The trouble with hard work is that it’s not easy. It’s often harder than you thought it would be and doesn’t pay off as quickly as you hoped it would.
Mark Freeland has been there, done that and bought the T-Shirt.
Mark is one of those guys who can turn his hand to anything. With a degree in history and archeology, he moved from his hometown of Kingston, ON to Saskatchewan and then on to Calgary, AB where he settled, working in the construction business.
Always fascinated with the art of distilling, he began experimenting 16 years ago in the kitchen with a pressure cooker. Minor success turned into a thriving hobby as his moonshine was raising the eyebrows of all who sipped!
He began thinking seriously about opening a proper distillery about 7 years ago. Being in the construction industry he knew what hurdles lay ahead with permits and applications etc., so he planned everything out very carefully.
Before taking any major steps, he went to the municipal and provincial authorities seeking approval for his detailed plans, which were clearly laid out. He made the few changes they had requested and got the coveted stamp of approval to proceed.
After the initial approval, every time Mark paid for parking and trotted the next phase of plans into the city of Calgary, they had changed their minds.
A routine process that should have taken about 6 weeks took 13 months and many more thousands of dollars in drawings and materials and labour.
Undaunted, Mark soldiered on, which ironically, was a family trait which he would learn much more about.
While going through some of his personal family history one day, Mark noted his Grandfather fought in the battle of Vimy Ridge in WW I. This battle is particularly important to Canadians as it consisted of regiments from coast to coast and thus, for the first time, really brought Canada together as a country. He noticed something else. It appeared his grandfather had a brother who died in the first few minutes of the barrage.
He dove into the history of both his Grandfather and Great Uncle. The story of their heroics and bravery, and that of the many soldiers around them, fired his spirit.
He decided to decorate his tasting room as an homage to the brave men and women who made the ultimate sacrifice.
The name “Two Rivers” comes from the confluence of the Bow and Elbow Rivers, a sacred place for the indigenous Blackfoot people. It was a traditional, ceremonial, trading area for many nations where two forces became one — a peaceful area where there was no battle or conflict.
This location, its name and sacred meaning also played into Mark’s overall ethos.
When you want to tell a “grain to glass” story, it makes the process much more challenging. Luckily, from his location close to the intersection of these rivers, he had access to some of the world’s best barley and water, as well as most of his other ingredients all coming from within a 100km radius.
Blessed with a sense of humour, Mark says “The one thing I did right, was go with Specific Mechanical!” His 1000 Litre distillation system included the copper pot still and a 6-tray copper column giving him the flexibility of efficiently making a variety of spirits including whisky, vodka and gin.
Opening in December of 2019, covid became a factor in his first couple of quarters, but word began to spread and his to-go business flourished. As one might expect, this amount of hard work and dedication did not go unnoticed and his gin quickly won gold and double gold awards in multiple international contests.
Two Rivers has built a loyal following, which ironically, was Mark’s next challenge. “People tend to buy what they’re used to buying…getting them to try something different can be hard.” Mark’s sales suggest that after people do sample the Two Rivers product, they become repeat customers and devotees.
Now armed with an aged whisky, the Two Rivers product line has something for almost every palate. Sales at the end of last year and the beginning of this year were way above forecast which is a very welcome reward for the many costly hurdles Mark had to overcome and a testament to his perseverance.
With the tasting room playing host to many events which include a vibrant live music scene, Two Rivers Distillery has fast become one of the hot spots for entertainment in Calgary.
It leads one to believe that perhaps the bravery and fortitude of character shown by Mark Freeland’s Grandfather and Great Uncle at Vimy Ridge is a family trait for which we are all very thankful.