The man behind Manitoba’s first family-owned grain-to-bottle spirit producer has taken home a $5,000 cash prize in a new category at this year’s Great Manitoba Food Fight.
Jason Kang’s dill pickle vodka is the young master distiller’s most recent release under his Tall Grass label and its blend of wheat and rye, dill and cucumber most impressed judges during last week’s first-ever craft beer and spirits edition of the food fight who awarded him the top prize package valued at approximately $5,000.
Kang, who is based in Winnipeg, was very happy to earn this from an event hosted by Manitoba Agriculture. It is high-profile recognition, he said.
“It really means something to us,” said Kang. “This is our first medal or first award that we’ve actually won for our product. That really proves that we have something that is basically recognized by the general public and hopefully this award can bring us more sales.”
Kang was featured in an article in the Manitoba Co-operator earlier this year where he described a journey to becoming a distiller that began with homemade wine and beer making, eventually leading him through a half-decade of research, self-education and on-the-job training.
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Tall Grass Dill Pickle Vodka is now available both direct from the distillery at 3-1680 Dublin Avenue and in Manitoba Liquor Marts.
Two others in the new beer and spirits category this year were Kevin Selch of the Winnipeg-based craft brewery Little Brown Jug Brewing with a spicy-herbal 1919 Belgian pale ale and Lawrence and Chris Warwaruk’s pink lemonade made with hops and barley from their Farmery Estate Brewery at Neepawa.
The move to create the new category for alcoholic beverages is to foster further growth in the sector, said Manitoba Agriculture officials at the event.
“It’s in support of an industry that is certainly taking off,” said Maurice Bouvier, deputy minister of agriculture.
Three prize packages were also awarded to 10 competitors in the food edition of the competition held September 20 at De Luca’s.
Winnipegger Alex Goertzen, owner of the Little Bones Wings restaurants in Winnipeg won gold in this category earning a $13,000 prize package for his speciality chicken wings.
Thrilled to win the award, Goertzen said he was basically speechless.
“This all started with a food truck in 2012,” he said. Little Bones Wings has since earned the restaurant he opened in 2014 with three ‘best wings in Winnipeg’ titles. Customers wanted to buy the wings which set him on course for creating parcooked and frozen versions of what’s served at his restaurant.
“I would love to see Little Bones Wings all across Canada. It’s been my goal since I opened my food truck. I’ve wanted restaurants all across Canada but now I think we’re pursuing just having our wings across Canada,” he said.
The silver prize winner in the food edition was awarded to Piña Romolo of Piccola Cucina in Winnipeg for her hemp macaroons.
Jeremy Silcox of Mr. Biltong Beef Jerky Company won the bronze prize for his ‘biltong and stokkies’ South African-style dried meat products.
Other innovative new food products featured at the event included a beet chip created by ‘Dr. Beetroot Canada,’ a bison bone broth from Gold Bone, a tamarind and mango chutney from Cheeky Chutney, an upscale version of ramen noodle from Canada Knightsbridge Corp., and a plant-based vegan pizza ‘cheez’ developed at Diana’s Cucina and Lounge in Winnipeg. A chickpea-based patty from Azra’s Kitchen in Winnipeg and Newdale-based CanFarm Foods Ltd. Big Prairie Sky cold-pressed canola oil were also in the competition.
GMFF is sponsored by the Manitoba government, in partnership with De Luca’s Specialty Foods Store and Food and Beverage Manitoba.
This is the 11th year of the competition which has to date featured 148 competitors, said Manitoba Agriculture Minister Ralph Eichler.
Manitoba is home to many exceptional entrepreneurs bringing new foods and beverages to the marketplace and the province wants to support their journeys, Eichler said.
The Great Manitoba Food Fight has seen many past participants go on to develop and expand businesses with their products.
“Sixty per cent of them have gone on to develop their products to varying degrees, from selling to farmers’ markets to retail grocery distribution,” he said.
“Events like this assist in growth of our agri-food processing sector and add value to our local-grown commodities.”
Food and beverage manufacturing employs more than 14,000 Manitobans and produces more than $4.5 billion in finished products every year.
Executive director of Food & Beverage Manitoba Dave Shambrock was equally impressed with this year’s entries.
“The quality of the business presentations and the products were outstanding,” he said in a release. “As these new products enter the market and attract new customers, these companies will create new jobs and new wealth for Manitoba.”