Dangerous drinks

10 things not to do at home—or anywhere, according to CocktailSafe’s Camper English

Writer Camper English, the San-Francisco-based founder of Alcademics, created cocktailsafe.org when he saw the risky techniques being used by some bartenders. Bastian Bochinski photo

The Roof is on Fire! That was the name of a dangerous-drinks seminar that San Francisco writer Camper English (of alcademics.com fame) and Bittermens co-founder Avery Glasser gave in 2016 at Tales of the Cocktail. Their warnings on potentially dangerous bartending ingredients, equipment and techniques were so eye-opening, English later nabbed a grant to develop cocktailsafe.org, a geekily helpful website packed with deeply researched information and resources.

“Bartenders on Facebook were chatting a lot about potentially dangerous drinks … and I thought it would be useful to put all this information, and a lot more, in one place as a reference to bartenders everywhere,” he says.

Here are his top 10 red flags for home mixologists—and pros, too.

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Unleaded: the Best Alcohol-free Drinks of 2021

Let’s retire the mocktails and let these placebo drinks, “nocktails” and free-spirited bottles happily get you through Dry-uary

A huge range of non-alcoholic spirits and other drinks are increasingly easy to find in Canada, since non-boozy drinks can ship almost anywhere. Sobrii photo

This year could be peak Sober Curious: just check out the new booze-free vending machine at Larry’s Market in the Shipyards, featuring mickeys of Solbru booze-free spirit and cans of Sober Carpenter and Partake near-beer in slots that recently held healthy salads and takeout—proof that Dry-uary is a full-blown lifestyle trend.

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Power Tools

Shake and mix like a pro with this starter list of essential bar gear

Essential tools include jiggers, barspoons, muddlers and strainers—and these days they come in a variety of finishes such as stainless steel, rose gold and gunmetal. Fifth & Vermouth photo

Ask a pro bartender for their must-haves, and the answer might be practical: bar mops (a cheap pack of these thin, absorbent white towels is smart, even for home) and pens. However, the essentials below look more aspirational on your home bar cart: always chic in stainless steel, they’re especially envy-inspiring in on-point finishes from gold and rose gold to gunmetal and matte black. (For a roundup of additional tools for the advanced bartending pro, read here.)

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Big Flavours, Little Packages

B.C.’s small-batch distillers got crafty in this season, releasing new bottled cocktails, gift packs, special editions and other little goodies—from vermouth to liqueur—ideal for stuffing stockings, or treating yourself to new tastes.

Odd Society’s Joel McNichol with the distillery’s collection of limited edition brewery collab whiskies. Katharine Manson photo

Cocktail lovers have a whole back-bar of B.C. craft cocktails and spirits to taste this holiday season. Mini-bottle sets are a hot commodity: Shelter Point’s 12 Days of Christmas advent calendar sold out, direct from the distillery, in hours. More common are spirit trios, which you can break apart into three little presents, or sample without investing in full-size bottles. Sheringham’s gin trios sell out at Legacy Liquor Store, where Remy Letendre, the buyer for the extensive B.C. craft spirits section, says, “This year, I was excited to see a few brands take part in the ‘tri-pack’ Christmas selection. I think it’s a great way for these craft distilleries to get people to try a wider range of products. The early success of the Esquimalt vermouth tri-pack just shows how people are willing to branch out … for home bartending.”

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Zero-sum game

Don’t call them mocktails: #spiritfree and #placebo drinks are a growing wellness trend

Lumette! alt-gin from Sheringham Distilleries.

It gathered speed last year with Sober October before the holiday rush. After ringing in 2020, the trend was undeniable: #Dryuary was in full swing on social media and in the bars and living rooms of the nation, as the so-called sober curious or mindful drinking movement reached a new level of maturity.

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Female spirit

Meet some of B.C.’s women distillers, a group so small it begs the question: Why are there still so few?

Shelly Heppner, founder and distiller of Bespoke Spirit House in Parksville. Photo by Dayman-Langen Photography

March 8, 2020, likely passed in a blur for Shelly Heppner. Around International Women’s Day, she was firing up her brand-new stills to produce Virtue Vodka and Jezebel Gin at Bespoke Spirit House in Parksville, which received its distilling green light in February. “Gin is such a vixen! I do want to have a couple of different gins that will have female-oriented names,” says Heppner, who also plans to make small-batch eaux-de-vie from Vancouver Island fruit.

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A Scotch like no other

As an independent bottler, Andrew Laing is “bringing something else to the party”—unique bottlings of rare whiskies and other spirits

Andrew Laing is the export director of Hunter Laing, one of Scotland’s finest independent bottlers. Supplied photo

Take an Islay journey with Andrew Laing.

The glass of Scotch he pours has a vegetal, almost mezcal-like scent, with whiffs of salty, mineral sea and fishy kelp and a distinctly ashy after taste. It’s a blended malt representing the vivid flavours of five of the finest distilleries what is perhaps the most coveted of Scotland’s whisky-producing regions. And it’s exactly the kind of exquisite, unique bottling in which his family’s company specializes.

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Island time

For the third year in a row a B.C. distillery has won the Canadian Artisan Spirit of the Year—and for the second time, it’s Sheringham Distillery on Vancouver Island.

Sheringham Distillery’s Kazuki Gin won 2020 Canadian Artisan Spirit of the Year. Supplied photo

The best artisan spirit in Canada for 2020 is a Japanese-inspired gin, delicately flavoured with cherry blossom and yuzu, which was also awarded Best in Class spirit in the Contemporary Gin category. Though its name and inspiration may sound exotic, Kazuki Gin, made in Sooke on Vancouver Island, won Excellence in Terroir for its use of local ingredients that evoke a stylistic sense of place, like the only grown-in-Canada green tea (and green tea blossoms), from at the Island’s Westholme Tea Company. The hat trick of CASC awards this year joins a growing list of accolades for the Sooke distillery founded by Jason and Alayne MacIsaac, which also won Canadian Artisan Spirit of the Year in 2018, for its Akvavit.

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A decade of great Canadian whisky

B.C. distillers scored big at the 10th annual Canadian Whisky Awards in Victoria last night.

The BC winners at the Canadian Whisky Awards included (from left to right): Grant Stevely of Dubh Glas Distillery, Kevin Titcomb and Ken Winchester of De Vine Spirits, Terence Fitzgerald and Jason MacIsaac of Sheringham Distillery, and Leon Webb and Jacob Wiebe from Shelter Point Distillery. Charlene Rooke photo

At a gala awards ceremony celebrating 10 years, the 2020 Canadian Whisky Awards recognized famous whiskies and big achievements of the past decade, while giving kudos to small-batch innovations from artisan distilleries, including four from B.C.

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