Collaboration nation

B.C.’s small-batch distillers are getting crafty with their foodie, wine and beer neighbours

Shelter Point Distillery partnered with Vancouver Island Salt Co. to create this barrel-smoked sea salt. Supplied photo

It was about two years ago when my love for Odd Society’s Wallflower Barrel-Aged Gin was uniquely reciprocated: the Ode to Wallflower pale ale mated Powell Street Craft Brewery’s Ode to Citra beer with the distillery’s former gin-aging barrels, created a summer love child of a beer. It was so popular, Odd Society barrel-sharing collaborations with Storm Brewing, Strange Fellows, Coal Harbour Brewing and Steamworks followed. 

In my travels around B.C. distilleries, I started noticing the spirit of collaboration everywhere. At the Dubh Glas Distillery in the Okanagan, I tasted a wildly delicious young whisky being aged in Sons of Vancouver amaretto barrels. Traveling down the Sunshine Coast, I serendipitously tasted Bruinwood’s anise-tinged gin, then hours later sipped a bottle of Juniper at nearby Bricker Cider, an apple cider delicately infused with the distillery’s gin botanicals. And when Duncan’s Ampersand Distilling Co. released its crisply dry, aromatic vermouth last year, the organic Ortega and Auxerrois wine base came from island neighbours Rathjen Cellars.

Bricker Cider on the Sunshine Coast infuses its Juniper apple cider with gin botanicals from nearby Bruinwood distillery. Supplied photo

That kind of collaborative creativity is part of a blurring of categories in the spirits, wine and beer industries. “That’s hardly surprising given that so many distillers got their starts as brewers or… winemakers,” says Stephen Beaumont, co-author of  Canadian Spirits: The Essential Cross-Country Guide to Distilleries, their Spirits and Where to Imbibe Them, a new guide to 160 Canadian craft distilleries released this fall by Nimbus Publishing. “But it’s still fascinating for me to see how beer can influence spirits can influence cider can influence wine,” Beaumont says. The book’s co-author, Christine Sismondo, says, “We’re seeing more and more hybrid and experimental spirits that are often the product of collaborations and distillers getting inspired by their pals in other parts of the industry.”

It’s not just drinks wizards collaborating with each other, though. Booze-soaked barrel wood from whisky mecca Shelter Point was used to cold-smoke crunchy flakes from their island neighbours, Vancouver Island Salt Co. The resulting Barrel Smoked Whisky Salt is a mélange of vanilla, spice and char that accents everything from chocolate and caramel desserts to avocado toast or the rim of a cocktail glass.

The Drunken Cherries from Okanagan Spirits, meanwhile, soak the valley’s signature fruit in the distillery’s fruit spirit for boozy jars of sunshine to carry Manhattan and Old Fashioned drinkers (not to mention ice cream and cheesecake fanatics) through the winter. And its BRBN whisky and fruit liqueurs go into jellies and sauces and infuse a Whisky Barrel-Aged Maple Syrup.

Sismondo and Beaumont noticed spirited foodie collaborations from whisky barbeque sauce to maple syrup and even mustard. “Many of these collaborations are hyper-local and involve forged connections between distillers and farmers, brewers and winemakers within a 100-mile radius,” says Sismondo. “Which, I think, shows people working really hard to build up both community and specific denominations of origin, so to speak, in certain farm-to-table, food-centric regions.”

Brands from other industries are getting into the collaborative act, too: the Douglas Autograph Collection Hotel at PARQ Vancouver commissioned its own Douglas Fir gin from Yaletown Distilling, which is used in a house cocktail at the hotel’s D/6 Bar and Lounge and available through in-room mini bars. Yaletown has also created custom collaborations like a blue, colour-changing Ocean Wise gin for KPMG. The limited-edition bottling was so popular, says tasting room manager Craig Harris, “People are coming in and asking for it, and we don’t have any more!”

In the end, that’s the mark of a successful collaboration: It keeps people supporting the distillery, and coming back for more. 

—by Charlene Rooke

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