Tumbleweed distillery

Distillery's second owner aims to bring his liquor to new lips

When Mike Patterson purchased Tumbleweed Craft Distillery and Tasting Bar in the summer of 2021, it was a spur of the moment decision.

He knew Osoyoos because his family vacationed there each summer for about a dozen years, sharing space with the family of his business partner, Darren Bowman.

Sometime after Tumbleweed opened in 2017, Patterson and Bowman and their families visited the distillery on Lakeshore Drive for a tasting, and bought a couple bottles of Fireweed, a spicy spirit they especially enjoyed.

“We had a lot of fun,” Patterson said.

Matt Leyes and Ravina Johal, owners of Black Sage Butcher in Oliver, show some of their meat products. (Richard McGuire Photo)
Mike Patterson shows the storage facility where barrels of whisky are aged. (Richard McGuire Photo)
Head Distiller Lokesh Khismatrao and Owner Mike Patterson sample some whisky in front of Tumbleweeds Craft Distillery and Tasting Bar. (Richard McGuire Photo)

Flash forward a few years and Bowman phoned Patterson at his Abbotsford home to discuss the news that Tumbleweed was for sale.

“We should buy it,” Bowman suggested. “What do you think?”

Adding that several other people were interested, Bowman gave Patterson 48 hours to make up his mind.

“I didn’t even consult my wife,” Patterson recalls. “Nothing. I just said, ‘Let’s do it!’”

Mike Patterson shows the back room where the products are distilled. (Richard McGuire Photo)

Patterson jokes that he had no experience with the distillery industry other than 35 years of drinking. But he retained the original owner, Mike Green, for six months so he could learn from him the science of spirits production and techniques of mashing and distilling.

Originally from Camrose, Alberta, Patterson grew up in the construction business. But he trained to become an optician and contact lens practitioner in Calgary. In 2005, he and his wife Shelly moved to Abbotsford.

Bowman introduced them to Osoyoos, and their joint vacations of a week to 10 days became an annual tradition. Patterson loved that even at its busiest time, Osoyoos was never hectic like the Lower Mainland.

“The Osoyoos holiday was our happy place,” says Patterson. “We couldn’t wait to get here, so when the opportunity came along to own a business that manufactured alcohol, and to live in such a hot climate and a holiday place, it was a no-brainer.”

Barrels made of American oak are stored to allow distilled whisky to age. (Richard McGuire Photo)

Patterson now admits his initial decision was naïve.

“It was a lot of work and there’s a lot behind the scenes that we didn’t anticipate,” he said. One of the biggest surprises was the amount of red tape and continuous reporting required.

“Government,” says Patterson. “They’re my partner… We probably should have done a little more homework on the restrictions, what you can and can’t do.”

The reporting requirements ensure that every ounce or liquor, spillage, and breakage is accounted for so the government can collect excise taxes and keep liquor from entering the black market. Amber Way, who has been with Tumbleweed since its earliest days doing administration, ensures the reporting to government is taken care of.

When Mike Green and his wife, Andrea Zaradic, first opened the distillery in June 2017, they offered five spirits, none of which required aging. These included vodka, gin, unaged rye, Maple Moonshine, and the Fireweed mentioned above.

Green had purchased two custom-made copper stills from Hill Billy Stills in Kentucky, known as “Big Al,” and “Ginger.”

By the time Green finished his six-month stint of bringing Patterson up to speed in early 2022, they’d produced a couple years’ worth of spirits and some of the whiskeys were almost aged to maturity.

Amber Way, who has been with Tumbleweed since day one and handles administration, pours a glass of Raspberry Moonshine, the most popular product by far. (Richard McGuire Photo)

Today, Tumbleweed offers 13 different spirits products.

These include four aged whiskeys: Nine Mile Creek is a Bourbon-style made from Okanagan-grown corn, rye, and barley; Rock Creek Rye is a Canadian Whiskey made with rye from the Haynes family ranch at Rock Creek; 1888 is a Triticale, from a hybridized grain developed from wheat and rye in 1888; and Walking Bird is a single-malt, scotch-style whiskey.

Many of the other products are moonshines, infused with fruit, and using distilled wines instead of grains as their base. Moonshines are not aged, unlike whiskeys, which by law must be aged at least three years.

By far the most popular product is Raspberry Moonshine, made with raspberries grown around Abbotsford. Patterson predicts that the recently introduced Haskap Moonshine will soon take over the number two spot. Haskaps are boreal berries native to Canada, Japan, and Russia.

Other moonshines include cherry, blueberry, apple pie, and maple. The Maple Moonshine was a tribute to Canada’s 150th anniversary in 2017.

Tumbleweed also produces gin, vodka, and Fireweed. A brandy is currently out of stock, but Patterson says it will return later this year.

The fruity moonshines tend to be the crowd pleasers, but the award-winning whiskeys draw in connoisseurs, who are increasingly women.

In addition to the spirits, Tumbleweed is becoming known for its food products – often barbecued and smoked.

“I’m not a chef, but a lot of my friends call me a chef,” says Patterson. “I have a true passion for cooking.”

With simple food items like brisket sandwiches and nachos, hot dogs, coleslaw, and Mexican pork tacos, Patterson hopes customers may stay longer to enjoy a cocktail with food.

After learning the business, Patterson says he realized he enjoyed the sales and marketing more than the production. So he and Bowman, his business partner, decided to hire a full-time head distiller, Lokesh Khismatrao. Originally from Mumbai, India, Khismatrao pursued an artisan distilling program at Niagara College in Ontario. He’s also travelled to Ireland and Scotland to learn more about the craft.

Tumbleweed has refined its production techniques in its effort to improve quality. Initially, several of the whiskeys were wood chip infused. Now they’ve switched to custom-made, toasted barrels of American white oak.

“You’re starting with the best barrel you can get and you’re going to end up with a better product that’s going to have more flavour,” says Patterson.

Tumbleweed's vodka is one of the original products because it doesn't require aging. (Richard McGuire Photo)

Besides selling spirits at the Tumbleweed Craft Distillery and Tasting Bar on Lakeshore Drive, and at the Osoyoos Market on Main, Patterson now has a representative working to get the products into private liquor stores.

He would love to have them in the BC government liquor stores too, but the pricing structure currently doesn’t recognize the production cost differences between craft distilleries and large commercial mass producers.

Asked about future plans, Patterson said he’d like to create a whiskey club that would be extended to other spirits. As a craft distiller, Tumbleweed is able to ship products directly to customers’ homes across Canada.

“Members would be entitled to receive a bottle every month of a different product,” he said.

Another future product he wants to bring to market is a canned cocktail – if Tumbleweed can satisfy regulations.

“We make a great product,” he said. “Now we just have to get it liquor to lips.”

The fact that grains and fruits and other ingredients are locally, or BC grown is another plus for local agriculture, he added.

One challenge has been to get the word out about Tumbleweed. Even many long-time local residents don’t know Osoyoos has a distillery.

“Sometimes it’s almost disheartening to say, ‘How do we get that word out more?’”

Watching Patterson and staff promote their products at local markets, or hosting their own markets, it’s hard to imagine that Tumbleweed will remain a secret for long.

Contact

PHONE

778-437-2221

EMAIL

admin@tumbleweedspirits.com

Address

#7 – 6001 Lakeshore Drive
Osoyoos, BC  V0H 1V6