came in the summer of 2002, when Tyler had been brainstorming alternatives for brother Jonathan's small potato farm in the elite spud growing Pemberton Valley. With potato vodka resonating, all that was left was to...do it.

The Journey: The path was neither quick nor direct. Step one: Become a Master Distiller. Tyler took his degree in environmental science and geography, and enrolled in a Masters program in the prestigious Brewing and Distilling Sciences department at Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh, Scotland. In the midst of skeptical single malt whiskey dons, he developed his vodka recipe. Step two: Build a state-of-the-art micro-distillery by hand, in grueling winter conditions, with Jonathan and third brother, Jake. That was 2008.

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The Biz: Business challenges were numerous. "We really wanted to keep it a family business, I didn't want to go to private investors"-a start-up loan came from Community Futures, a government rural development program. And then, the formidable red tape involved in getting set to make alcohol legally in what amounts to a giant, independent, high-tech garage. But it all got done with style. Pemberton was even included in Popular Mechanics' 5 of the World's Most High-Tech Distilleries, for its geothermal set-up. Sweet!

The Ever After: Schramm Vodka is an over the top success. The people have spoken, and, according to Tyler, they commonly say, "this is like nothing I've ever tasted before." Sipping vodka, who knew! Forging ahead, Pemberton also produces a very limited edition gin, a pure vanilla extract, and a selection of syrups for flavoring cocktails. A first single malt whiskey is slated for 2015. And the work is good. "It's fun. It's a challenge that we enjoy. To have the first bottles go out the door, it was like climbing a mountain and reaching the summit."

Tyler Schramm and family...we love your way.

Pemberton Distillery is based in Pemberton, British Columbia.

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