Opening a craft distillery while acquiring an engineering degree was not part of the plan for Jill Rutherford.
Before opening Fernie Distillers, Rutherford spent much of her time traveling from Calgary, Alberta, to the little town of Fernie, British Columbia, to go skiing every weekend with her husband.
“It was our sort of weekend town. [When] we ended up settling down with kids and they went into ski programs, we decided that we needed a reason to make a permanent move to Fernie,” Rutherford says. The couple looked at what the town needed, assessed their skill sets, and collaborated with friends to conceptualize their next move.
“A friend of ours said, half joking, ‘Well, why don’t you open up a distillery?’” she notes. That was about six years ago, and the couple ran with it. Rutherford took an introductory course on opening your own distillery to see if she had enough interest to pursue the idea. She did.
While looking for potential properties to set up shop, Rutherford took to hands-on experiences with other distilleries in British Columbia to learn about the craft. About two years later, Fernie Distillers opened on July 1, 2018. “We never would have thought about it in a million years if our friend hadn’t [said something],” she says.
Offering small-town cozy ambiance, Fernie Distillers is home to a production facility where Rutherford distills and produces vodka, gin, and liqueurs. In addition, the venue features a tasting room where groups of up to 50 can enjoy the flavors of local Fernie and Canadian ingredients. If the tasting flight on their menu is chosen, half of the proceeds will go to local community groups—what Rutherford calls “Community Spirit.” Fernie Distillers also offers group tours that can be catered to various sizes, along with live music once or twice a month from local artists.
“We wanted [the business] to be a uniquely Fernie experience,” Rutherford says.