Distiller for a day

Make your own bespoke gin at artisan distilleries around the world—and right here in B.C.

A selection of custom bottlings at Whistler’s Montis Distilling, where you can create your own gin and bespoke labelling, too. Photos courtesy of Montis Distilling

If you’re planning a trip to London, don’t just settle for a taste of London Dry gin at one of the city’s fine bars. Blend your own during a three-hour Ginstitute Experience at The Distillery on Portobello Road, during which you’ll learn about gin history and production, and go home with a bottle of your own botanical blend, all for £120 (about CAD$175). 

Likewise, the Ginstitute by the Sea in Arisaig, NS, offers a weekend package of two nights in an oceanview chalet plus a session with distiller Thomas Steinhart that involves foraging for local botanicals that go into two bottles of your own gin. (Cost $600 for one person or $900 for a couple, including accommodations, food and libations.)

B.C. distilleries have been ahead of the curve with the custom-gin trend. Vij’s Bolly Water, made for Vancouver’s renowned Indian restaurant by Okanagan Crush Pad in 2016, included spices like curry leaf, coriander and cubeb berries. Kelowna chef Rod Butters collaborated with Okanagan Spirits in 2019 to bottle a cucumber-forward gin with mint, lemon verbena, orris and foraged botanicals. Called the Whole Truth, it was custom-made for The Truth cocktail served at RauDZ Regional Table. In 2020, Yaletown Distilling made Blue Ocean Gin with sustainably harvested Haida Gwaii kelp and cobalt butterfly pea flower colouring, as a tie-in to KPMG’s Blue Ocean commitment to ocean health. 

Photo courtesy of Montis Distilling

Now you can be a gin distiller yourself for a day in Whistler, where since 2019, Montis Distilling has created custom-batch gins for around 50 customers. “American visitors and people from all over Canada” have been among the takers, says Charlotte Miglin, who handles sales and marketing for the distillery. Summer and pre-holiday are peak seasons to create exclusive spirits for holiday parties, weddings and other occasions. Some spirits aficionados know exactly what they want, but most bespoke customers “want to create something that their friends and family would think is really unique and cool,” says Miglin.

The process starts with an in-person consultation at Montis, tasting previous custom bottlings plus the distillery’s own unique seasonal gins. This past spring, Cloud 9 gin incorporated delicate rose, cucumber and pink peppercorn; summer Solstice gin combined ginger, pineapple and a pinch of turmeric for vibrant golden colour. 

Photo courtesy of Montis Distilling

Distillers Marketa Pohlova and Kwang Chen (the distillery’s founder) then create a botanical recipe that layers the client’s favourite flavours over a base spirit made from local malted barley, distilling a micro-batch of as few as 12 bottles (for $65 a bottle plus tax). A design collaboration with local business Cutting Edge Signs allows them to whip up slick custom labels with a bespoke name, spirit description or even logos and images. 

Unsurprisingly for Whistler, where tourists are thirsty to try all things local, restaurants and bars have gotten on board by blending specific gins to suit certain cocktails, or create versatile custom bottlings they can keep behind the bar to make a variety of craft gin cocktails. The custom program has been thriving, and Miglin says, “The pandemic pushed it to the extreme, with people really wanting to support local.” 

How can every Martini, Negroni and G&T you mix not taste that much better, when it’s made with your own gin? 

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