How Sons of Vancouver is riding the big boom in small spirits
It will be just two short years in February since Sons of Vancouver opened for business—with a 700-litre still repurposed from a dairy pasteurizer. And, like so many of the distilleries around B.C., owners James Lester and Richard Klaus have barely had time to pause for breath.
Take the past few months of 2016 as an example: Sons ran a successful crowdfunding campaign to upgrade to a proper—and much bigger—still, opened a tasting room, and will release a special barrel-aged edition of their signature No. 82 Amaretto in time for the holidays.
We asked some top B.C. bartenders which bottle of local spirits they would put on their Christmas list
Lead Bartender, L’Abattoir Restaurant
I’d pick Okanagan Spirits Laird of Fintry Single Malt Whisky. It is a Scotch-style single malt made with 100 per cent B.C. malted barley using French and American oak, and finished in Okanagan wine barrels. The nose is unbelievable with plum, vanilla, raisins, berries, poached pears, nuts, and classic oak characteristics that continue on the palate. It has a dry finish with a hint of sweet vanilla and baking spices. I would make a twist on a Rob Roy — a Rodney’s Roy — with 2 oz. Laird of Fintry,
0.3 oz. Noilly Prat Rouge,
0.3 oz. Noilly Prat Ambre and two dashes Bittered Sling Cascade Celery Bitters.
Peter Van de Reep
Bar Manager, Upstairs at Campagnolo
Odd Society Bittersweet Vermouth, please. This is a wonderful example of the new style of vermouth being produced in North America: bitter, herbaceous and very complex, with a dominant tree bark and citrus peel character. It’s very versatile in cocktails and delicious on its own. I’d whip up a Mile Zero, a dark and brooding cocktail, perfect for a cold, rainy Vancouver night: 1 oz. Bulleit Rye, 1 oz. Odd Society Bittersweet Vermouth, 0.75 oz. Luxardo Amaro Abano. Stir all ingredients with ice, strain into a cocktail glass. Garnish with an orange twist.
Bar Manager, Boulevard Kitchen & Oyster Bar
Queensborough Small Batch Dry Gin from Central City Brewers & Distillers. I love its crispness, balanced juniper, light citrus notes and spruce tip flavour. It’s a great Pacific Northwest gin. If it’s in my stocking, I will definitely be making a Gibson Wet Martini —one of my all time favourite cocktails. I like a Wet Martini only if the gin is strong and flavourful enough to stand up to the vermouth and Queensborough fits the bill. Come Christmas, I will share a few of these with my wife, while wearing my favourite sweater, and with my big dogs by my side.
Bar Manager, West Restaurant
Sons of Vancouver No. 82 Amaretto. I’ve got a bit of a sweet tooth and it is by far the best amaretto I’ve ever tried. Excellently balanced with the flavors of vanilla bean, orange peel and blackberry honey. I’m almost finished my test bottle so it would be great to find another in my Christmas stocking. I’ve found it pairs incredibly well with a smoky scotch. So, I created The Godfather of Vancouver, a take on the classic Godfather cocktail, using Sons of Vancouver Amaretto, 10-year-old Ardbeg, 10-year-old Glenmorangie, and a lemon twist to finish. It’s my new favorite thing!
Bar Manager, Forage
I’ll take The Woods Spirit Co. Amaro, because they love local like we love local here at Forage, and it’s a spirit that is super user-friendly in cocktails. I’d make a Forage Negroni: 1.5 oz. Sheringham Seaside Gin, 1 oz. The Woods Spirit Co. Amaro, and 0.5 oz. Odd Society Bittersweet Vermouth. You can’t get more local than that!
Bar Manager, OLO Restaurant, Victoria
It would have been a bottle of de Vine’s Glen Saanich Single Malt, but as it’s sold out, I’ll have to wait until next Christmas. Meanwhile, I’ll happily settle for a bottle of their Moderna Vermouth. It’s a great example of the direction B.C. distilling is going, utilizing local ingredients and being creative with Old World recipes. I’d go with a Christmas Morning B.C. Martinez, with equal parts Legend Distilling Black Moon smoked rosemary gin and Moderna Vermouth, a splash of Okanagan Spirits Maraschino Liqueur, and a dash or two of Bittered Sling Moondog Bitters.
Head Bartender, Juniper Restaurant & Bar
I would like a bottle of Sheringham Seaside Gin because I love the delicious briny notes that come from the winged sea kelp, one of its key botanicals. I used to go surfing near where the distillery is located on Vancouver Island, so those coastal flavours evoke fond memories for me. My first drink would be the Islander G&T we serve at Juniper: 1.5 oz. Sheringham Seaside Gin, a dash of Bittered Sling Cascade Celery Bitters and Fever Tree Indian Tonic Water.
I was just thinking of a Flaming Rum Punch,” says Clarence Odbody, the 293-year-old guardian angel in Frank Capra’s 1946 masterpiece It’s a Wonderful Life. But in this post-war dive bar all that’s on offer is “hard drinks… for men who want to get drunk fast.”
Back when Clarence was just a cherub, though, punches were all the rage. A concoction of spirits with something sweet, something sour, something weak and something spicy, punch was a communal beverage, enjoyed at social gatherings. It was often served hot, typically heated by inserting a molten hot poker into a jug, bowl or pitcher of liquor. There were, at times, flames.
Since then, flamed drinks have gone in and out of fashion like a Blue Blazer in a fickle breeze.
Whether it’s a glass of eggnog, a hot buttered rum, or a mug of spicy mulled wine, the winter season is loaded with tasty cocktails. What makes them ideal for the home bartender is their reliance on easily sourced pantry ingredients: spices (cinnamon, clove and nutmeg), fresh herbs (rosemary, thyme and sage), and fruits (mandarins, cranberries and pomegranates). Here are my family recipes for iconic winter cocktails—and a twist or two designed to take your holiday gathering to the next level.
Best made a few days in advance to allow the flavours to develop.
6 large eggs 1 cup granulated sugar 2 tsp ground allspice 12 oz bourbon or rum 3 cups whole milk 1.5 cups heavy cream 2 whole nutmegs (for garnish)
METHOD: Measure all your ingredients. Add the eggs to a blender running on lowest setting. After 20 seconds slowly pour in sugar and allspice. Increase speed to medium and slowly add bourbon, followed by milk and cream, and blend for one minute. Refrigerate immediately in an airtight container. Stir before serving. Garnish with freshly grated nutmeg. Makes 8-10 servings.