FREDERICTON – After a number of years travelling together for work and checking out craft breweries along the way, Raymond Fitzpatrick and Joe Allen wanted to get in on what they saw as an exciting and profitable business.
But during their research into the feasibility of establishing a craft brewery in Fredericton, the pair realized the market was already saturated and began to consider other options, settling on spirits.
“We looked up some statistics on the subject and realized that on a per capita basis, [New Brunswick] ranks number one in Canada for the number of breweries for our population,” Allen says.
“We felt like we were on the tail end of the wave and we said, ‘Well, what’s the next wave?’ ”
That was the beginning of Devil’s Keep Distillery, which, according to Fitzpatrick, gets its name from the practice of monks in the 1600s who distilled and barrel-aged “aqua vitae.”
When they found that some of the liquid would decrease over time, they credited it to angels blessing the spirits and taking portions as payment. This was the basis of the term “angel’s portion,” which is the portion that evaporates over time. What remains is the “devil’s keep.”
Devil’s Keep is Fredericton’s first distillery and is expected to have its first product, vodka, on the shelves of local liquor stores by Christmas. They initially chose vodka as its the fastest to produce of the spirits they want to offer.
“Vodka is the number one consumed spirit in the world,” Allen says. “More people drink vodka than any other spirit, so volume-wise it made business sense. We want to make whiskey, we want to make gin, but we need to be able to cash flow our business.”
Fitzpatrick says their big goal is to produce whiskey and build their brand for export. The co-founders hope to eventually set up a larger distillery with a tasting room and plan to keep the business in Fredericton even as they export.
We’re more export-focused than I’d say a lot of craft breweries or distilleries,” he says. “We really want to sell outside of New Brunswick, whether that’s across Canada and the States or over in China. The product we’re really aiming to do that with would be the Canadian whiskey.”
While the decision to produce spirits rather than beer, cider or wine was one that Fitzpatrick and Allen thought through realistically and planned for, it hasn’t been without its challenges. For one, they couldn’t try distilling out before deciding to go all in.
“Distilling is funny because we brewed beer, wine and cider before we started this, [but] it’s not legal to do distilling,” Fitzpatrick says. “We had to go commercial right from the get-go. It’s an interesting barrier to entry, which is why I think there are so many cideries and breweries and wineries that popped up.”
Both Fitzpatrick and Allen continue to work their day jobs, Fitzpatrick as venture capital director of investments at NBIF and Allen as managing director of accelerator programs at UNB. They’re now in search of a full-time assistant distiller with chemistry experience.
“We don’t want to just take one recipe, recreate, shove it in the same barrel, and then 25 years from now realize we hate it,” Fitzpatrick says.
We want to try 20 different recipes of whiskey to see what they taste like so we want someone who really wants to get in on the ground floor and help us create, not just do the repeatable process of something that’s already been established.”
The pair has taken things this far thanks in part to their partnership as cofounders, but also to their wives Monica Fitzpatrick, who runs their social media and designing, and Lana Thompson, who helps with shipping and receiving.
“Without having someone else to share the workload with, you can get into a really bad place and it seems like when one of us gets really busy, we have the other one to lean on,” Raymond Fitzpatrick says.
“I’ve owned businesses alone and starting with one with Joe, this is so much more enjoyable, to have someone to run things by and questions and issues and that support actually makes this palatable.”