An Alberta entrepreneur with a passion for agriculture has developed a liqueur with a very unique ingredient while supporting the local industry.
For quite some time, Field Notes co-founder Faaiza Ramji has been concerned about Alberta’s agriculture industry, particularly the province’s crops.
“What we do is we grow a lot of our crops and we export them raw and then other countries add value to them and then we buy them back at a really exorbitant price, so it always kind of bothered me that we don’t make more out of these products,” she said.
Ramji began contemplating what more can be done with Alberta’s peas. She initially considered creating a snack food product or a milk substitute, but eventually came across an article that sparked the idea of using dry peas as a key ingredient for a liqueur. She took the concept and began working on making it a reality.
“The base is a neutral spirit like any, and then what we’ve done is we’ve turned that into an Amaro,” she explained.
“Amaros are liqueurs that take a neutral base spirit and you add a bunch of botanicals, herbs, flowers, and you sweeten it generally with something — which we’ve used Alberta honey. So our Amaro is made with about over 15 botanicals that all come from the prairies.”
Ramji began working with Fort Distillery in Fort Saskatchewan on the exact ingredients for her brainchild, and it did not take long to come up with the final formula.
“We nailed the flavour on the first try and then we did a little bit of tweaking over the next couple of batches,” she said.
“We call it a garden Amaro because it truly does taste like a garden. And when you smell it, you can smell the elderflower — that’s probably the predominant smell that you get.
“So we’ve used elderflower, we’ve used dandelion, we’ve used some wormwood, we’ve got some chamomile and some teas in there, and then, of course, like I mentioned, we’ve got the Alberta honey.”
The dry peas that are the basis for the liqueur are grown at a southern Alberta farm.
Ramji’s South Asian family heritage has also inspired her interest in agriculture and pulse.
“Those have always been a really staple part of our diet, and I didn’t realize that a lot of those come from here,” she said. “So when I think about generations of my family eating products that we’ve been growing in the place that I currently live, I think that’s a pretty neat intersection.”
Ramji and other Albertans invested in agriculture understand that adding value to the province’s product will help increase its price and create jobs.
“Over next five to 10 years, there is going to be so much done with value-added in the plant-based area because that’s what a lot of the world is asking for,” Plant Protein Alliance of Alberta chair Allison Amateur said.
“Although we have a few businesses now, we could have so many more.”
Canada produces 8.2 million metric tons per year of pulses such as lentils, chickpeas, beans and dry peas, with about one-third of that coming from Alberta. Dry peas make up most of Alberta’s pulses and about 55 per cent of Canada’s.
“What we truly need is more investment,” Amateur said. “A lot of that falls on the government to say, ‘Hey, you know what? We’re open for business and we are willing to do anything we can to build this industry,’ much like they did with oil and gas 50-60 years ago.”
“We have more than enough growing here,” Ramji said. “We just haven’t really thought through everything that we can do with it.”
Ramji’s new creation is called “Don’t call me Sweet Pea,” and the first batch is ready for distribution in the coming weeks.
“It’s been been sitting and sleeping for about three months at the Fort (Distillery) and we’ll put it into bottles,” Ramji said. “Now, we’ve registered with AGLC as an agency and now it’s really just about getting support from the community to put this on shelves in liquor stores, restaurants, little marketplaces, if we can.”
When bottles are on store shelves, it will be the result of the vision and spirit of Ramji, the Fort Distillery and those who have supported the venture.