Climb the ladder. Get fired. Build your own damn ladder.
That’s the mantra that Ryan Fowler, Founder & CEO of Wild Lot Farm Distillery, and his partner in life and business Taylor McIndless, live by.
The two met in downtown Toronto and fantasized about one day being entrepreneurs and opening a food and beverage business together. They dreamt of leaving “the big city” for one of their favourite places, Prince Edward County (PEC).
They didn’t know when the time would come, but when they were both let go from corporate jobs in late 2019 and early 2020, they knew it was time to take the leap.
In October 2020, they began their journey of creating a farm distillery. With Ryan’s background in marketing, and Taylor being a chef, they understood some aspects of what it was going to take to start this business, but they knew they needed to fill the gap with technical scientific partners who could help them get their products off the ground.
After some research, they landed in the very capable hands of the Food & Beverage Innovation Centre (FBIC) the summer of 2021. The team, led by FBIC’s Ana Cristina Vega Lugo, PhD, Scientific Manager, and including Jaclyn Harriman, Research Lead, and Stephanie Skotidas, Research Technologist, were crucial to the success of Wild Lot Farm Distillery. The project scope was vast as they were truly building up from ground zero to help develop recipes, ready-to-drink cocktails, processes, and frameworks.
FBIC needed to help them craft unique, small-batch vodka and gin spirits, cocktail bitters, spirit-based ready-to-drink beverages (RTD), and non-alcoholic alternatives.
“FBIC’s work allowed us to do our first-ever production. Without the development partnership with the College, we wouldn’t be where we are today because it enabled us to launch our products knowing they were good quality and food safe,” said Ryan. Not only did FBIC deliver on the project deliverables, but Ryan and Taylor were able to learn so much themselves about food science, giving them confidence in decision making as the planning process continued prior to opening to the public.
The quality of the FBIC team’s work was also something that stood out to Ryan. “The team worked seamlessly, were transparent with us making it an enjoyable experience. They really immersed themselves in our brand and strategy and it became clear in their technical work that they understood what we were looking for,” he added.
He also noted that students were able to gain exposure to the project throughout the entirety of the partnership. “The students helped out with flavour development and other key aspects, and we had a great experience working with them.” Even as they navigated the hiring process at their facility, they came across many talented and skilled Niagara College graduates.
“FBIC’s work allowed us to do our first-ever production. Without the development partnership with the College, we wouldn’t be where we are today because it enabled us to launch our products knowing they were good quality and food safe.”
– Ryan Fowler, Founder & CEO, Wild Lot Farm Distillery
Fast forward to June 10, 2023; the day that Wild Lot Farm Distillery, sitting on 35-acres of land in Prince Edward County, opened to the public. This has been one of the biggest and most proud milestones for the duo. The location features a converted century-old dairy barn and restored tractor drive shed which now house a collective 5,000 square feet of space containing a state-of-the-art distillation facility, retail shop, tap room, and event space.
Visitors can enjoy the FBIC developed small-batch vodka, gin and spirit-based ready-to-drink cocktails, delicious food and take comfort in knowing they source locally or use products from their own farm as much as possible in their beverages.
When it comes down to it, Ryan and Taylor are risk-takers. Wild Lot Farm Distillery was born out of a passion for entrepreneurship and an openness to know that they might suck at something new for a little while but ultimately, succeed. FBIC is a huge part of the duo’s story and Ryan has already spread the good word about their work to other local PEC companies. “As people come visit us and ask how we got to where we are today, I frequently and proudly mention the partnership with the College and I always recommend them,” he said.
Growth mode has been activated now, and the hopes for the future are high. “We’re all in and going big. For the future, we want to grow our foot traffic in PEC, growing distribution within 100 kilometres of our facility, get big accounts like the LCBO and grow other segments like private events, weddings and more,” said Ryan.
If you have a dream or an idea and aren’t sure whether to take the next step, the brains behind Wild Lot Farm Distillery would give you this advice: listen when the wild calls.
Project intake is ongoing for our FBIC team. If you have an innovation challenge, we’ve got the solution. Start the conversation with us today. For research and development partnership opportunities, contact David DiPietro, Manager, Business Development, at [email protected].
This project has been made possible through investments from the Natural Sciences & Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC);Tech-Access Canada Interactive Visits; and GreenCentre Canada’s CONNECT Program (supported by NRC-IRAP).