Hive & Soul

Bar Susu’s Hive & Soul cocktail. Sarah Annand photo

Bar Susu’s “briny Martini” cocktail, created by Joe Casson, rides a perfectly seasoned knife edge of sweet and savoury, and is called “Hive & Soul” because of the live element of the fermented honey. Note that it should be served in a “super-cute vintage coupe.”

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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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B.C. Spirits Gift Guide: 2021 Edition

Start your festive shopping now.

Photo courtesy of Okanagan Spirits

In a holiday season with some international supply-chain blips, shop local—and shop soon!—for B.C. small-batch spirts holiday gifts. Limited-edition and seasonal items sell out fast, so if you happen to miss out this season, get on e-newsletter lists or follow distilleries on social media to watch for the next drop, and be very nice (not naughty) until next year. Many items from last holiday season are bound to be available again, so check out last year’s guide, too.

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Accolades for Ampersand

The Cowichan Valley distillery wows the world with its handcrafted spirits

This year, the World Gin Awards awarded the distillery’s flagship Ampersand Gin “Canada’s Best Classic Gin.” Supplied photo

Vancouver Island’s Cowichan Valley may seem far away from just about everywhere, but that doesn’t mean the world isn’t taking notice. That’s thanks to an artisanal distillery named Ampersand Distilling Co., which is scooping up all sorts of awards for its carefully handcrafted spirits.

Earlier this year, for instance, the World Gin Awards awarded the distillery’s flagship Ampersand Gin “Canada’s Best Classic Gin.” It’s been made since 2014 from B.C.-grown wheat, eight botanicals and fresh spring water from the five-acre farm owned and operated by the Schacht family, Stephen and Ramona, their son Jeremy and his wife Jessica.

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Ampersand 50/50 Martini

Ampersand Distilling’s 50/50 Martini. Supplied photo

As the author of a forthcoming book on essential cocktails, Ampersand co-founder Jessica Schacht recommends this sophisticated classic to make the most of the distillery’s award-winning spirits.

1.5 oz Ampersand Gin

1.5 oz Imperative Dry Vermouth

Garnish: lemon twist

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Four’s the charm: Results of the 2021 Canadian Artisan Spirits Competition

For the fourth year in a row, a B.C. craft spirit has won the Canadian Artisan Spirit Competition: raise a toast to Vancouver Island’s Ampersand Distilling, makers of Nocino!

Ampersand Distilling Company’s Nocino! is the Canadian Artisan Spirit of the year for 2021. Supplied photo

The Canadian Artisan Spirit of the Year is the Nocino! from Ampersand Distilling Company on Vancouver Island. Founded by the Schacht clan, Ampersand operates from a Duncan-area farm, using stills that were designed and built by father and son Stephen and Jeremy; Jessica Schact is instrumental in product development; and Ramona Froehle-Schact manages the farm and more—a true family affair.

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Demystifying vermouth

The Alchemist tasting panel samples the fortified, aromatized elixir

Vermouth ranges from palest straw to deep ruby red, with flavours to match. Dan Toulgoet photo

Vermouth is not just an essential ingredient in many cocktails, it is already a cocktail, a wine fortified with spirits and flavoured with herbs, spices and other botanicals. And it’s enjoying a major comeback right now.

Five of Vancouver’s top bartenders gathered on a rainy afternoon at Tableau Bar Bistro to taste this beguiling product: Sabrine Dhaliwal, bar manager of Juke Fried Chicken and Beetbox; Adam Domet, bar manager at Pourhouse; J-S Dupuis, beverage director of Wentworth Hospitality; Robyn Gray of Elisa Steakhouse; and Katie Ingram, bar manager at Elisa Steakhouse.

They all love vermouth. “It’s rich in flavour and lower in alcohol,” Ingram said. “And we’re all flavour junkies. So we get that fix of citrus and bitterness and everything you’re looking for.” Besides, with prices as low as $12 for a litre bottle, vermouth is also a complete bargain.

The panel tasted 16 local and international vermouths. Here’s what they had to say.

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Bitter & sweet

Why you should be drinking vermouth made in B.C.

At MARKET at the Shangri-la Hotel in Vancouver, head bartender Gianluigi Bosco makes his own house-aromatized and fortified wines. Leila Kwok photo

More than 200 years ago, wine drinkers in Turin and Marseille started adding bittering and flavouring botanicals to wine fortified with spirit, to make an entirely new drink. The styles they created—a sweeter, reddish-brown style in Italy and a drier white-wine version in France—are iconic today, and collectively known as vermouth, a term that comes from the root word for wormwood, which is synonymous in many languages with “bitter.”

Now enjoying a renaissance thanks to cocktail mixology and the Spanish-driven trend for sipping them solo or as a spritz, vermouths should have a place on your back bar. (Actually, in your fridge, where a red vermouth will stay fresh for several months, and white vermouth for several weeks after opening.) Here are three new and three favourite B.C. bottlings to try.

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