Nuts for inclusive vodka

Canada’s first out-and-proud 2SLGBTQIA+ owned and operated brand is becoming Squirrel Friendz with cocktail fans in B.C. and beyond

Squirrel Friendz isn’t just a spirit brand; it also promotes inclusivity and community, often by hosting drag events. Photo courtesy of Squirrel Friendz

It all started with a night out at a casino, after which Kyle Aszalos woke up with what he thought could be a million-dollar idea. “Cocktail kits!” he said to his partner, Jeremy Fischer. That pivoted to producing their own spirits to put in the kits, and “then we scrapped the kits,” Fischer laughs.

The co-founders of Squirrel Friendz vodka are celebrating the brand’s one-year anniversary this summer, with entry into BC Liquor Stores in May and a bold, colourful presence on many private-store shelves and back bars. “We went with vodka because it’s the quickest to get to market,” Aszalos says of sourcing the crisp spirit, in all-natural flavours with no added sugar, from commercial distillery Orchard City Distilling Co. in West Kelowna. Quick was important, because it meant they could quickly start making a difference.

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A Japanese whisky pilgrimage

Taste the 90-year legacy of Nikka Whisky at these essential stops

Yoichi, Japan, is in many ways similar to Scotland, which is why Masataka Taketsuru chose it as the site for the Nikka Whisky distillery. Photo courtesy of Nikka Whisky

In most parts of the world, the whisky made there (or the brandy, vodka, rum…) is the result of what grows and thrives in a particular place. The century-old Japanese whisky industry is entirely unique: It’s based on one person’s DNA, and his global quest for whisky excellence.

The grandfather of Japanese whisky founded two of its most famous labels more than 100 years ago: Suntory, in 1923; and Nikka, in 1934. In Nikka’s 90th anniversary year, the brand invited a select group of whisky-philes to trace its founder’s path across Japan. Here’s a taste of Nikka whisk-tory.

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Baijiu’s moment

Or is it? This soaringly popular Chinese spirit is as loathed as it is loved

Baijiu, a Chinese spirit made from sorghum, is tapped to be the next big thing. Some say it already is. Getty Images photo

There are a few spirits that are often called the “next big thing,” but, for whatever reason, never seem to quite make it to the major league.

Rakia, aquavit and even rum are all often pegged as promising new future “it” spirits. After you hear their names thrown around for a decade or so, though, it starts to make sense to take the trend forecasters with a grain of salt.

These days, an oft-cited “one to watch” is baijiu, a spirit from China with a lot of different personalities that a few prominent bars are going all in on. The most notable are Laowai in Vancouver and Toronto’s Hong Shing, both of which have built a cocktail program around baijiu. In addition, several bars and restaurants in Toronto feature baijiu in cocktails or straight up, including Chinatown’s Big Trouble and the acclaimed restaurants MIMI Chinese and Sunnys Chinese.

Montreal’s Poincaré Chinatown also sells a Baijiu Caipirinha and there’s an entire venue in Edmonton named Baijiu—although it’s worth noting that they only currently have one cocktail with this divisive spirit on the menu, the Baijiu Sour.

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The flowing bowl

When it comes to cocktails, bigger is better and way more social

Rule of 8 Punch Bowl at Toronto’s Dasha. Photo courtesy of Dasha

My early memories of punch are from college parties—party drinks cobbled together from curious arrays of cheap spirits mixed with saccharine juices and sodas and ladled from whatever vessel was large enough to quench the crowd. A mixing bowl in the best of times, a plastic trash can in the worst.

Nevertheless, we’d gather around, clink glasses and share stories over the ever-flowing bowl.

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Sipping Winnipeg

The Prairie city is developing a cool cocktail scene. Here’s where to enjoy the best sips in town.

Langside Grocery is a cosy neighbourhood joint—and a destination well worth seeking out.
Photo courtesy of Langside Grocery

From the early days of the European fur trade to the current craft brewing boom, Winnipeg has been a beer city through and through. Fortunately for those who love a bone-dry Daiquiri or a proper Porn Star Martini mixed with local vodka, the craft cocktail scene is catching up. The city might only boast only a handful of bars where you can lose yourself in a superbly executed drink, but they are all fabulous in their own ways.

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A whisky lovers’ road trip

New transnational trail showcases world-class single malts from the Pacific Northwest

On the Vancouver Island leg of the trail, sippers can discover drams from Goldstream, Macaloney’s and Shelter Point distilleries. Reece Sims photo

Whisky enthusiasts have a new reason to raise a glass with the launch of the Northwest Whiskey Trail. The trail, which takes visitors on a journey to some of the best single malt distilleries in the Pacific Northwest, is set to become a must-visit destination for both locals and tourists alike.

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Mmmargaritas

Our favourite summer cocktail offers the perfect canvas for artful variations

The Coconut and Mint Margarita from Monarca. Nora Hamade photo

The Margarita is a splash of happiness, the quintessential summer cocktail and one of the most popular drinks in the world. Whether you like it frozen or on the rocks, in a pre-dinner coupette, a plastic cup poolside or poured from a pitcher, it’s a classic that hits all the right notes with the bitterness of tequila, the tartness of fresh lime, the sweetness of orange liqueur and the salt, which heightens all the flavours. 

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Five craft colas to mix in your next cocktail

These cola brands give the popular soda an artisanal remake

Colas originated as medicinal beverages, but are now just sweet refreshers. Getty Images photo

Think of cola and you likely think of Coke, Pepsi and the rivalry between them. 

The two beverages were initially developed by pharmacists as patent medicines—one to aid digestion (Pepsi), the other as nerve tonic (Coke)—but today they are simply sweet, carbonated beverages with flavours of vanilla, citrus and spice, especially cinnamon. 

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The brandy re-brand

B.C.’s craft distillers breathe new life into an old spirit

A number of B.C. wineries, cideries and distilleries have recently released small-batch, terroir-driven brandies—and they’re good, really good. Reece Sims photo

Over the last few decades, brandy has developed a branding problem. Not the Brandy who rose to fame with hits like The Boy is Mine in the late 1990s; rather, the once-venerable tipple that today is often seen as old fashioned, dull and enjoyed exclusively by the elderly.

Perhaps you’ve had it before in your grandma’s flamed Christmas pudding, drunk an occasional Sidecar at a hip cocktail spot or heard a reference to it in a Drake or Megan Thee Stallion song. 

But outside of Cognac—a sub-category of brandy that has been embraced and promoted by the rap community—brandy has not been an intuitive or even conscious choice for most Gen Xers, millennials or Gen Zers.

Despite its waning popularity, there seems to be a trend emerging in British Columbia that just might clutch brandy out of the doldrums and back en vogue. Whether coincidental or created through circumstance, a number of B.C. wineries, cideries and distilleries have recently released their own small-batch, terroir-driven brandies—and they’re good, really good.

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Sipping Whistler

Wild Blue is just the latest establishment to offer exceptional cocktails at the mountain resort

The new Wild Blue Restaurant + Bar serves Pacific Northwest fare and globally inspired cocktails. Photo courtesy of Wild Blue

Mention Whistler, and powder-packed bowls, emerald glades and sweeping vistas likely pop to mind. But these days the resort town’s dining scene is just as much of a draw as its stunning scenery—and alongside it is a cocktail culture snowballing as fast as the 7th Heaven Express. 

From Bearfoot Bistro’s nitro-infused Martinis and Araxi’s Firecracker Margarita to Il Caminetto’s Negroni vault and Alta Bistro’s oak-barrel-aged cocktails, Whistler takes its drink-making seriously. Now the ante has just gone up with the recent opening of Wild Blue Restaurant + Bar. 

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