Putting a Patent on Patience

Brock Coutts is all smiles. Every time we see the owner of Patent 5 Distillery (the Exchange District’s whiskey, vodka and gin craft distillery & tasting room) he’s either giving a tour of the recently opened watering hole at 108 Alexander Avenue, or excitedly explaining the history of the repurposed pieces that went into creating his gorgeous tasting room.

Growing up with a dad in the RCMP, Coutts moved around Manitoba a lot (and even spent some time in Old Montreal) but knew without a doubt that the Exchange was the right place for Patent 5.

“It always was the dream but I never had a clear picture of what that dream was like,” the accountant turned craft distiller says. “Our brand is all about celebrating the history of Winnipeg and Manitoba. The challenge then was to find a building and location that fit our brand. We looked at probably 50 different spots around the city and nothing was quite what we wanted.”

If it isn’t what you want, make it what you want.

Patent 5 is located in a massive heritage building (across from the old Eaton’s Warehouse) built in the 1890s. When Coutts and co. moved in, it was the building owner’s storage unit. Everything came out, and a bunch of new(ish) pieces came in, courtesy of the Oak Room.

Set for demolition in 2017 (but still standing today) the St. Regis Hotel’s Oak Room had just about everything Patent 5 needed for its tasting room.

“We never really planned for a tasting room,” Coutts says with a laugh. “When we got access to the material from the St. Regis we did a quick pivot and decided the tasting room would be the front end of our business.”

With some help from Cindy Tugwell at Heritage Winnipeg, the Patent 5 team was able to reclaim stained glass windows and doors, light fixtures, and more from the St. Regis. Add in a few chairs from a church in Melita and some table legs from Bodegoes’ old location, and you’ve got yourself a tasting room worthy of Nucky Thompson.

“The three chandeliers we’ve got here are original from 1911,” says Coutts, quick to note that this is the year the St. Regis was built. “When we had them rewired for 2019 standards, our electrician said they would’ve been electrified, so that hotel in 1911 was fully electrified!”

Even the wood from the old Oak Room, now lining the walls and framing the windows of Patent 5, has a story.

“All the wood in the Oak Room came from a woodworker in Chicago,” Coutts explains. “It presumably found its way via train and horse & wagon to the Oak Room and was assembled piece by piece. The millworker that reassembled these oak panels said they were originally planning to take it off, one strip of wood at a time, but because of the way they were assembled on site, the only way to treat them was one panel at a time.”

Everything fits so well into the tasting room, that people often mistake it all as original to the space.

“We’ve had people walk into the tasting room and say, ‘Are you guys ever lucky that you took over a space like this’ thinking everything was here when we took it over,” he says with a laugh.

Coutts then takes me through the 12 foot stained glass doors into the actual distillery. It’s bright, impressive, and a little intimidating. Then Coutts flashes that million dollar smile. He’s excited to tell me about the process.

He explains that as a small distiller, Patent 5 is outfitted with a 400 gallon mash tun/stripping still. He then walks me through the process, which I will attempt to explain as best I can (don’t try this at home) –

Take 250 gallons of Manitoba spring water, 600 pounds of what, and 55 pounds of melted barley
Crash cool it and pump it into fermentation tanks (this keeps the temperature of the yeast happy)
Put 330 gallons of mash in, about a pound of yeast, and let the yeast do their thing for four to seven days
Pump back into mash tun (Patent 5 uses this as a stripping still)
Heat to 210 degrees as you collect vapour (making 30-40% alcohol solution)
Store until you’ve done this twice
Send to finish still
Use two 55 gallon tanks, heat with steam
Vapour passes through the liquid, transferring heat, and condensing
Travels up and down 12 plates before the condenser cools and collects it

We’re probably missing something (and you can click here to take our tour of the space) but it’s interesting nonetheless.

While churning out a quality product and visiting with thirsty folks in the tasting room, Coutts is keen to put sustainable practices front and centre.

“One of the issues most distilleries have is they use a tremendous amount of water, mostly for cooling,” he says. “We purchased a thousand gallon tank and we re-use that for cooling. The only water that goes down our drain is cleaning water.”

He’s also got a great way to distribute spent grain.

“After you’ve stripped off the alcohol what you’re left with is called spent grain, and we end up with about 800 pounds,” he explains. “All we’ve done is taken the starch out and converted it to sugar. All the protein and fibre is there, what we use is food grade, not feed grade. We pump that out, and we’ve got 55 gallon plastic barrels that we send out to the farmers that they use for feed. They and their animals are extremely happy to get that bit of delicious food every two weeks or so.”

Patent 5 has been making vodka and gin these last few months, and is getting into whiskey soon. The thing is, it all takes time. While Coutts says he’s not patient by nature, he’s happy to live in what he calls “the slow distillation world.”

“It’s not easy to be patient,” he says. “Monday was a vodka day, and that’s a 14 hour day. You can’t go faster, otherwise you compromise product quality. Our goal was to take Manitoba ingredients, and let’s see if we can make the world’s best spirits. Every run we learn a little how to do things better. If you’re patient enough you can make a great product, and celebrate everything Manitoba has to put into it.”

Visit Patent 5 Distillery at 108 Alexander Avenue.