From Grain To Glass is a series on Spirit of York that showcases some of the local partners we work with that provide the ingredients needed to help make our spirits. Their story is an extension of ours and we’re proud to share them #ThisIsOurSpirit
When you can’t find what you’re looking for, sometimes it’s best to do it yourself. That’s exactly what Melissa McKeown did when her and her brother started 1847 Stone Milling (Fergus, ON) back in 2014. At the time, they didn’t have any problem buying local fruits and vegetables but could never find local flour. Coming from a family of farmers they knew this was odd as there’s a robust community of farmers in the area that grow wheat, rye and barley -- the only problem? There wasn’t any local flour mills. Melissa, along with her brother and husband saw a unique opportunity and took matters into their own hands, and that’s how 1847 Stone Milling was born. This is her story:
Keeping It To Tradition
Before they dived into this new venture, Melissa and her family knew that if they were going to go into it, they were going to do it right. They studied how popular European countries milled their grain and some of the best practices used, so that they could incorporate those techniques here.
They discovered the best quality grains produced there was a result of the lack of chemicals and pesticides used on the grains they sourced, which is why when 1847 Stone Milling was up and running, they committed to sourcing grains that were only 100% organic. Maintaining traditional milling techniques was also integral, which is why they also brought in a stone burr flour mill from Austria to help them get the job done.
Unlike some places, Melissa mills fresh to order -- another tradition she doesn’t plan to break anytime soon. As soon as they place their order, customers receive freshly milled grain 1-2 days of Melissa milling it. Not only does this ensure that the grain maintains optimal freshness but it helps maintains the integrity of its flavour as well. Once the grain is ready, it’s shipped to customers across the province and beyond; ranging from bakeries, specialty grocers, retailers and of course, distilleries.
“When we started out our mill, our focus was to use as local ingredients as possible to support the local farming economy,” said Melissa in a recent call with us.
Much like Spirit of York, Melissa is devoted to using Canadian grown wheat -- particularly from Southern Ontario.
“Growing up on a farm, and still living on a farm and still farming -- we want to be able to support the local farms in the area.” Coming from about six generations of farmers herself, she understands the importance of supporting the local community and the positive impact buying local means to them.
“It’s really neat to know you’re a part of something like that. And it’s great that the companies that are doing it have the same goals and focuses that our company does, of buying local products and supporting the local economy.”
Red Fife Wheat: The Heritage Grain
So where does Melissa come into our story? Apart from our classic vodka and gin, Spirit Of York has also been known for their specialty Red Fife Vodka which is distilled using red fife wheat, sourced from Melissa’s mill. She gets her wheat from local farmers and then mills the grain so it’s ready for us to use.
Red fife wheat is a heritage grain originally from Scotland and later brought to Canada in the late 1800s. It grew fairly well in the Ontario climate which is why it can still be found today. The popularity of red fife eventually took a dip and fell out of style in the early 1900s thanks to the popularity of the hard wheat variety commonly used in bread and baked goods.
But these days, things are turning up -- red fife wheat is making a resurgence which Melissa credits to people’s desire to want to go back to heritage heirloom foods. While the grain is nuttier in flavour compared to most, when it comes to vodka, red fife adds a special touch that surprises even the most refined spirit connoisseurs.
“In the vodka, it’s actually quite funny-- the taste actually goes a bit sweeter. It’s kind of neat [...] it’s sweeter than you would think.“
So needless to say, with every sip of Spirit Of York’s Red Fife Vodka, you’re enjoying a little piece of history and tradition along with it.