Value definitely added
Okanagan Vinegar Brewery’s potent brew
The cavernous warehouse where Alois Thurn, owner of Okanagan Vinegar Brewery creates his magical brews – is intoxicating. From wine vinegars, jellies and fermenting apple ciders, the smells mix with the balsamics and olive oil and it’s like being transported to the Mediterranean… in a warp drive kind of way.
Products with a history
The Okanagan Vinegar Brewery product line is primarily artisan vinegars and condiments. Thurn’s heritage in the culinary arts goes a long way back, which is one of the reasons he’s so good at it. Since the 1500s his ancestors have been in food related, and primarily value-added aspects of food processing.
Thurn’s hometown is Marmagen, Germany, which is an agricultural region in between Trier and Cologne where food has been produced for centuries in an artisan style – without the use of machinery.
When he pulled up roots and moved to Canada in 1982 Alois brought with him a desire to make old world products in the traditional way and embarked on building a product line that now includes five categories: wine vinegars, fruit vinegars, balsamic vinegars, wine jellies and condiments. His wine vinegars include a sherry wine, Riesling white wine and Champagne vinegar, and the fruit vinegars are black cherry, raspberry and apple.
Thurn’s line also includes a flavorful Spanish Canoliva extra virgin olive oil that is silky and smooth, in addition to herb-infused oils, pizza oil, and bread dips, the latter of which is his best selling product.
Solera – more than just a process
The pinnacle of the Okanagan Vinegar Brewery line is the balsamic vinegar; Solera 2000. It is a rich and intense Pinot Noir balsamico that has been aged in the barrique style (Bordeaux barrels) for six years.
Like most of Thurn’s products, the artisanal method for creating the vinegar is complex and labor-intensive. It begins by reducing the grape juice in a big cooking kettle until it reaches a caramelized state. The result is a naturally occurring high sugar content and full bodied flavour within the thick dark liquid.
Once the caramelizing process has finished, Thurn stores the vinegar in wine barrels where it goes from alcoholic fermentation through a bacterial stage; a process which takes years. His current batch of Solera was started in 2000, hence the name Solera 2000.
‘Solera’ is a centuries old process used for aging liquids like wine or vinegar – by fractional blending in such a way that the finished product is a mixture of ages, with the average age gradually increasing as the process continues over many years. No new bottles are taken from the top of the barrel – it is pulled only from the bottom, which is where the liquid has become rich in flavour.
When asked to describe the taste of Solera, Thurn compares it to a good aged wine or port. “It’s like a vanilla and caramel but charcoaled – burnt inside taste, which is derived from the burnt wine barrels. There is a lot of fruit in the beginning, then it’s acidic in the sweetness… to create a really long finish, but never a puckering finish.”
Like wineries, balsamic makers have their barrels ‘toasted’, to enhance the oak taste and add a caramelized flavour. Depending on the desired affect the inner side of the staves are burnt to either a light, medium, or dark finish to give the vinegar a taste of vanilla, caramel, or butterscotch flavor.
Some might balk at the $30 price tag but when you witness the process and learn about the complexities of making it, the price is justified. Just knowing that to produce this elixir requires 45-65% more grapes than even for the best and most traditional means of creating ice wine, it tends to be an ah-ha moment.
A new future from the old world
Thurn recently added three new products to the Okanagan Vinegar Brewery line; an Apple Cider Wine Jelly, Tuscan Balsamico Cabernet Jelly and Apple Wood Smoked Sea Salt and is currently working on a ‘Pale Ale’ malt vinegar which will be crafted from beer in kettles.
He has also acquired a property that he’s spent the last two years converting into a vineyard and has planted Pinot Gris, Pinot Noir and Gewurztraminer grapes which will be used as the basis for future production.
Alois’s products are sold in BC primarily through specialty shops, fruit stands, wineries and artisan craft shows but he is also currently acquiring distribution farther afield. For him, it is a balancing act, as he has no desire to lose touch with the artisanal side of his business, which means he has to stay small enough to maintain a hands-on and handcrafted approach. He prefers creating small batches which sometimes means running out of product and not being able to offer more for two years due to the requirements of the aging process. Not that that’s really a problem as he seems to always have something new up his sleeve anyway and his ultimate goal is to offer customers more choices for unique artisan products.
‘Vinegar’ may be derived from the French words ‘vin agre’ meaning sour wine or alcoholic liquid that has gone off, but in the hands of an old-world artisan like Alois Thurn, it becomes one of the most delectable tastes in the culinary world.
Okanagan Vinegar Brewery products are available at many stores including:
and the Westcoast Christmas Show (Abbotsford Dec 2-4)
article/photography by Stephanie Seaton