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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A spirited selection at the BC Distilled 2019 Audience Favourites Awards

Odd Society’s Prospector Rye Whisky was voted the audience-favourite whisky at BC Distilled. Gail Nugent photo

They came, they sipped, they chose their favourites, ranging from a delicately herbal absinthe to a boldly spiced rye whisky.

Some 600 people descended on the Croatian Cultural Centre on April 6 for the sixth annual BC Distilled festival, highlighting the best of the province’s artisan spirits. Some 180 spirits from 39 distilleries were poured over two tastings, and at the end of it all, the audience voted for their favourites in 13 categories.

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Monashee Ethos Gin for the Win

Triticale could be the craft-spirit buzzword of 2019, thanks to the B.C. winner that tops the 2019 Canadian Artisan Spirit Competition, with six other B.C. distilleries winning best-in-class honours.

Revelstoke’s Monashee Spirits won the Canadian Artisan Spirit of the Year award for their Ethos Gin. Marissa Tiel/Revelstoke Review photo

For the second year in a row, a B.C. small-batch spirit is the Canadian Artisan Spirit of the Year. Monashee Spirits Ethos Gin from Revelstoke was not only the best-in-class Canadian gin, but scored highest of any entry in the entire competition. (Last year, Sheringham Distillery’s Akvavit from Vancouver Island claimed that honour.) And B.C. distilleries swept bragging rights in the whisky categories, showing promising maturity in our young industry.

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