Distant distilleries

The challenges and benefits of making spirits in rural regions

Because shipping to Hornby is so expensive, Island Spirits distiller Pete Kimmerly transported his shiny new still himself. Tim Pawsey photo

What’s the flip side of the urban winery? That’ll be the rural distillery. Artisan distilling in British Columbia is on a roll, with some 60 distilleries in full operation, and at least a dozen more to open within the year (according to BC Distilled). While the Lower Mainland is home to many distilleries, there’s no shortage of them popping up in far-flung spots, from Shirley and Ucluelet to Wynndel and Wycliffe.

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It all comes out in the wash

Brewer-distillers have unique advantages over their still-only colleagues

Early visitors to Yaletown Distillery on Vancouver’s Hamilton Street may have tripped to—or rather, over—its connection to Yaletown Brewing, a block away. Originally, the fermented base for the spirits came through a hose in the sidewalk. “The wash comes through this pipe now,” says brewer-distiller Tariq Khan, pointing toward the ceiling.

That supply chain of fermented-grain wash is a key advantage of local businesses that make both beer and spirits, including relative newbies The 101 Brewhouse + Distillery in Gibsons and Moon Under Water in Victoria, as well as veterans like Deep Cove Brewers and Distillers in North Vancouver. Brewing on site guarantees a pipeline to so-called distiller’s beer, the essential raw material for making spirits.

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Spirit of wine country

The South Okanagan is a fruitful playground for distillers to innovate and collaborate

“Smile, there’s gin,” says the chalked sign. Perched on the Naramata Bench, with a sleek tasting room and sunny patio overlooking Okanagan Lake, Legend Distilling could be mistaken for a hip winery. But a taste of its Doctors Orders gin puts me firmly in the spirit world as I begin my quest to discover what unites the South Okanagan Distillery Trail, a handful of stops mapped on a passport-style stamp card.

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Bourbon and beyond

In conversation with Buffalo Trace master blender Drew Mayville

Buffalo Trace master blender Drew Mayville loves experimenting with bourbon and whisky. Supplied photo

It’s rare to find someone who describes their job as “fun,” and even less so if they’ve been in the same business for more than 38 years. But then not everyone has Drew Mayville’s job.

Mayville is the master blender at Buffalo Trace, the world’s most award-winning distillery. He was in Vancouver recently to chat about all things whisky and bourbon.

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Farm to Flask

Artisan distilling started a conversation about the terroir of spirits. But can you taste those uber-local ingredients in the bottle?

On the drive up to Saanichton from Victoria, hand-lettered signs for honey and free-range eggs compete with honour-system farm stands exchanging wildflowers, produce or jam for money stuffed in a can. When I arrive on an oceanside hilltop, Ken Winchester points out 25 acres of certified organic vineyards, maple and fruit trees and, farther in the distance, barley being farmed to his specs before it’s malted at Phillips Brewery in Victoria. “I’m also a beekeeper, among other things,” says the deVine winemaker and Bruichladdich-trained distiller, gesturing to the hives. He’s more than that: he’s a farm-to-flask disciple.

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Liquid Gold

It can take years before brown spirits get to market. Here’s how B.C. distilleries keep their businesses liquid in the meantime

Illustration by Tara Rafiq

Imagine you make widgets: finely crafted, artisan widgets. Customers pay more for vintage widgets, so there are laws around how old they have to be as well as their quality. You spend a couple of years building your factory with expensive, traditional widget-making equipment. You hire workers, pay for raw materials, power and utilities, and finally fill a warehouse with a bunch of bulky, heavy containers, then wait a few years before you can sell any of your exquisite stock at a premium price. In the meantime, you absorb labour and storage costs to maintain your inventory, which you lose a mysterious chunk of every year as some widgets slip through the cracks and just disappear into thin air.

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Meet Davin de Kergommeaux, Canada’s rye guy

Davin de Kergommeaux, author of the book Canadian Whisky: The New Portable Expert, published by Appetite by Random House. Photograph By Jen Steele for Appetite by Random House.

Davin de Kergommeaux and I are lounging in the oak-paneled sitting room of Willistead Manor in Windsor, Ont., ancestral home of the Hiram Walker family, sipping rye and, fittingly, talking about Canadian whisky.

“I’ve got a lot of single malt at home, but preferentially, I drink Canadian whisky,” says de Kergommeaux. “I like the rye spices in Canadian whisky. It’s flavourful, well-balanced and enjoyable.”

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Still life

The lure of copper is strong. But if you want to be a distiller, you’d better start saving — or get your DIY on

Here’s the thing: It could all blow. Not just your meticulous business plan, your local-grain supply chain or your retro-cool logo.

I mean the actual still. It could blow. Distilling is a high-stakes poker game of chemistry and engineering. Add pressure, heat and wayward puffs of highly explosive ethanol vapour and — well, more than one local distiller can show you scars.

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A matter of taste

At Sheringham Distillery, Jason MacIsaac brings a chef’s palate to the still

David McIlvride photo

Twenty-three years in kitchens taught Jason MacIsaac all about balance. Bitter versus sweet, savoury versus salty, weight versus intensity—key principles in creating harmonious foods. Now, as founder, owner, operator, distiller and, along with his wife Alayne, every other possible role at Vancouver Island’s Sheringham Distillery, MacIssac has transposed those culinary skills to the still.

“As a chef, studying flavour profiles was my career,” he reflects. “Balancing flavours has been a passion. Every chef can start with the same ingredients but have vastly different outcomes. The same goes for distilling.”

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