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Corinne Cluis takes Quebec’s maple spirit to new, rarefied heights

How a PhD in biology led the owner of Distillerie Fove to the essence of acerum
May 19, 2023
By JP Karwacki, BA 11

Corinne Cluis, PhD 14, founded Distillerie Fove in 2021, working out of Distillerie Comont where she continues to operate today.

Maple syrup is to Quebec as champagne is to France and beer is to Germany — the liquid essence of a place based on the connection between taste and terroir, taste and heritage, taste and identity.

Corinne Cluis, PhD 14, has taken the knowledge she acquired during her doctorate in biology at Concordia and distilled it into a mission to capture the pure essence of maple syrup in the form of acerum (from the Latin “acer” meaning maple and the English “rum”). An eau-de-vie created by the distillation of alcohol from the fermentation of concentrated Quebec maple sap, acerum delivers the soul of maple syrup, rarefied into a whole new flavour.

“It’s a beautiful idea, that we could not only make something emblematic of Quebec but something linked to the resurgence of gastronomy and the use of local ingredients,” says Cluis.

While the path taken by Cluis to become owner and distiller of Distillerie Fove may not seem apparent at first, it’s only logical when you boil it down.

“I wouldn’t be where I am without my studies at Concordia,” says Cluis. “It all started there; the interest in microbiology, microbes, using them to create something new.”

As a researcher, Cluis was working on E.coli with a focus on genetic engineering. She gained knowledge on biochemical pathways, and how they could be modified using slight genetic modifications. That led her to her work on a research team for the Montreal company Lallemand Inc., which recently supported Concordia’s Bioprocessing Centre with a major gift.

While working for one of the world’s largest developers, producers and marketers of products such as yeast and bacteria, Cluis was focused on biofuels and distilled spirits, heading a program for the development of new products.

“We started digging into the flavour profiles that were imparted by the strains we had on the market, the key elements that differentiated them from each other,” Cluis says.

In researching how different fermentation parameters such as temperature and nutrition could affect distillate flavour profiles, she was able to travel the world to see the different approaches of distilleries in places like Scotland, the Caribbean, Mexico and the United States.

“That’s what sparked the flame and made me want to start a business of my own,” she explains. “With the knowledge I acquired then around how yeast’s biochemical pathways could lead to different aromas, I thought I could use it to make a difference in Quebec’s distillery landscape.”

From studies to spirits

A headshot of a woman with dark wavy hair in a black turtleneck against a deep purple background “I wouldn’t be where I am without my studies at Concordia,” says Corinne Cluis, PhD 14.

Riding a wave in Quebec’s craft distillery scene that began around 2017, Cluis founded Distillerie Fove in 2021, working out of Distillerie Comont where she continues to operate today.

While many early distillers have largely focused on spirits such as gin and their botanical expressions, the story Cluis wanted to tell was about the pathways and destinations raw materials can take through fermentation, flavour development and distillation methods; in essence, a story of science.

Hence the name Distillerie Fove, named after the Latin fovere — to warm, cherish or nurture — referring to both the fermentation and distillation of the product and the warmth felt when drinking it.

Cluis turned her attention to acerum, which starts from a taste embedded in Quebec’s identity and ends up turned into a flavour completely distinct from its source, capable of being developed into other flavours by applying different yeasts and fermentation techniques.

Time and research have yielded Fove’s current lineup of products: A white acerum made with champagne yeast for a light, floral flavour with notes of pear, melon and even licorice; and an aged acerum that uses the same yeast used for Brazilian cachaça, which yields something that tastes of ripe, heavy red fruits.

To date, acerum remains a relatively unexplored product in the province, with roughly 10 distillers producing it from different angles and strategies.

“There’s something here to build — it’s not every day that you have a new category of spirit to develop,” Cluis says.

Because of Quebec’s deepening interest in complex drinks — including increased wine production due to climate change — Cluis has found that people are more open to being engaged in the process behind the product.

“Using maple syrup to make a unique spirit like this, we can showcase a resource that’s unique to us, and that captures a lot of imaginations,” she adds. “There’s still a lot of educational potential to it.”

Cluis now hopes to acquire her own space and continue experimenting, bringing her passion for science to the development of a new spirit. From there, who knows what could bubble up, as she envisions new initiatives — including a research program to study her newfound field — collaborative studies with universities and, always, new flavours to uncover.

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