Tour the Ontario Craft Gin Trail

There’s no better time to explore the Ontario Craft Gin Trail than right now, when it’s blooming with fall colours and seasonal spirits

The craft gin lineup at Junction 56 in Stratford, ON. Supplied photo

The Ontario Craft Gin Trail, formed in the summer of 2022, rounds up six Ontario gin-stitutions on a self-guided trek around the province’s southwestern distilleries. It’s a perfect weekend getaway or staycation, with stops as little as an hour west of Toronto (in Guelph). Here’s what we saw, tasted and loved.

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Where to drink right now in Toronto

Bar Banane is home to Jacob Martin, the 2023 World Class Global Bartender of the Year. Brenton Mowforth (@wander.thirsty) photo

It goes without saying that a stop at Canada’s Best Bar, Civil Liberties, is essential. Now, you can also grab some bottled Civil Pours from the same mixologists: they recently ran a Bloor West pop-up, and watch for wider availability soon. A stop at Mother Cocktail Bar, an inventive Toronto fermentorium that’s steadily climbing the ranks of North America’s 50 Best Bars, is also a must. For the speakeasy set, there are inception-style spots tucked inside Coffee Oysters Champagne and under the restaurant Little Sister, but we won’t spoil those secrets here. Make your reservations now for these buzzing bars.

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Yummy umami: Global savoury spirits to try

Look for these savoury spirits on your travels

Inspired by the wild and salty Norfolk coast, Bullard’s Coastal Gin is handcrafted using foraged ingredients like marsh samphire and Douglas fir pine needles. photo

If you like seaweed-kissed Sheringham Seaside and Isle of Harris gins, try maritime-inspired U.K. bottles like Bullard’s Coastal Gin, Fishers Gin, Da Mhile Organic Seaweed Gin and Mermaid Salt Vodka, as well as North Vancouver’s Copperpenny Gin No. 006 Oyster Shell (a collaboration with Fanny Bay Oysters).

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Funky town

Savoury notes are nudging fruit and flowers over on the craft spirits bar, in favour of umami flavours like mushrooms, seaweed, smoke—and even sheep dung

The rich, earthy, umami notes of mushrooms—like these wild ones foraged near Campbell River—are infusing the spirits world. Getty Images photo

Mushrooms first lit up my brain in 2017, when I tried Candy Cap Magic, a Botanist Bar cocktail that matched the fungi’s maple syrup and spice notes perfectly with rye. Then, in 2019, Sheringham Seaside was named the world’s best contemporary gin on the wings of its sustainable kelp note. After sipping 72 Tomates-kissed Tomato Martinis last summer at hip New York bars, it hit me: the savoury spirits revolution has arrived.

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Where to drink right now in Portland

One of the Pacific Northwest’s great drinking cities is popping with new bars and wild cocktails, from the mustard-licked to slushified—plus … disco balls!

Getty Images photo

Old Portland favourites and on-point new bars are rocking some Canadian-friendly values, and prices (drinks from USD$12-16 are typical, but no tax!). Because Oregon bars must serve food, delicious bites from bar snacks to elevated meals complement your cocktails. Always on the cutting edge of alternative, plenty of Portland places feature mocktails as refreshing and inventive as their boozy siblings, too.

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Canadian Craft Whisky Comes of Age at the 2023 Canadian Artisan Spirit Competition

For the first time in the competition’s six-year history, a whisky wins the Canadian Artisan Spirit of the Year.

Fort Beauséjour Peated Single Malt Whisky is the 2023 Canadian Artisan Spirit of the Year. Photo courtesy of CASC

Fort Beauséjour Peated Single Malt Whisky from Distillerie Fils de Roy in Petit-Paquetville, on New Brunswick’s Acadian coast, achieved the highest score of any spirit entered in the Canadian Artisan Spirit Competition (CASC) this year. It is the the 2023 Canadian Artisan Spirit of the Year and the first Canadian Whisky to win the award. “We’re thrilled that our eastern artisan distilleries are receiving some well-deserved praise,” CASC founder Alex Hamer said in a news release.

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On Point

B.C.’s Shelter Point Distillery becomes the first Canadian bottling by the prestigious Scotch Malt Whisky Society.

152.1, also known as “Vibrant and Vigorous,” is the first SMWS bottling from a Canadian distillery. SMWS photo

During the Victoria Whisky Festival on January 20, the Canadian chapter of Scotland’s Scotch Malt Whisky Society (SMWS) unveiled a new bottling, 152.1, also known by the name Vibrant and Vigorous. The “.1” identifies the first-ever bottling from a new-to-SMWS distillery, and the Society identifies whiskies only by number and their often-fanciful house names, because each whisky is a single cask bottled at house strength, and may be a unicorn that doesn’t align with the distillery’s house style.

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A B.C. Artisan Whisky is Named Canada’s Best

For the first time in its 13-year history, the 2023 Canadian Whisky Awards have named a B.C. craft bottling the best whisky in Canada.

Sons of Vancouver’s Palm Trees & a Tropical Breeze was named Canadian Whisky of the Year at the 2023 Canadian Whisky Awards. Supplied photo

At the Canadian Whisky Awards on January 19, Palm Trees & A Tropical Breeze from the North Vancouver-based Sons of Vancouver won top Canadian Whisky of the Year honours. It was also named Canadian Whisky of the Year, Artisan Producers; Barrel Finished Whisky of the Year; and All-Rye Whisky of the Year.

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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). 

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