LEGAL BOOTLEGGER, PROMOTER, WONDERER
Jamie Stam moved to bucolic Grand Valley to relax and restore, but once he got a whiff of its backwoods, prohibition-era infamy, the serial entrepreneur in him woke up and smelled the juniper. Now he sells true genie-in-a-bottle stuff, kits that allow you to create real whisky and gin, while cooking up even bigger things for Headwaters. One thing’s for sure: after learning about Grand Valley’s past, you’ll never look at Headwaters the same way again.
We spoke with him while he was on the road, on a modern-day midnight run.
You’re making a delivery? I thought you were mail-order?
Well, last night some performer desperately wanted some of my bad-ass new whisky kits. I’m heading to Orangeville to hand-deliver three giant growler bottles full of charred oak. I feel like a bootlegger of old.
The company’s exploded. Any growing pains?
We’re now across across Canada — not into the States yet — and I’ve actually discovered that in BC, they have have some bizarre prohibition regulations, which include that you cannot infuse spirits. So they’re literally charging bartenders for doing things like infusing whisky, or putting red peppers in vodka, the kinds of things being done in every bar in Toronto.
Are you allowed to do it at home?
You certainly are here. I promote the cool infusion of spirits, which is of course the old bootlegger trick that I use.
Cool in the the sense that I don’t require heat nor cold. It’s all done at room temperature. It’s technically correct and it sounds kinda good.
Now, you moved to Grand Valley sort on doctor’s orders. You were told to slow down
More than that. In January of 2012 I actually passed away for a few moments, and experienced what doctors called a triple-A dissection, an ascending aortic aneurysm.
But you haven’t slowed down. Or hidden away.
I’ll tell you, I was skeptical at first. I thought it was going to be a very long winter, that I’d live through a scene from The Shining, off alone in a big house. But the people out here, I love them, I mean that. I can’t walk the dog without every single person saying hello, not because they know me but because that’s what they do.
And then you stumbled on the bootleg history of Grand Valley, and the rest is history. Share that.
Grand Valley was THE source of Gin & Whisky in Dufferin County and throughout Headwaters well before Ontario Prohibition, which was 1916-1927. I’m celebrating all that. Other companies, Walkers, Seagrams, Sleemans, they celebrate their bootlegger history, but nothing like this has been celebrated.
So what’s the vision? In five, ten years, what do you see for Headwaters and you?
The core of the vision is it’s that it’s all made in Headwaters. All the ingredients are from Headwaters, whether it’s the white oak or wild hickory that I use in the whisky, or the botanicals like juniper that I use for the gin. The recipes that I offer have also been adapted from old recipes from the region.
Plus, as of January 2016, Ontario’s made it legal to sell other products that are handcrafted and locally sourced in the province, not just wine and beer. But here’s the biggest story: in 2017, we’ll be opening the first craft distillery in the Headwaters region in 100 years.
There’s a certain amount of showmanship in this, and you have a promoter side. Experience with a different kind of spirits, too.
Hmmm… Let’s just say that I have toured the country creating paranormal activity at half-past eight, when the spirits are aligned and the drinks have been poured.
You’ve put on paranormal shows, magic shows, SpeakEasy events…
Yes, and here’s why: I realized that adults have two needs that aren’t being fulfilled in society. The first is their need for play, the second is their need for wonder.
We live in a world where play is discouraged, and where wonder is non-present because we’ve lost our spiritual ways. As a producer and marketer, it seems that my success has been the ability to create events and experiences that allow people to play and wonder.
Whether it’s a ghost show where people come and experience the paranormal, or whether they simply want an excuse to dress up and attend an event. And that’s huge. Some events, I insist on a cocktail dress and a jacket, and people love it. Outside of a wedding, when do you get a chance to do that?