Tag Archives: Potato Vodka

Toes, Taps & Taters: A Barn Dance and Kitchen Party in O’Leary, PEI

Ever been to a huge PEI barn dance/kitchen party?  That was the theme for the Toes, Taps & Taters Fall Flavours culinary event in O’Leary, PEI, on September 27, 2013.

This was the first year for this signature Fall Flavours event.  The location was a logical and fitting one at the Canadian Potato Museum in O’Leary, in the center of one of the largest potato-growing regions on PEI.  Attached to this museum is a large new machine shed which made an ideal venue for a spud party.  And, what a perfect location it turned out to be for an event that was all about showcasing the versatility of Island spuds.  It was a toe-tapping good time with lots of music, dancing and, of course, great food featuring – you guessed it — PEI potatoes.

While the Museum proved to be an ideal location, it also meant a huge amount of work for organizers as they had to move all the big, heavy historical potato equipment to make room for tables, stage, bar, and transform it into a party atmosphere.

Out of all of the Fall Flavours events, this one sold out of its 250 tickets very early.  I asked Kendra Mills, Marketing Director of the PEI Potato Board that was behind the event why she thought this first-time event had been so popular to sell out a month before it was being held.  She believes several factors were at play.  The price point ($49.99/pp – CDN$) made it affordable, the location inside a potato museum also incited interest and, of course, the celebrity guest chef, Lynn Crawford, was also a huge draw.

Because this was a signature class Fall Flavours event, that meant a celebrity chef was host for the evening.  Distinguished international chef, cookbook author, and Food Network (FN) star, Chef Lynn Crawford proved to be an excellent choice as the event’s celebrity host.  You may know Lynn from the FN series, “Pitchin’ In” or you may have seen her on the popular series “Iron Chef America.  Indigo bookstore was also on hand during the evening selling Chef Lynn’s books and she was very obliging to autograph copies.

The evening started out with time for photo opps with Chef Lynn who greeted guests  just outside the door to the Museum.  This was followed by a meet and greet cocktail party with delicious hors d’oeuvres, wine from PEI’s Newman Estate Winery, and local entertainment.

Each guest was presented with one of these aprons as a souvenir of the event (and, no, the potato harvester wasn’t posing for the photograph – the farmer just happened along to dig the field of potatoes beside us as I was preparing to photograph the apron the morning after the event).

Here was the mouth-watering menu attendees enjoyed throughout the evening:

Historical Favourites:
Lobster salad potato roll
Potato fishcakes with chow chow and scrunchions
Crisp potato gaufrette with mussel and tomato salad
PEI Potato pasty
Chef Lynn’s Crispy PEI potato flatbread, Avonlea cheddar and herb pesto

Out with the old and in with the new:
Braised PEI certified short rib and Cows cheddar perogies
PEI Potato blinis with smoked salmon and green onion crème fraiche
PEI Potato chowder complimented by the finest local seafood
21st century
French Rapure

Pig roast on a spit with fall apple chutney, aligot and mixed seasonal vegetables

Late night:
French fries with tomato/fennel ketchup, truffle aioli, cheese curds and gravy.

Chocolate PEI potato bar that included: chocolate covered PEI potato chips, chocolate cake and mousse, PEI potato after eight mints, and PEI potato truffles

Is your mouth watering yet?


Chef John Pritchard from the Terre Rouge Bistro in Charlottetown, was in charge of the meal preparation and was assisted by staff from his Bistro as well as restaurant and wait staff from the nearby Rodd’s Mill River Resort.

The tables were effectively set with burlap runners on white linen, mason jar glasses, and centerpieces of miniature colored potatoes and seasonal sunflowers in mason jars wrapped with, yes, more burlap.

The MC for the event was Rob Barry from Morell, PEI, who kept the evening alive with his humour and potato trivia.  Music was supplied by the Ellis Family Band from Summerside, PEI, and Dance Virtuoso was on hand to teach folks how to do the two-step.

What would a party featuring potatoes be without a potato peeling contest!  This proved to be a fun event as two teams of four competed in a relay race – Chef Lynn’s team and Chef Rob’s team (or as he referred to them as “Team Awesome”) —  to see who would be the fastest potato peelers on the Island.  MC Rob declared his “Team Awesome” the winner (even after Chef Lynn kept trying to distract his team)!

When asked what having this event as part of the Fall Flavours Festival means to the PEI potato industry, Kendra Mills had this to say:  “If agriculture is the fabric of the Island, then potatoes are the threads.”  She also said the PEI Potato Board was looking forward to having the opportunity to have guests learn more about the potato industry and the farmers who grow the spuds that eventually make it to consumers’ tables.

During the evening, everyone repeated a Potato Farmer’s Oath and was sworn in as honorary potato farmers.

Of course, this swearing-in ceremony included libation in the form of potato vodka distilled in Hermanville, PEI, by Prince Edward Distillery (see my previous story on the Distillery here).  A rousing chorus of “Bud the Spud” was sung with great gusto to complete the ceremony.  Each attendee was presented with a certificate certifying them as an Honourary PEI Potato Farmer.

