Canada’s best artisan spirits announced

Sheringham Akvavit named Canadian Artisan Spirit of the Year

B.C., which is home to almost 45 per cent of Canada’s artisan distilleries, took home the greatest number of awards, including the Artisan Spirit of the Year: Sheringham Distillery Akvavit. Lucy-Kate Armstrong photo

One hundred and seventy-five. That’s a lot of spirits to taste, especially when they range from akvavit to amaro to apple brandy.

But throughout December 2017, that just what I and seven other spirits experts from coast to coast did, sniffing, swirling, sipping and occasionally spitting, as we judged the inaugural Canadian Artisan Spirits Awards.

It was organized by Alex Hamer, founder of BC Distilled, the country’s largest artisan distilling festival, to celebrate the best of Canadian micro-distilling. Each product was judged blind and according to set criteria, including flavour, aroma and finish.

What was truly remarkable was the range and quality of the spirits being produced in Canada, especially given how young the industry is. The oldest artisan distillers have only been around for a dozen years or so; most have been in place for less than three.

Even so, they are producing a truly impressive variety of products, including liqueurs, amaros, white spirits, aged spirits and a few oddballs in there.

Along with all the expected vodka and gin – so much gin – there were some surprises. Who knew, for instance, that Canada was producing such tasty rum? Or elegant eaux de vie? Or terrific amaro? Or tongue-blistering chili-infused vodka?

True, some of the spirits we tasted needed a bit more time to reach their full potential, especially the whiskies; others needed just a bit more fine-tuning. One or two were flat-out terrible. But most were remarkably good – turns out, there’s a lot of great hooch being produced here, from British Columbia to Nova Scotia to the Yukon.

Not surprisingly, B.C., which is home to almost 45 per cent of Canada’s artisan distilleries, took home the greatest number of awards, including the Artisan Spirit of the Year: Sheringham Distillery Akvavit. Made near Sooke on Vancouver Island, its wheat and malt barley base is infused with traditional botanicals such as caraway and dill, as well as not-so-traditional ones, including winged kelp.

Among the other big winners were:

De Vine Wines & Spirits, Saanichton, BC: 10 medals, including four gold, and Best in Class for its Glen Saanich Single Malt (Young Whisky, Aged Under 3 Years Category).

Odd Society Spirits, Vancouver, BC: Six medals, including five gold, and Best in Class for its Mia Amata (Amaro or Vermouth Category) and Single Malt Whisky (Whisky Category).

Merridale Cidery and Distillery, Cobble Hill, BC: Six medals, including four gold, and Best in Class for its Cowichan Copper Gin (Aged Gin Category).

Wayward Distillation House, Courtenay, BC: Five medals, including three gold, and Best in Class for Wayward Order Depth Charge (Infused Vodka Category).

Sheringham Distillery, Shirley, BC. Two gold, including one for its Akvavit, also named Canadian Artisan Spirit of the Year and Best in Class (Akvavit Category).

Victoria Distillers, Sidney, BC. Gold medal and Best in Class for its Empress 1908 Gin (Gin Category).

Other gold medalists in BC included: The Liberty Distillery, Mad Laboratory Distilling, Sons of Vancouver, Central City Brewers + Distillers, Ampersand Distilling Company, Old Order Distilling, Stealth Distilleries, The Dubh Glas Distillery and The Woods Spirits Company.

To see the complete list of winners, or to learn more about CASC, please visit artisanspirit.ca.

Congratulations to all the winners and everyone who entered. We can’t wait to see what you come up with next year!

—by Joanne Sasvari

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