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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Collaboration nation

B.C.’s small-batch distillers are getting crafty with their foodie, wine and beer neighbours

Shelter Point Distillery partnered with Vancouver Island Salt Co. to create this barrel-smoked sea salt. Supplied photo

It was about two years ago when my love for Odd Society’s Wallflower Barrel-Aged Gin was uniquely reciprocated: the Ode to Wallflower pale ale mated Powell Street Craft Brewery’s Ode to Citra beer with the distillery’s former gin-aging barrels, created a summer love child of a beer. It was so popular, Odd Society barrel-sharing collaborations with Storm Brewing, Strange Fellows, Coal Harbour Brewing and Steamworks followed. 

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Raise a glass to World Gin Day

We can’t imagine a better reason to celebrate (responsibly, of course) than this: June 8 is World Gin Day, and all over the world, people are raising a glass to the juniper-scented spirit.

Photo courtesy of Ampersand Distilling

The first World Gin Day was held a decade ago in Birmingham, England; last year saw events in 30 countries, with 200 million people participating on social channels. This year, dozens of gin-soaked events are being held everywhere from London to Tokyo to Sydney and perhaps to your own back yard.

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