Geraniol Gin Cosmo

Geraniol Gin Cosmo. Nick Halim photo

Recipe from Stillhead Distillery, created by Mitch Poirier and reprinted with permission from The BC Spirits Cocktail Book by Shawn Soole.

• 3 snap peas

• 1.75 oz Stillhead London Dry Gin

• 0.25 oz Arbutus Limoncello

• 0.5 oz cranberry cordial

• 0.5 oz lemon juice

• 1 dash of Ms. Better’s Black Pepper Cardamom Bitters

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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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Return of the green fairy

The spirit that supposedly drove a generation of French artists mad is back in B.C., where distillers are reinventing absinthe

The traditional way to serve absinthe is by filling a fountain like this one at Botanist with ice water, then dripping it through a sugar cube on a spoon into the spirit, where it creates the cloudy effect known as the louche. Dan Toulgoet photo

It’s all fun and games until someone loses an ear. Vincent Van Gogh’s escapades might have delivered the final cut to the fashionable, anise-flavoured spirit absinthe, invented in Switzerland in the late 18th century and favoured by Belle Époque bohemians. Seen as highly addictive and dangerous, it was banned in the U.S. and much of Europe for nearly a century, until 2007.

Likely the poor quality or high-proof base spirit—not the relatively small amount of hallucogenic thujone, naturally found in absinthe’s bittering agent, wormwood (Artemesia absinthium)—was responsible for absinthe-attributed naughtiness. But its reputation as the bad boy of the spirits world persists, as does its role in cocktails, particularly of the French-influenced New Orleans school, such as the Sazerac, Corpse Reviver No. 2 and La Louisiane.

Here are five local absinthes to try, from newcomers to B.C.’s standard-bearers.

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Bohemian Mule

Jakub Janco photo

At Arbutus Distillery, they use their own house-made ginger beer, but any good commercial one would work as well.

• 1 oz Baba Yaga Absinthe
0.5 oz fresh lime juice
• Ginger beer

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Ginned up

The evolution of terroir-driven made-in-B.C. gin

Some of the botanicals used to make gin; juniper, in the centre, is the only one that is absolutely essential. istockphoto.com photo

When news arrived that Sooke’s Sheringham Distillery had scooped Best Contemporary Gin in the World at the prestigious World Gin Awards, I, like so many others, was truly thrilled. After all, what an achievement for the relatively neophyte distillery perched on Canada’s wild and westernmost edge.

But there was also a personal connection, as the awards were judged at London’s Honourable Artillery Company, right across from where I used to stay at my Uncle Ricky’s apartment.

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Locovore libations

Island-to-glass cocktails rule the bar at Olo

The concept of “farm-to-table” isn’t new for B.C. restaurants. What’s served from behind the wood is now also joining the sustainable locavore movement for a more complete offering. Brad Holmes, owner and executive chef at Olo in Victoria, has long been a vocal proponent of this movement, and his cocktail program reflects that. “Our whole restaurant is seasonal; the menu changes with what’s available on any given day and season. I always wanted to bring that to the bar. And now, with all of the great gins and vermouths and other local products, we can offer something that was grown in B.C., produced in B.C. and served in B.C.”

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Arbutus Distillery

Head distiller Michael Pizzitelli brings both a background in science and his experience in brewing to Arbutus Distillery’s ever-growing range of botanical-forward spirits.

1890 Boxwood Rd., Nanaimo
250-714-0027

Arbutus-Distillery.com

Read more about Arbutus Distilliery:

Return of the green fairy: The spirit that supposedly drove a generation of French artists mad is back in B.C., where distillers are reinventing absinthe

Recipe: Bohemian Mule

Ginned up: The evolution of terroir-driven made-in-B.C. gin


PRODUCTS:

• Coven Vodka
• Owl’s Screech Vodka
• Empiric Gin
• Blue Gin
• Forest Dweller Gin
• Baba Yaga Absinthe
• Grand Visco Brandy
• Vanilla Liqueur
• Birch Liqueur
• Lavender Liqueur
• Amaro
• Canadian Single Malt Whisky


TASTING NOTES:


Coven Vodka

FRAGRANCE: Very little alcohol vapour, mild caramel and vanilla.
FLAVOUR: Dark caramel, toast.
FEEL: Creamy.
FINISH: Long finish of dark toast and caramel.
BEST ENJOYED: Martini or mixed drinks.
THE BOTTOM LINE: With the strong vanilla caramel notes, citrus isn’t the way to go with this one. I’d be interested to see it in an Espresso Martini. 
—Trevor Kallies, July 2016


Juniperus Lupulus

FRAGRANCE: Forest and wood.
FLAVOUR: Extremely rustic.
FEEL: Quite soft.
FINISH: Slight sweetness on the finish.
BEST ENJOYED: Not your usual gin. Could add a rustic twist to a Negroni or work well for a Dirty Martini.
THE BOTTOM LINE: Very unusual and unexpected. The wet hops and aged oak add really intense flavours some may find overpowering in a gin.
 —Wendy McGuinness, October 2016


Espresso Infused Vodka

FRAGRANCE: Coffee! Roasted beans. 
FLAVOUR: Not overly sweet. Tastes like cold brew.
FEEL: Better than other products — less thick/rich/cloying.
FINISH: Pleasant. Some sugar but not out of control.
BEST ENJOYED: Really cold. Maybe over ice, but dilution isn’t necessary.
THE BOTTOM LINE: Excellent product. If you want an espresso-flavoured spirit, this is worth a shot. —Josh Pape, February 2017


Baba Yaga Genuine Absinthe

FRAGRANCE: Fennel, licorice, citrus.
FLAVOUR: Dash of water, fresh citrus and tons of anise.
FEEL: Medium to full body.
FINISH: Long, hot, super delicious.
BEST ENJOYED: Neat or with a dash of water. A fantastic rinse for your Sazerac.
THE BOTTOM LINE: A very enjoyable absinthe. But be careful! –Scott Barber, June 2017


Empiric Gin

FRAGRANCE: Full of juniper and lemony citrus aromas.
FLAVOUR: Lemon with a touch of coriander, moving into juniper.
FEEL: Thin, slightly oily. Some heat on the back end.
FINISH: All juniper with the other botanicals taking a step back.
BEST ENJOYED: Some playful Gin & Tonic opportunities here.
THE BOTTOM LINE: Not a bad addition to the gin shelf. —Trevor Kallies, October 2017