As a finale to the evening, out came the French fries along with the PEI potato chocolate bar.

This event was well done and offered attendees a glimpse into what a downhome PEI barn or kitchen party entails….and there were many people from off Island in attendance; in fact, I think they might just have outnumbered the Islanders present.  It also provided the opportunity to try potato in ways people might never have had them before.  This included Chef Lynn’s Crispy PEI potato flatbread with Avonlea clothbound cheddar and herb pesto.

And then, of course, came the pièce de résistance of the evening — huge bowls of “Cow Chips”, milk chocolate-covered potato chips produced right here on the Island by Anne of Green Gables Chocolates.

As the evening wound to a close, each attendee was presented with a 5 lb. bag of “Bud the Spud” potatoes as well as a sample of potato fudge.

This was my fourth and last Fall Flavours event for 2013 and it certainly was a big party as the month’s culinary events on the Island draw to a close this weekend.  If you are an Islander, I highly encourage you to consider taking in Fall Flavours events in 2014.  If you live off-Island and are wondering what the best time of the year would be to visit PEI, I recommend you consider September if you are a foodie because the month is jam-packed with many food and culinary events and visiting celebrity chefs.  Some events are repeated year-to-year because of their popularity and organizers will often add some new variety events as well.  Be sure to check out the Fall Flavours website throughout the year for news on upcoming Fall Flavours events.

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One Hot Potato – Prince Edward Distillery’s Potato Vodka

Potato Vodka Made by Prince Edward Distillery, Hermanville, PEI

PEI has long been known for growing world-class potatoes – they are, after all, our primary cash crop, injecting more than one billion dollars annually into the Island economy, directly and through spin-offs[i].  We all know potatoes as a vegetable on dinner tables and are familiar with them boiled, mashed, baked, as French fries and potato chips, and as the key ingredient in scalloped potatoes.  But, would you think of potatoes as a main ingredient in a beverage?   Well, there are a couple of industrious and innovative women who have figured out a new use for PEI spuds.  Julie Shore and Arla Johnson own and operate Prince Edward Distillery where potato vodka is their flagship product.

Road Map from Charlottetown to Hermanville, location of Prince Edward Distillery

Drive east from the Island’s capital city of Charlottetown along the northeastern shore of the Island and you will find Hermanville, a small rural district not far from the town of Souris in the eastern end of PEI.  Late this past summer, I travelled to Hermanville to visit Prince Edward Distillery to find out about this potato vodka. In addition to learning how potato vodka is made, I learned the Distillery is diversifying its operation.  They are now producing gin, rye whiskey, rum, and a bourbon-style corn whiskey that sells under the label of IC Shore and that’s in addition to the potato vodka and wild blueberry vodka.  Also new this year (2012) are their decadent rum cakes made locally with the Distillery’s Merchantman 1897 rum.

Products Made at Prince Edward Distillery, Hermanville, PEI

The story of Julie and Arla’s arrival on PEI is similar to several others who have come to the Island and made it their home.  They came to PEI on holiday in 1997, fell in love with the Island, and decided to move here.  Leaving their jobs behind – Julie as a dental hygiene sales representative and Arla as a psychologist – they built an Inn (Johnson Shore Inn) in Hermanville in 1999, down a long, secluded, and narrow, unpaved lane that leads to a spectacular unobstructed view of the Gulf of St. Lawrence.  However, they soon discovered the tourist, and by extension the innkeeper’s, season is short in rural PEI (usually late May to the end of September). That extra time on her hands got Julie thinking about the business her ancestors had been in, pre-prohibition, in North Carolina – distilling apple brandy and bourbon.  Living in the land of potatoes, Julie had the idea to set up a distillery to produce potato vodka.  Thus, in 2007, Prince Edward Distillery was born with the first batch of potato vodka running from the still’s spigot in 2008. 

Rum, Whiskey, and Rye Produced at Prince Edward Distillery

Julie is the master distiller.  In 2011, the Distillery produced 10,000 bottles of the six different liquors the Distillery produces. Apart from her ancestral history of distilling (she’ll tell you distilling is in her blood!), I asked Julie if she had to have special training to be a distiller.  She tells me she has taken a distilling course at Cornell University and yeast-making courses in Montreal and France.  She and Arla travel the world over visiting distilleries and learning more about the art of fine distilling.  Visit their onsite retail outlet and look at the large map on the wall that points out the impressive world travels Julie and Arla have journeyed. 

Julie says the best variety of potatoes for potato vodka is Russet Burbank.  These spuds are the highest starch potato grown on the Island and the starch content is important for the yeast to work in the fermentation process.  The Distillery buys approximately 50,000 pounds of locally-grown potatoes, on an annual basis, to use as the base for potato vodka. Julie explains that it takes about 18 pounds of potatoes to produce one 750 ml bottle of the potato vodka so, as you can imagine, it takes a lot of spuds to yield any amount of vodka.  While potato vodka is not unheard of, it is more rare since 99% of vodkas on the market are grain-based.  That’s probably because, as Julie says, potato vodka is difficult to distill due to the fact that potatoes are approximately 80% water, have to be cooked, and it takes such a volume of the raw ingredient (potatoes) to produce the final product. 

