Spirit distiller. East Vancouver innovator. Call Gordon Glanz what you want, but the co-founder of East Vancouver’s Odd Society Spirits is fast becoming a pioneer in B.C.’s distilling scene.
Rewind his life narrative a bit and this isn’t surprising. He has a Master’s Degree in distilling from the land of William Wallace, haggis and damn fine scotch. Rewind even more down Glanz’s winding life path and you’ll read about how he’s gone from teen-aged experimental distiller to a grown-up, award-winning distiller at Odd Society Spirits’.
Glanz, his wife Miriam Karp and business partner Joshua Beach opened Odd Society Spirits’ Powell Street doors a short three years ago and now their spirits are distributed across British Columbia and rumour has it, soon in Alberta. Glanz’s commitment to local ingredients is one of Odd Society’s brand signatures: East Van Vodka’s barley is from Prince George and their Mongrel clear whiskey is made from Rye grown in Dawson’s Creek. Despite Glanz’s international adventures abroad, he sticks to super natural British Columbia ingredients. Double High Five!
This summer I bugged Glanz via the interwebs to tell us about his f*#cking awesome job. This is what he wrote.
Who are you?
Gordon Glanz, Founder/Distiller at Odd Society Spirits, Age 57, (East)Vancouver, B.C.
So how did you get that f*#king awesome job? Can you describe what your job is and what it is that you do?
I wanted to do something I was passionate about. We opened our doors three years ago and it has not felt like a “job” for one moment.
I am a distiller. At Odd Society we make a range of products including vodka, gin, whisky, vermouth and several other spirits. We do everything from scratch from grinding the grain and the malt to fermenting and distilling, and then bottling and barreling.
Did you have to give anything up to get here?
For about twenty five years, I worked first as a French-English translator and then as a technical writer in Hi-Tech. But I had been reading about and following the boom in micro-distilleries in the US and fantasized about starting my own. One day at lunch time, I was browsing the Internet at work and came across the MSc program in Brewing and Distilling at Heriot Watt University in Scotland. I phoned my wife then and there and told her that’s what I wanted to do. My wife sold her business and I quit my job. We (including one of our daughters) moved to Scotland so I could do the program. I was 50 years old at the time and we gave up a secure lifestyle. It was a pretty scary thing to do.
Who or what has been your mentor/inspiration along the way?
For many decades, there haven’t been any small whisky distilleries in Canada, except in Ontario there was John Hall who created and built up the 40 Creek brand of whisky. I didn’t have any mentors per se but I watched from afar as people created their own interesting businesses and brands.
In three words or less, what’s the best part of your job?
In three words or less, what’s the worst part of your job?
Running a business
What did you want to be when you grew up?
For the longest time, I wanted to be a taxidermist. I had even found a guy who did taxidermy out of his garage and he was going to let me hang around after school but it was too far for my parents to drive me so it didn’t happen. I had a freezer full of dead birds I had found.
As for becoming a distiller, I blame my mother! When we were growing up in Edmonton, my mother had bought a water distiller and would distill our drinking water. Starting in high school my brothers and I experimented with making our own wines. We just naturally graduated to distilling our wines to make spirits using the water distiller unbeknownst to my mother. This experience fostered a life-long interest in alcohol production.
What is your drink of choice?
It changes. Right now, I am in love with vermouth. This forgotten drink category is so amazingly complex and delicious. Even the most basic vermouth will contain twenty botanicals or more. There is a vermouth craze going on in Spain at the moment and hopefully it catches on here.
Where was the last place you travelled?
The last place we traveled to was Cuba. I wanted to visit there before things changed. But big changes have already occurred and Havana feels like Europe with throngs of tourists. We spent most of our time comatose on the beach trying not to think of the distillery.
What’s on your playlist right now?
My family tells me I have very limited musical taste which reside in the past. I love J.J. Cale and blues in general. I remember being in the car with the kids in the back and I’d put on J.J. Cale, and the girls would scream. “Dad, please, please, not J.J. Cale!” And I would say, “When you are in a car, the driver has to be happy!” But years later, I heard them listening to J.J. Cale on their own.
What are your top three reads vis a vis your career?
I treasure a very old French book first published in the late 1800s that a friend gave me called La Fabrication des Liqueurs. It contains a lot of old recipes for liqueurs and provided the inspiration for our own vermouth. A classic book in my mind is Fermented Beverage Production by John Piggott. I also enjoy reading Distiller magazine from the American Distilling Institute (ADI) when comes out periodically.
Any advice for someone who’s looking to lock down their f*#king awesome job?
Do some preparation and then just take the leap!
What does the future behold for your f*#king awesome job?
Selling spirits is unbelievably competitive. This year, there will be 50 distilleries in B.C. alone. But when I was in Scotland a distiller once told me that distilleries are like restaurants, if you make good spirits you will gather a following. I believe once our whisky is out (in a few months) we should be on solid ground. I think whisky and more vermouths are our future.
On a related note: check out my old blog post for Inside Vancouver back when I first discovered Odd Society Spirits – they’re one of the best stops during the East Vancouver Culture Crawl weekend each November…
Have you tried any of Odd Society Spirits or visited their art-filled tasting room?