A Toast to Eliza

The Naramata Inn’s basement wine and cocktail bar commemorates the town’s original hostess with the most, Eliza Robinson.

Enjoy cocktails, by-the-glass wines and bites of chef Ned Bell’s “Naramatian French” cuisine at Eliza. Jon Adrian photo

In summer, the restaurant veranda of the Naramata Inn is the place to be, with its graceful plates, shady corners and attentive service. Come fall, a cozy alternative returns: the downstairs wine bar and sunny stone patio that also features the Inn’s uber-local B.C. craft cocktails. A glass of some of the region’s most-wanted wines or a cocktail that captures seasonal flavour (like Give Peas a Chance, ah herbaceous pea-shoot-infused drink inspired by the Last Word) is enough to make the stone-floored, wine-cellar styled room feel as warm as Okanagan summer.

In 1908 the Inn was built (and, some say, is still benignly haunted) by John Robinson, a founder and pillar of Naramata. But it’s fitting that the warm, inviting bar is named for the other half of Naramata’s first power couple, his wife, Eliza. She was once the hostess behind everything from then-in-vogue seances to plays, concerts and epic parties at the Inn. “We’re really excited about bringing an elevated bar experience to Naramata,” says Kate Colley, herself part of the modern power-couple alliance (she and her husband, chef Ned Bell, plus co-owners Maria Wiesner and Paul Hollands) behind the Inn’s renaissance.

Colley explains that Eliza first opened last year, when the popular Naramata Community Market extended from summer into winter Wednesdays, giving locals a place to gravitate and extend a casual evening out at the market. By-the-glass wines and bites of chef Ned Bell’s “Naramatian French” cuisine are complemented by a cocktail program that adheres to the same strictly local philosophy as the restaurant.

Bartender Nic VanBergen uses only local spirits and ingredients in his program. Photo courtesy of Naramata Inn

In bartending terms, that means no citrus juice; no familiar bottles of Campari, Aperol or other global brands; and relying wholly on B.C. craft spirits. “It’s a challenge but I love it,” says bartender Nic VanBergen. And with sustainability top of mind today, he points out, “it’s smart not to use as much fresh citrus or other imported ingredients anyway.”

“I love to cook so it’s pretty natural to think about translating that from food to drinks,” VanBergen says. Capturing the bounty of the agriculture-rich region, VanBergen creates drinks like Jewels on the Lake: it has edible “pearl dust” on a mix of Arbutus Distillery Blue Gin, Imperative vermouth from Vancouver Island, pink peppercorn syrup and local pear juice, preserved with natural acids (VanBergen uses citric, malic and tartaric acids to brighten and bottle local juices for year-round use).

VanBergen enjoys capturing the bounty of the agriculture-rich Okanagan region. Photo courtesy of Naramata Inn

By pressing, pickling and other preserving tricks, VanBergen is taking a page from the kitchen’s playbook. Sous chefs Minette Lotz and Stacy Johnston help farm, forage and ferment products that produce year-round flavour for the restaurant and bar, including house-made pickles and the house-cultured butter to slather the famously delicious sourdough bread. (Lotz also produces killer doughnuts that you’ll find in her booth at the weekly market: check out @minlotz on Instagram.)

Star sommelier Emily Walker, the Inn’s wine director, calls Eliza “the Naramata wine bar I’ve been dreaming of,” with tasting flights that curate Naramata Bench finds (like a glass of Pinot Noir from Pamplemouse Jus, the side label of Lightning Rock winemaker Jordan Kubek) alongside South Okanagan and international gems. “I’ve always been a storyteller,” Walker says. “It’s the people and the places that make these truly great glasses of wine.” With the Inn’s great relationships with not just wineries and farmers but makers and producers of all kinds, “People came come here and try a little bit of everything,” Walker says.

On golden Okanagan evenings, Walker says the vibe “feels like a jazz club.” From behind the bar, Nic VanBergen observes: “When the room is full of people and it’s buzzing, it’s a really special atmosphere.” Eliza Robinson herself couldn’t have curated a more swinging evening.

—by Charlene Rooke

Earth, wind and fire

B.C. craft baijiu brands bring the ancient Chinese spirit to modern imbibers

The fresh, crisp, slightly floral Deep Earth baijiu is ideal for newcomers to the grain spirit. Photo courtesy of Deep Earth Distillery

It can taste of soy sauce and mushrooms, damp earth or overripe fruit. It’s fermented in earthen or stone pits, and even aged in baskets coated with pigs’ blood. Its styles are categorized by words like “strong,” “sauce” and “medicine” aromas. 

But despite the challenges it might pose for western palates, baijiu (pronounced “by-joo” or “by-joe”) is the new bartender candy. Now two B.C.-made versions of the Chinese spirit—Canada’s only craft baijiu—are helping to bring an ancient spirit to the modern bar.

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Where to drink right now in New York City

10 bars to check out in the city that never sleeps

A White Negroni paired with shrimp cocktail at the Panorama Room. Charlene Rooke photo

Though there’s a bar on virtually every downtown street in New York, we recently hit some old favourites and some new essentials, to help guide your next drinking safari to the Big Apple.

