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.
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.
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.
The Alchemist’s tasting panel revels in the complexities of made-in-B.C. amaros, vermouths and aperitifs
Consider them the supporting actors of the cocktail world: complex, helpful and a little bitter. Vermouths, aperitifs and amaros are typically fortified wines—though some are sweet enough to be considered liqueurs—flavoured with botanicals such as citrus peel, spices, roots and herbs. They typically have a somewhat bitter profile, hence the name “amaro,” which means bitter in Italian.
It takes a sophisticated palate to appreciate a good bitter drink, so not too surprisingly, Vancouver bartenders were eager to sample the best of B.C. amaros. We sat down with Alex Black of Tableau Bar Bistro, Amber Bruce of The Keefer Bar, cocktail consultant Sabrine Dhaliwal, Robyn Gray of the Rosewood Hotel Georgia and The Botanist’s Jeff Savage to get at the bitter truth.
It’s back to the future with de Vine’s Ancient Grains
It’s been a minute since we’ve had to worry about those pesky little things called grades, but for distillers like Saanichton’s de Vine Wines & Spirits, report card day still comes around each year with the release of Jim Murray’s Whisky Bible and the reviews and scores therein.
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.
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.
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.
It can take years before brown spirits get to market. Here’s how B.C. distilleries keep their businesses liquid in the meantime
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.
We asked some top B.C. bartenders which bottle of local spirits they would put on their Christmas list
Lead Bartender, L’Abattoir Restaurant
I’d pick Okanagan Spirits Laird of Fintry Single Malt Whisky. It is a Scotch-style single malt made with 100 per cent B.C. malted barley using French and American oak, and finished in Okanagan wine barrels. The nose is unbelievable with plum, vanilla, raisins, berries, poached pears, nuts, and classic oak characteristics that continue on the palate. It has a dry finish with a hint of sweet vanilla and baking spices. I would make a twist on a Rob Roy — a Rodney’s Roy — with 2 oz. Laird of Fintry,
0.3 oz. Noilly Prat Rouge,
0.3 oz. Noilly Prat Ambre and two dashes Bittered Sling Cascade Celery Bitters.
Peter Van de Reep
Bar Manager, Upstairs at Campagnolo
Odd Society Bittersweet Vermouth, please. This is a wonderful example of the new style of vermouth being produced in North America: bitter, herbaceous and very complex, with a dominant tree bark and citrus peel character. It’s very versatile in cocktails and delicious on its own. I’d whip up a Mile Zero, a dark and brooding cocktail, perfect for a cold, rainy Vancouver night: 1 oz. Bulleit Rye, 1 oz. Odd Society Bittersweet Vermouth, 0.75 oz. Luxardo Amaro Abano. Stir all ingredients with ice, strain into a cocktail glass. Garnish with an orange twist.
Bar Manager, Boulevard Kitchen & Oyster Bar
Queensborough Small Batch Dry Gin from Central City Brewers & Distillers. I love its crispness, balanced juniper, light citrus notes and spruce tip flavour. It’s a great Pacific Northwest gin. If it’s in my stocking, I will definitely be making a Gibson Wet Martini —one of my all time favourite cocktails. I like a Wet Martini only if the gin is strong and flavourful enough to stand up to the vermouth and Queensborough fits the bill. Come Christmas, I will share a few of these with my wife, while wearing my favourite sweater, and with my big dogs by my side.
Bar Manager, West Restaurant
Sons of Vancouver No. 82 Amaretto. I’ve got a bit of a sweet tooth and it is by far the best amaretto I’ve ever tried. Excellently balanced with the flavors of vanilla bean, orange peel and blackberry honey. I’m almost finished my test bottle so it would be great to find another in my Christmas stocking. I’ve found it pairs incredibly well with a smoky scotch. So, I created The Godfather of Vancouver, a take on the classic Godfather cocktail, using Sons of Vancouver Amaretto, 10-year-old Ardbeg, 10-year-old Glenmorangie, and a lemon twist to finish. It’s my new favorite thing!
Bar Manager, Forage
I’ll take The Woods Spirit Co. Amaro, because they love local like we love local here at Forage, and it’s a spirit that is super user-friendly in cocktails. I’d make a Forage Negroni: 1.5 oz. Sheringham Seaside Gin, 1 oz. The Woods Spirit Co. Amaro, and 0.5 oz. Odd Society Bittersweet Vermouth. You can’t get more local than that!
Bar Manager, OLO Restaurant, Victoria
It would have been a bottle of de Vine’s Glen Saanich Single Malt, but as it’s sold out, I’ll have to wait until next Christmas. Meanwhile, I’ll happily settle for a bottle of their Moderna Vermouth. It’s a great example of the direction B.C. distilling is going, utilizing local ingredients and being creative with Old World recipes. I’d go with a Christmas Morning B.C. Martinez, with equal parts Legend Distilling Black Moon smoked rosemary gin and Moderna Vermouth, a splash of Okanagan Spirits Maraschino Liqueur, and a dash or two of Bittered Sling Moondog Bitters.
Head Bartender, Juniper Restaurant & Bar
I would like a bottle of Sheringham Seaside Gin because I love the delicious briny notes that come from the winged sea kelp, one of its key botanicals. I used to go surfing near where the distillery is located on Vancouver Island, so those coastal flavours evoke fond memories for me. My first drink would be the Islander G&T we serve at Juniper: 1.5 oz. Sheringham Seaside Gin, a dash of Bittered Sling Cascade Celery Bitters and Fever Tree Indian Tonic Water.