O’Kenny Craft Spirits owner raising funds for local flood victims
By Patricia Leboeuf
Posted on Thursday July 11, 2019
Having grown up in the Ottawa Valley, Andrew Kenny felt deeply moved when he saw the devastation left by the spring floods.
The homes of people he knew were damaged by the rising waters, and many of them soon found that recourses were slim or difficult to obtain.
So as the owner and founder of the newly created O’Kenny Craft Spirits, he decided to pour back a portion from the bottles of vodka he sells. The cost of the specially designed bottle is about $1.35 and he will be collecting used bottles directly, completely sanitizing and reusing them. The money saved from reusing the bottles will then be donated to the United Way of Renfrew County to be put towards rebuilding damaged homes in the Ottawa Valley.
“Instead of sending a cheque to this company in Montreal quite often every time I need to be batched, I just thought wouldn’t it be nice if everybody returned their bottles and then I could just put the money towards flood victims here,” said Kenny. “If I have to write a cheque, I’d rather write it to somebody local in this area.”
Currently, his spirits are bottled in small batches in Concorde, Ont. but they do use local ingredients. A proper distillery is under construction in Pembroke and is expected to be open soon, though no official date has been released.
Meanwhile, however, spirit lovers will be able to find his vodkas in local restaurants, bars and online. Currently, he is only selling vodka, but this will change as the distillery grows.
Spirits have been a passion of his, especially if they are made using crops from local farmers.
Kenny was born in Pembroke and grew up on a dairy farm in Beachburg. He created Kendu Innovations in 2005 and won the Premier’s Award for Agri-Food Innovation Excellence in 2009 for inventing a livestock watering device that is sold throughout North America. He started brewing beer in college and became fascinated with distilling spirits, spending countless hours discussing them with friends.
He knows firsthand that the area is ideal for growing grains that can be used to craft premium spirits. The grains grown in Renfrew County are of high quality, particularly its barley, and tested barley has actually been rated the highest in Ontario. Yet historically it has been sold to Southern Ontario for a fraction of its worth due to high transportation costs.
“By the time they get there, the costs remove any advantages that we had,” said Kenny.
“I think we could start a whole new industry with producing spirits here,” he added, pointing out his is the first licensed distillery in the region to operate in the past century.
To build off his dream, he purchased the former Welcome Centre in Pembroke located on International Drive. He is renovating the building to include a tasting room and event/meeting venue with the distillery right next to it. There he will be able to make his local vodka, and then whisky, gin and perhaps even rum. He also plans on partnering with local restaurants and caterers to provide food on-site, giving tourists and residents alike an incredible food and drink experience.
Reuben and Keanan Stone of Valley Bio in Cobden have agreed to process and supply the corn, barley, wheat and rye necessary to create these alcoholic beverages. He is looking for more partners, however.
“We’d like to be able to say, ‘those fields are right where we get the grain to make the whisky that you are drinking,’” said Kenny. “I want to make the supply chain as ridiculously short as possible.”
By keeping ingredients local, it will not only keep prices low but foster pride in the hardworking farmers of Renfrew County and the Pontiac, many of whom were affected by the floods.
Locations accepting returned bottles will be announced as they are confirmed. Any business or organization willing to accept bottle returns should contact Andrew Kenny at 613 629-9000. Their Facebook Page @OKennyCraftSpirits will have the details.