Saanichton, Vancouver Island’s DEVINE Distillery found its niche gradually—and now that it has, the accolades are starting to ramp up. Most significantly, in 2021, they were named Artisanal Distillery of the Year at the Canadian Whisky Awards.
“That was a huge surprise for us,” says Head Distiller Kevin Titcomb. “We were celebrating the awards for both our Glen Saanich and Ancient Grains, and then they announced us as the Artisanal Distillery of the Year. We were shocked.”
En route to securing this prestigious award, this family-owned-and-operated outfit has evolved from a vineyard to a winery to a distillery.
“In 2007, we started out as a vineyard, then started the winery operation shortly after with our first wines released in 2010. In 2014, Ken Winchester, our winemaker at the time, pursued the addition of our distilling licence and started producing our first craft spirits.”
As the distillery side of the business started to grow, it was clear that this was DEVINE’s path forward, and when the COVID-19 pandemic hit, the decision to wind up the winery operation was made. “Being a small-scale winery, we knew it was not going to be sustainable from a cost standpoint. With the tasting room closed, the retail side of the business has gone primarily online, and fortunately, we’ve managed to expand our wholesale presence throughout the province. The transition to focusing on our spirits only has been a good one.”
As part of this transition, they removed a plot of vines to grow ancient grains. They dedicated their remaining grapes to brandy production. They reduced their staff to a skeleton crew and closed their tasting room. Finally, they took on the difficult task of educating their customers about the change. “People still want to come and have the DEVINE tasting experience or enjoy a glass of wine on our patio. We were known for it.”
However, judging from the number of prestigious awards DEVINE has collected in a few short years, they’re becoming known for something even more exciting. They’re setting new standards for craft excellence, and they’re doing it by pushing the concept of “local” further than most.
“By provincial liquor regulations, as a certified craft distillery we have to use raw ingredients that are grown in BC, and process all of those raw ingredients on site from start to finish. But we take the ‘craft’ approach a step further. All of the barley we use is grown just a few minutes away and malted locally in our community. We’re also growing some of the ancient grains we use on our property as well. We want to keep things as local as possible.”
This intense local focus fulfills DEVINE’s promise to make spirits that are “crafted from the heart.” For Kevin, it’s all about “following the grain. I’m with the farmer when he’s seeding his field when he’s cutting his crop, and visiting the malting plant. I feel like there’s an appreciation, a connection, that goes into the spirits when everything is hands-on like that.”
Speaking of local connections, the one between Great Little Box Company/ Ideon Packaging (GLBC) and DEVINE has been going strong since 2016, when GLBC began producing packaging and inserts for the distillery. As manufacturers of DEVINE’s product labels, “GLBC has been a really good fit. The service and turnaround time, as well as the quality of the labels—it’s all been great.”
“Moving from a tasting room sales model to a predominately online and off-site sales model, we’ve basically become a packaging facility. We have different boxes for everything. And it’s been so easy to figure out what we need with GLBC’s help. Plus, I should add that when we spent three months last year making sanitizer that we donated to the Vancouver Island Health Authority, GLBC donated all the boxes. We appreciated that so much.”
We appreciate Kevin and his team just as much. As DEVINE continues to stake its claim as an exceptional craft spirits producer, we look forward to supporting their success.