The Cilic brothers, Ivan and Marko, hail from Bosnia-Herzegovina, where their father was a beekeeper. However, after moving to Canada, they pursued other interests until they joined with a local brewmaster to open Burwood, one of Calgary’s newest distilleries.
Now they are using their father’s honey and European know-how to create a quality spirit.
“Our parents are really kind of medicinal, like medicine men,” explains Ivan Cilic. “They have many books about herbals and different kinds of organic stuff. My dad always made honey-wine mead and even attempted once to make whiskey out of bananas.”
“Back in the old country, everyone would get together and make alcohol out of fermented fruits, whatever was available be it grapes or plums. It was a social event that would bring the community together.”
After moving to Canada the family kept their tradition of beekeeping alive, but the brothers worked in different fields. Ivan was in real estate and Marko was in construction.
When Jordan Ramey was looking for a new home, he met Ivan, and they quickly discovered that they shared a passion for quality spirits.
Ramey teaches brewing at Olds College and Ivan has a background in the hospitality industry.
Initially, the pair had thought about starting up a brewery, but decided to try something different. After careful consideration, they created Burwood. Ivan’s father insisted that they use his honey, reasoning that no one else is using it.
Burwood stands out from other distilleries because of their exclusive use of locally-sourced honey, with all of their other ingredients being made in Alberta. The honey is used to make nearly all of their products, and the plan is to use it in future products as well.
Burwood currently produces three different products. Their vodka is made from Alberta barley and has a clean finish that does not include any after-burn that is common among other vodkas.
They make a traditional Croatian honey liqueur, called Medica, which combines Canadian malt barley with local honey. This is a sweet spirit that is smooth to the taste without being overpowering
Lastly, they make Honey Eau de Vie – a raw honey that has been mixed with aromatic Alberta wildflowers. It is distilled in the same way that a whisky is. The result is a clear spirit that mixes easily.
Burwood is approaching their one-year mark. To commemorate this anniversary, they are launching their gin, which will also be made with honey and some choice botanicals.
There will also be a honey that has been aged in rye whiskey barrels. As a result, it will acquire some vanilla and coconut flavors that will have sweetness from the honey and a nice rye finish to it — a unique product that will further set them apart from the other local distillers.
Ramey says that “moving into the future, they are going to essentially become an aged-spirit distillery.”
This will include honey whiskey, brandy and specialty gins, and, given time, they will evolve into a distillery that crafts finely aged spirits from the best of local ingredients, utilizing traditional European ingenuity to create a quality drink.
- By Lee Reed