 

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Drinks in the Desert: Coachella Edition

Whether you’re catching Coachella this weekend or heading to the Palm Springs area for some spring sun, here’s where to taste the hot drinks scene.

The vintage inspired bar at Bar Cecil is one of the most coveted seats in town. Photo courtesy of Bar Cecil.

Modern Cocktails

For proper cocktails, head uptown the small, dark and sexy new Tailor Shop (look for the vintage sewing machine in the green hedge). If they’re wheeling the cart, have an Old Fashioned mixed at the table, or declare your Canadian cred with a Spifflicated Butterfly starring Empress 1908 Gin. Japanese whisky and mixology fans should head straight to Sandfish (same owners), a sushi restaurant with inventive cocktails and a killer whisky list topped with Yamazaki. On the LGBTQ-friendly strip of bars on Arenas Road, choose Blackbook for a seriously comprehensive, bourbon-heavy whisky list.

The toughest reservation in town is Bar Cecil, where you want to be sitting at the pretty vintage-inspired bar ordering a French 75 Regal, topped with Moët & Chandon. Truss & Twine‘s big, horseshoe bar is a late-night industry hang, and serves an excellent Hanky Panky. In the same uptown ‘hood, the poolside Colony Club bar at the Colony Palms hotel and the house Negroni on Birba‘s patio are also worthy stops. In a town with few rooftop bars, the High Bar at the Rowan Hotel is a mountain-view, poolside spot to grab a drink..

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Beyond Mezcal: Distilled and Fermented in Mexico

Dip into the back bar, behind-the-counter and unlabelled jugs of fermented and distilled goodies on your next visit to Mexico or the southern U.S.

A flight of blanco or unaged agave spirits at Nómada in San José del Cabo. In a flight they can look benign—just several glasses of colourless liquid—but be prepared for weird flavours, aromas and textures. Charlene Rooke photo

Like many Western Canadians, I’ve been to Mexico too many times to count—but typically on holidays, not at work as a drinks writer and educator. On my latest trip, I was determined to go beyond margaritas, and way beyond even some of the excellent agave spirits we’re now able to purchase in Canada. Here’s what I found.

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Vancouver Cocktail Week: Nerd Edition

For those in the tiny club of Canadian drinks journalists, an event like Vancouver Cocktail Week (VCW) provides a rare opportunity to nerd out on niche, unexplored and trending topics in drinks.

While professional drinks writers regularly get to sample spirits, taste cocktails and interview bartenders and experts, rare are the opportunities to, well… completely nerd out. My friends tire pretty quickly of a nuanced debate on which Italian amari is more bitter, the ideal proportions of a house vermouth blend for a Manhattan and the finer points of making directionally frozen, diamond-clear ice. But at VCW 2022, all this and more was possible—served up with guided tastings and dinners were seminars deep-dive enough to satisfy even minutiae-thirsty writers and drinks superfans.

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Choose A Woman-Made, Woman-Led Spirit Day

Celebrate International Women’s Day on March 8 by buying or drinking a woman-made spirit, such as these global brands that have women master blenders, distillers and more.

At Ron Zapaca in Guatemala, master blender Lorena Vasquez is credited for pioneering the a “solera” aging method in rum. Photo courtesy of Ron Zacapa
Supplied photo

Though countless women contribute to the vibrant local, national and international distilling industry, for International Women’s Day each year we give a nod to some of the trailblazers in top production, management and ownership positions at distilleries.

For a fresh perspective on the hidden history of women in spirits and cocktail, we highly recommend the recently released book Girly Drinks: A World History of Women and Alcohol by Mallory O’Meara.

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Give Us Five

A B.C. spirit comes out on top for the fifth consecutive year in the Canadian Artisan Spirit Competition: cheers to DEVINE Distillery’s Ancient Grains, also the Best in Class Young Whisky.

DEVINE Distillery’s Ancient Grains is CASC Spirit of the Year. Photo courtesy of Artisan Distillers Canada

The grains may be ancient, but a globally unique, made-in-B.C. whisky is making modern history: Ancient Grains from DEVINE Distillery in Saanich is the Canadian Artisan Spirit of the Year 2022.

The top-scoring spirit across every category of the national competition, Ancient Grains is also the Best in Class Young Whisky for the third time (so classified because it matures for less than three years, which is the minimum requirement for labelling as “Canadian Whisky”). The whisky was originally created by master distiller Ken Winchester in 2017, using B.C.-grown heritage barley, einkorn, emmer, spelt and kamut, and matured in smaller quarter-casks.

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Third-wave terroir

“Terroir” spirits define B.C.’s flavours, culture and sense of place

Comparing B.C. craft spirits from a decade ago to today is like comparing 1970s drip coffee to artisanal, fair-trade Chemex pour-overs. While B.C. has a long distilling and even rum-running history, the first wave of local, small-batch distilleries debuted not even 20 years ago. The second wave happened when 2013 B.C. liquor laws defined “craft” spirits as those using 100 per cent B.C. agricultural raw materials.

Now, a third wave of modern distillers is bottling the flavour and culture of the province, defining the future of B.C. spirits. Follow their progress through distillery newsletters and social media feeds.

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