Prince Edward Distillery’s Potato Vodka
Tour of Prince Edward Distillery

Making potato vodka is very labour intensive.  The potatoes are ground and cooked to break down their starch into fermentable sugars so that fermentation will occur with the addition of yeast (wait till you hear what is done with the leftover mash from the potatoes and who the benefactors are!).  The mixture is fermented for four days in 1000-gallon tanks to form alcohol. 

German-made Holstein Copper Vertical Still at Prince Edward Distillery

Using a 680-litre German-made Holstein copper vertical still that Julie had imported from Germany and capably assembled herself (since it came in parts and didn’t come with an instruction book), this fermentation mixture is distilled three times to remove impurities, achieve a neutrality of the alcohol, and to get the perfect alcohol content for the vodka.  Julie tells me it takes 10-14 days to produce a batch of vodka from start to finish, raw product (potatoes) to bottling.  

The Distillery has enjoyed sweet success and very early in its operation.  Their products rank among the best.  Just a year after producing their first vodka for market, the potato vodka won gold in the 2009 San Francisco World Spirits Competition and, in the same year, the wild blueberry vodka won silver in the UK International Spirits Challenge in London, England.  Yes, our locally-produced Island wines and spirits can match any on the market!

Prince Edward Distillery supports local producers, buying and using locally-produced potatoes, grains, and blueberries in their liquor production.  The Distillery employs between 4-6 full time employees and 1 part-time employee on a seasonal basis.  Currently, their products are sold in PEI and Nova Scotia markets.  However, they are exploring markets farther afield. 

Prince Edward Distillery’s Spirit Outlet at Peakes Quay in Charlottetown, PEI

This past summer, the Distillery decided to open a spirits outlet shop at Peakes Quay on the Charlottetown waterfront, a popular tourist attraction of small shops and not far from the seaport where dozens of cruise ships dock each year.  In addition to the Peakes Quay location (open seasonally), the Distillery’s products are available at the onsite retail shop in Hermanville and in PEI and Nova Scotia liquor stores.

So, about that mash I mentioned earlier – the left-over potato product after the liquid has been extracted for the vodka.  Well, behind the distillery may well be what many have dubbed as the most cheerful hogs on the Island!  Yes, that’s right, hogs or, more specifically, Heritage Berkshire pigs which Julie raises on the mash.  She says there are lots of nutrients left in the potato mash so why throw it out when she can raise pigs on it!

Heritage Berkshire Pigs Raised on Mash at Prince Edward Distillery

The Distillery is open daily, May – October, for tours and taste-testing; from October – May, it is open by appointment or by chance.  A tour of the Distillery and taste-testing of two spirits costs $10. (or, if you simply want to taste any spirit, it is $3./taste).  For more information on the Prince Edward Distillery, visit their website, call them at 902-687-2586, or, better still (pun intended!), take the scenic northeastern shoreline route to Hermanville and visit the Distillery at 9985, Route 16.

Prince Edward Distillery, Hermanville, PEI


Whimsical T-Shirts at Prince Edward Distillery

True to tradition, when I visit a local producer, I bring home their product and create a recipe with it.  I decided to create a Vodka Tomato Sauce for pasta using Prince Edward Distillery’s potato vodka.  I find the vodka actually goes well with tomatoes and draws out the tomato flavour and makes it pop without adding a competing flavour to the dish.  The key, of course, is not to over-do it – less is often more and the idea is that the vodka enhance and contribute to the taste of the sauce, not overpower it.  My recipe creation follows.

Farfalle Pasta in Tomato Vodka Sauce


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[i] Source of Statistics:  Prince Edward Island Potato Board, 23 October 2012

Tomato Vodka Pasta Sauce

By Barbara99 Published: November 15, 2012

  • Yield:
  • Prep: 10 mins
  • Cook: 50 mins
  • Ready In: 60 mins

A rich, flavourful tomato sauce suitable for various types of pasta



  1. Heat oil and butter in large pot. Add onion, celery, green pepper, mushrooms, and garlic. Sauté 2-3 minutes over medium heat.
  2. Add diced tomatoes, salt, and pepper. Simmer over low heat 5-7 minutes.
  3. Whisk the corn starch with the cooled chicken stock until smooth.
  4. Stir tomato sauce, vodka, and chicken stock/cornstarch into mixture. Simmer 18-20 minutes, until slightly thickened.
  5. Stir in whipping cream, oregano, basil, chives, cayenne, red pepper flakes, and parsley. Simmer 7-10 minutes.
  6. Meanwhile, cook pasta according to package directions and drain. Add drained pasta to tomato sauce and toss to coat.
  7. Spoon pasta into serving dishes. Garnish with freshly grated Parmesan cheese, fresh basil, a spring of parsley, and halved cherry tomatoes.

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