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.
Where B.C. was once a major barrel producer, today distillers are scrambling to find casks
There’s a spot on the Seawall of Vancouver’s northeast False Creek that should be a pilgrimage—or maybe mourning grounds—for B.C. whisky fans. Under the Cambie Bridge in Coopers’ Park, a plaque marks where the Sweeney Cooperage set up shop in 1889, becoming an important international manufacturer of wooden barrels. It closed in 1981, three decades too early for the current demand from B.C. distillers.
It’s not even available for sale yet, but already Christos Kalaitzis’ new bitters line is reaping the kind of recognition a crafty bartender could only dream of.
Bitters by Christos, created by the spirits brand ambassador and mixologist for Central City Brewers & Distillers, just took home not one, not two, but three double gold awards at the prestigious San Diego Spirits Festival, the premiere West Coast celebration of spirits and cocktails. (Central City’s Lohin McKinnon Peated Whisky also won double gold.)
• 1.5 oz Queensborough Gin
• 0.5 oz dry vermouth
• 0.5 oz maple syrup
• 2 dashes aromatic bitters
• 5 fresh blueberries
• 3 lime wedges
• 1 mint sprig
• Tonic water
Add bitters, blueberries and limes into the glass and muddle them. Add Queensborough gin and dry vermouth and stir. Add ice cubes and top up with tonic. Add some crushed ice to the top of the glass and garnish with some blueberries and mint.
The Alchemist’s tasting panel searches for the best B.C. gin to enjoy with your tonic
Now that spring has finally sprung, we’re craving lighter sprits and fresher flavours. In other words, we’re craving gin, especially when it’s mixed with tonic water.
Our tasting panel comprising some of Vancouver’s top bartenders—Max Borrowman of Juniper Kitchen & Bar; Amber Bruce of The Keefer Bar; J-S Dupuis of Wentworth Hospitality (Tableau Bar Bistro, Homer St. Café); and Josh Pape of Gooseneck Hospitality (Wildebeest, Bells and Whistles, Bufala, Lucky Taco)—sampled nine B.C. artisanal gins, suggested the best cocktails to make with them, and then mixed them with tonic water to determine which worked best.
Central City Brewers & Distillers. Byron Smith/Tank Five photo.
Goodridge & Williams Craft Distillers. Byron Smith/Tank Five photo.
Victoria Caledonian Distillery. Byron Smith/Tank Five photo.
Okanagan Spirits Craft Distillery. Byron Smith/Tank Five photo.
Tailored Spirits. Byron Smith/Tank Five photo.
Old Order Distilling Co. Byron Smith/Tank Five photo.
The 101 Brewhouse + Distillery. Byron Smith/Tank Five photo.
After Dark Disillery. Byron Smith/Tank Five photo.
Shelter Point Distillery. Byron Smith/Tank Five photo.
Gillespie's Fine Spirits. Byron Smith/Tank Five photo.
Resurrection Spirits. Byron Smith/Tank Five photo.
Pacific Rim Distilling. Byron Smith/Tank Five photo.
Phillips Soda Works. Byron Smith/Tank Five photo.
Phillips Fermentorium Distilling Co. Byron Smith/Tank Five photo.
Salt Spring Shine Craft Distillery. Byron Smith/Tank Five photo.
Victoria Distillers. Byron Smith/Tank Five photo.
Lucid Spirits. Byron Smith/Tank Five photo.
Stillhead Distillery. Byron Smith/Tank Five photo.
Rootside Provisions. Byron Smith/Tank Five photo.
Tumbleweed Spirits. Byron Smith/Tank Five photo.
The Woods Spirit Company. Byron Smith/Tank Five photo.
The Alchemist publisher Gail Nugent with B.C. Distilled founder Alex Hamer. Byron Smith/Tank Five photo.
Mixers and Elixers. Byron Smith/Tank Five photo.
Legend Distilling. Byron Smith/Tank Five photo.
Long Table Distillery. Byron Smith/Tank Five photo.
Yaletown Distilling Co. Byron Smith/Tank Five photo.
Spirits were high at the fifth annual BC Distilled festival at the Croatian Cultural Centre in Vancouver on April 14, which brought together 40 artisan distilleries from around the province, including a dozen new distilleries that have opened in the last year.
Distillery tasting rooms are some of the hottest cocktail bars in B.C. Here are a few to try in the Vancouver area.
Distillery visits aren’t just for spirits geeks—although staff (even the distillers) are usually keen to tour guests through the production line. Even micro-distilleries now offer flights, cocktails and tastings, some spiked with snacks or entertainment. More reasons to visit: You can buy bottles right from the source, including seasonal and limited releases, only-at-the-distillery products (such as collaborations with local brewers or food producers) and even cocktail accoutrements. Since many distillery tasting rooms are small, family-run affairs, call ahead or check social media for hours, especially if your group is more than a few or would like a tour.
The Rob Roy was created in 1894 at Manhattan’s Waldorf Astoria; at Central City, bartender Christos Kalaitzis created this salty-sweet version that won the Canadian Art of the Cocktail competition in 2017.
INGREDIENTS: • 1 oz Lohin Mckinnon single malt • 1 oz sweet vermouth • 0.5 oz salted caramel sauce (see recipe below) • 2 dashes rosemary bitters • Garnish: Orange zest
Sheringham Akvavit named Canadian Artisan Spirit of the Year
One hundred and seventy-five. That’s a lot of spirits to taste, especially when they range from akvavit to amaro to apple brandy.
But throughout December 2017, that just what I and seven other spirits experts from coast to coast did, sniffing, swirling, sipping and occasionally spitting, as we judged the inaugural Canadian Artisan Spirits Awards.