Spurred by an intense desire to make his family and community proud, Luke Erridge is bottling greatness in Ucluelet and the country likes what it’s tasting.
The fourth-generation distiller and owner of Pacific Rim Distilling has earned two coveted medals to start off the year as his Humpback Vodka earned a silver and his Lighthouse Gin took bronze in Artisan Distillers Canada’s 2019 Canadian Artisan Spirit Competition.
Ucluelet chamber of commerce manager Lara Kemps told the Westerly News she was extremely proud of Erridge’s awards and said his craftsmanship “is truly a culmination of passion.”
“Winning a silver medal for his Humpback Vodka and a bronze for his Lighthouse Gin at the 2019 Canadian Artisan Spirits Competition is proof that he is the best of the best and we are so fortunate to have Luke as part of our community,” she beamed.
This is the first competition Erridge has entered after opening his Pacific Rim Distilling company in Ucluelet last year and the local entrepreneur and fourth generation distiller told the Westerly News he was “excited and humbled” by the recognition.
“It’s super exciting, I think, for anyone to be recognized for their craft. But, a big reason for me is that this is my family’s legacy. My grandfather and my great uncle Alfy invested their entire life to get these spirits to where they are now and, while every generation has improved, without that base that they laid out, there’s no way that I could ever have achieved this,” he said.
“I think my grandpa shed a tear, which, that doesn’t really happen too often…One of my big goals is I want to win a gold at the World Spirit Competition before he passes. He’s only 73, so I hope I’ve got lots of time to do it, but that’s definitely one of the things that really drives me. My family, to me, is everything. One of the biggest things that drives me and motivates me is I want to make them proud.”
He added he’s grateful for the knowledge and traditions bestowed upon him by his family that allow him to work his craft without automation getting in the way.
“Everything is 100 per cent done by hand. I don’t use any automation. I don’t use any computers. I don’t use anything like that. Even the stills; it’s not like an oven where you set the temperature and you forget about it, it’s all manually manipulated through amps,” he said. “There’s two ways to really approach making spirits. You can approach it as a science, or you can approach it as an art. I tend to really lean towards the art. I think this is an art and I think this is a craft and anytime you are trying to make a piece of art, a computer can never do it as good as someone’s mind…I try to put the best I can in the bottle and I know a computer can’t do that.”
Erridge moved to the West Coast four years ago in search of forestry opportunities and spent his first three years in Tofino before pursuing his passion for spirits and setting up his distillery in Ucluelet.
“I went around to a bunch of bars and tried some spirits and thought, ‘Me and grandpa were making better stuff in the backyard, I wonder what I could do with quality ingredients and professional stills.’ So, I put my head down, wrote a business plan and just grinded until I made it a reality,” he said adding his grandfather flew in from Ontario to help him create the new distillery at 317 Forbes Road by hand last year.
“If you want anything in life, no one’s going to give it to you. You’ve got to go get it. So, that’s what I did and I love it. I love being able to come to work every morning and do my craft.”
He said he feels fortunate to have a rich heritage to draw from, but also hopes to change people’s perceptions of what spirits can be.
“People are so hyper-focused on what spirits used to taste like 300 years ago that it doesn’t actually allow them to make any true innovation today,” he said. “While I think it’s really important to honour and take pieces of what people used to do and that traditional approach, it’s really important to still innovate as well, to try to make something that’s better.”
He described his silver medal winning Humpback Vodka as “definitely not your typical vodka at all,” and said he caught wild yeast in a Ucluetian forest, began growing it in a mason jar and now keeps it in two stainless steel 55-gallon drums.
“That wild yeast gives it a super unique kind of floral flavour to it,” he said.
He added that he uses that same yeast in his bronze-medal-winning Lighthouse Gin.
“There’s nine botanicals in the gin. All nine of them were hand foraged right here in Barkley Sound,” he said. “In everything I’m doing. I really want people to taste here. That floral flavour in the vodka, that’s wild yeast that I went out and caught myself and then in the gin I’ve kept that spirit and every single botanical was handpicked on this side of the Tofino-Ucluelet junction. One thing I realized is, when you constrain yourself to a certain area, you truly realize how much that area has to offer. I could have probably made 50 different gins, but this is the one I stuck on.”
He said the medals he earned belong to his community and assured there will be more to come.
“Those bottles are expressions of here. That vodka and that gin; it’s a true expression of Ucluelet and Barkley Sound and everyone that’s in it. I’m just the one that puts it in a bottle and shares it with the world. I’ve got to thank everyone in Ucluelet who’s been there and supported me. The local support has been just overwhelming and I really appreciate it,” he said. “I’m really happy that I could bring these [medals] home to Ucluelet, but I can’t wait to bring Ukee home the gold and I can’t wait to do that on an international level. That’s the world saying that they’re tasting Ucluelet and they love it.”
He thanked the community for being everything he and his girlfriend Nashyra Collet dreamed of when they made the decision to make their life in Ucluelet.
“I grew up in a really small farming town and that comes with small town values and I really like those small town values that Ucluelet has. That was a big big reason why we decided to set up shop here,” he said.
“I knew that Ucluelet was going to be a really really good fit for me and it was the best choice that I’ve ever made. I’m really, really, fortunate that this town has been so welcoming and all the locals here have just been so open with us. I can’t say how much I appreciate it.”
READ MORE: Tofino scores at Business Excellence Awards