Original Published on Aug 29, 2022 at 21:47
By Rocco Frangione, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
What started as a hobby for Sharon and Craig Ferchat to distill spirits in their garage to sell to family and friends has expanded into a significant operation in Sundridge only five years later.
The garage operation was a two-person business between husband and wife.
But Copperhead Distillery now employs seven people including Sharon Ferchat and is open seven days a week.
“When we operated from the garage Craig thought we’d sell 100 bottles a month,” recalled Sharon Ferchat who admitted to doubting anything approaching that number was even attainable.
“I said that’s a lot. That’s 25 bottles a week! But now at our current location we can do 100 bottles in an hour.”
During those early days Ferchat said word spread quickly on what she and her husband were doing and people came to the garage to buy different spirits.
The garage wasn’t very big and it was common to have 10 people in it at any one time.
“So we moved it outside underneath our carport,” said Ferchat.
“Now we had more room plus we had a tasting bar.”
Ferchat said word of mouth continued and on some Saturdays, at least 200 people would visit and make a purchase.
It was December 2016 when the distillery first opened in the garage and exactly one year later the Ferchats opened the larger Sundridge site where the business continues to operate today.
“And that’s where it really took off,” said Ferchat.
Craig Ferchat was the founder of Copperhead Distillery but sadly never had a chance to see his creation become the huge success it is today.
A year after opening at the present site Craig Ferchat suddenly passed away in December 2018 at the age of 58.
Craig Ferchat was a whiskey man and liked to name the products after the Almaguin area.
Magnetawan Moonshine became the first spirit sold at the garage and Sharon Ferchat told her husband “if you’re going to make whiskey, then you also better make vodka” because it’s what she drank.
The result was Black Currant Vodka.
Two more spirits followed, Smokin’ Gun and Coconut Rum.
The Ferchats approached the LCBO about selling their spirits and it agreed to pick up all four.
However, Smokin’ Gun was renamed Iron Cat, which is what the French surname ‘Ferchat’ translates to in English.
Ferchat said the Smokin’ Gun label displayed a bowler hat and smoke coming from two pistols.
“The legal team said you can’t have a label with guns,” Ferchat said.
“So we changed the name to Iron Cat and that’s what’s sold at LCBO outlets. But at our retail store we still sell the whiskey under the Smokin’ Gun label.”
There are more than 600 LCBO outlets in Ontario and about 125 of those outlets carry several spirits from Copperhead Distillery.
Ferchat says when thinking what to name the business her husband was a big fan of musician Steve Earle and simply loved his song ‘Copperhead Road’.
The Ferchats were surprised to learn no one had incorporated the name ‘Copperhead Distillery’ and in short order the name was theirs.
In honour of Steve Earle, there’s also a mock street sign at the distillery with the name Copperhead Rd.
The interior of the retail section is intentionally designed to be rustic looking to evoke a saloon-like atmosphere.
“We want people to feel comfortable,” Ferchat said, adding that western theme continues outside the building with a western wagon which is highly photographed.
Ferchat said one goal of Copperhead Distillery was to become a destination venue for people and that’s easily been accomplished with the number of visitors that purchase from the site.
Ferchat also gives back to the community with a Customer Appreciation Day every December 20th to mark the day the Ferchats opened the current site.
There is music and free food, giveaways and promotions.
Additionally, the public is encouraged to bring food and clothing for those less fortunate to Customer Appreciation Day.
Cash donations are also made and Copperhead Distillery matches the dollar amount from the public.
Ferchat said last year the local donation drive helped four area families which included a $500 Foodland gift certificate to each family.
“This way they could have a nice time at Christmas,” Ferchat said.
Ferchat says Copperhead Distillery is always working on new products and one of the more recent creations are three litre juice bags of pre-mixed drinks.
Regular visitors will also notice that this year Copperhead Distillery opened an outdoor patio called the Smokin Blonde BBQ Shack.
Each year Copperhead Distillery also puts out a Signature Series of spirits.
The first was a whiskey in 2019 dedicated to Craig Ferchat which was released on his birthday, April 3, resulting in a new tradition.
April 3rd has become the release date for each subsequent Signature Series spirit.
Every Signature Series bottle is numbered and the 2020 batch was a dedication to Craig Ferchat as the founder of Copperhead Distillery and also his late dad Bob who was a big scotch drinker.
Sharon Ferchat recalls her husband often saying his dad would have loved to be involved in Copperhead Distillery.
The 2021 Signature Series is a tip of the hand to the Ferchats’ four sons and this year’s bottle commemorates the business’ fifth anniversary.
Ferchat is hopeful the Signature Series will continue with a new theme each year and that the public can continue to expect new things from the little business that started as a hobby in a garage.
This item reprinted with permission from The Nugget, North Bay, Ontario