PETIT-PAQUETVILLE, N.B. – Distillerie Fils du Roy, an award-winning spirits maker on the Acadian peninsula, is expanding again.
The company, which also has operations in Quebec, is starting phase seven of its expansion, says president Sébastien Roy.
“We are currently under construction for the first malt house in New Brunswick. It will transform barley into malt because you can’t just take barley from a field and make beer with it. You need to transform it,” he says. “So our whiskey and our beer in the future will be made using barley from local farmers.”
The distillery is preparing to use up supply from 150 acres worth of barley that will be harvested in the coming week or so. But by 2024, Roy foresees the company will need 500 acres worth of barley. The malt house is expected to be operational by December.
The company is also building a lab where it will be able to produce its own yeast. Both projects will be done with the help of Josée Boudreau, a chemist who began serving as project manager at the distillery in October last year.
Currently, Roy says brewers and distillers in the region are using yeast imported from either the U.S. or other countries. But having local yeast will change the game for Fils du Roy.
“At that point we will have total control of every step of production of our product,” he said.
Roy says the hiring of Boudreau was helped by funding from the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency (ACOA).
The agency announced Wednesday that it provided a loan of $148,655 to the company in addition to a $178,479 contribution from the province to help fund the purchase of automated equipment and expand operations. ACOA also provided a $50,000 non-repayable contribution to help the hiring of a project manager.
Roy says the investment was made in 2017, but announced for the first time on Wednesday. He says the funding helped the distillery expand the space where it keeps barrels of whiskey and the boutique area, where visitors can taste and buy its products.
During the peak times in the summer the distillery can get up to 400 visitors a day.
“We produce barrels of whiskey and they’re adding and adding, and space is shrinking every time we produce more barrels of whisky,” Roy reminisced. “And the boutique was so small before…We were not able to fit more than 10 people. Now we can have 100 people easily.”
The funds also allowed the distillery to buy a bottling machine from Italy last year, which does 1,800 bottles an hour.
“We want to be very, very artisanal for producing the alcohol, but the bottling is not something that adds value,” Roy said. “It will only take one person [to run it]. People don’t like to work in a repetitive, menial task, so a machine will do it.”
The distillery has to repay all of the seven-year ACOA loan that comes without interest. It also has to pitch in for the cost of hiring a project manager. But Roy says the federal and provincial funding, administered through various programs meant to support small and medium-sized businesses, has helped the distillery “incredibly.”
“Having those programs diminished the risk,” he said. “When you have a loan without interest, it lowers a little bit the risk. Some subsidy for manpower could be that little thing that make you take that decision and say let’s go for it. It permit us to go faster and to go a little bit bigger because you have less risk.”
Roy says the company has grown around 25-to-27 per cent each year since 2014 and currently has eight full-time, year-round staff members. This summer, four more students helped the team.
Exploring New Products
Distillerie Fils du Roy has approximately 32 different products including beer, whiskey, rum, gin, vodka and other liqueurs. But it’s also exploring non-alcoholic products.
The company produces honey from 75 bee hives on its property, it roasts some coffee and it’s beginning to experiment with cacao beans.
“One of our employees, Rosa Maria Zarate, she’s from Oaxaca in Mexico. Where she came from there’s a lot of plantations of coffee and she really loves to roast coffee and cacao, too – she really loves to manipulate it. In Oaxaca they produce the cacao, they ground it with sugar cane, and they put a little piece of that in hot water to make hot chocolate the traditional way,” Roy explained.
“She lives here on the Acadian peninsula and she tries to incorporate that; she’s transforming those products. She’s roasting the coffee and we’re experimenting with the cacao.”
Currently, the coffee and cacao beans come from Nicaragua, but Roy wants to source them from farmers in Oaxaca in the future.
Roy says the growth of the distillery, which he runs with his family, shows what can be done from a small town.
“Even if you’re from a very, very small village, it’s very possible to think big,” he said. “If you come to Petit-Paquetville there’s nothing there. But when you’re in a rural region there’s resources. You can take advantage of things that others don’t have in other places, including the water.”