Three years after graduating, Commerce alumnus Devon Strang ('14) has just launched his new business, Blue Roof Distillers. The first bottles of vodka are on the shelves at New Brunswick liquor stores — from an enterprise that started as an independent study at Mount Allison.
Growing up on a farm, Strang has always loved farming. Strang’s Produce, with its distinctive blue roofs, is located in Malden, NB, not far from Sackville. Strang's family has been growing potatoes there for six generations, starting in 1855.
Strang however wanted to do something a little different.
“We came up with the idea of taking our small potatoes, which are under the size requirement for Loblaws, and turning them into a value-added product — vodka,” he says.
The young entrepreneur developed a business plan in the independent study course with weekly meetings to consult with his Commerce professor, Dr. Nauman Farooqi.
“I had his guidance when I was outsourcing equipment and different ingredients. I would come to him with ideas and he would pick my brain, and say, ‘Well did you think about this?’ or ‘It is a good idea to do that.’ He would let me do my own thing, but I used his guidance along the way,” says Strang.
Strang is still receiving advice from his former professor.
“I have e-mailed him along the way and asked him about certain things to get his advice. He has been very good,” he says.
Starting out on a small scale, Strang still ran into some hiccups along the way. With funding from the New Brunswick Innovation Foundation he was able to have a research chemist from CCNB Edmundston spend a month with him to refine his process and recommend the equipment he would need. ACOA also provided funds for the start-up.
Their method, using the whole potato, is unique and a throwback to the old days of vodka distilling in Russia and Poland.
Because they are using the whole potato and few people do this, Strang had to have a special cooker developed from DME Brewing Solutions in PEI.
“I had their engineers do a drawing for me based on my ideas and they built us a one-of-a-kind tank, which emulates a pot on the stove and also mashes the potatoes,” he says.
He also developed a unique carbon system designed with the help of the chemist.
“This is a one-in-the-world process we have developed here. No one else does it like we do,” says Strang, adding this makes for a unique product.
“Pure and pure and pure and pure. We have ended up with an ultra-premium, high-quality product. We have our vodka coming off our still here at 95.6 per cent pure finished product. This is the ultimate purity. From farm to bottle, all under one roof. We are truly authentic in everything we do here, right from beginning to end.”
Blue Roof Distiller’s grand opening is on June 23 at 3:30 p.m. at the farm. It will be catered by Canada’s Smartest Kitchen from The Culinary Institute of Canada in Charlottetown, PEI.