Deep Roots Distillery is a small-batch craft distillery in Prince Edward Island owned and operated by Mike and Carol Beamish. Though the company opened in 2014, its story begins in 1987 when Mike and his family moved to PEI from Ontario for a change of career and lifestyle.
They bought a 10-acre property about 10 minutes from Charlottetown with the goal of creating a hobby farm. They adopted organic principles from the start, for example planting apple varieties with a natural immunity to scab, which cut the need for chemical applications in half, and following an integrated pest management protocol. “We only used a chemical when we actually saw the bug and when it reached a certain threshold that would make economic sense,” says Mike. “We were a small hobby farm who believed in the organic movement.”
In 2003 Beamish Apples became a certified organic orchard, mainly selling fresh apples at farmers’ markets and via their own u-pick.
As Mike approached retirement, he was looking for a new project to tackle. At the same time, he was frustrated with the wasted apples in his orchard. “You lose a lot of apples to the ground but if you pick the apples up every day before the bugs get to them, then about 70% of the drops are in perfect condition,” he says.
Federal regulations don’t allow these apples to be sold or to be made into juice, unless pasteurized, which is an expensive process. When he came across a training course on operating a distillery, the pieces began to fall into place.
Fermenting and distilling apple juice kills bacteria, which means even waste apples can be used. “I had all these apples on the ground. I could throw them into the compost, or I could make something from them,” he says. The challenge and potential of a distillery appealed to Mike much more than producing pasteurized juice. “With a pasteurizer, all you can do is make juice. But with a distillery, we started off making apple brandy and now we have 11 different products.”
With the focus on Deep Roots Distillery, Mike decided to let go of the orchard’s official organic certification two years ago—though they still follow the same principles they started with all those years ago. As Mike did with Beamish Apples, he looks for ways to run the business with sustainability in mind. “We’re trying to do what we can and still have the business makes sense,” he says.
On top of using apples that would otherwise be wasted, they use local ingredients as much as possible—including maple syrup from his son’s grove for their maple liqueur—and solar panels to help cope with the electrical demands of running a distillery.
Another hefty environmental demand in distillation is the need for cold water, for which Mike devised a closed loop water recycling system. “You have to be running cold water continuously when you’re distilling. So we designed a system that recycles the water using a truck radiator, a sump pump and a barrel of cold water,” he says, who adds that an engineer who designs stills in the U.S. inspired the idea.
Mike has been able to take a waste product and use it to generate new products and income, all the while running his business as sustainably as possible.
“We’re only one tiny little business and what we’re doing isn’t going to solve the bigger problems, but with a bit of thinking and creativity we are able to overcome some of these challenges using clean and sustainable methods,” says Mike.