A decade of great Canadian whisky

B.C. distillers scored big at the 10th annual Canadian Whisky Awards in Victoria last night.

The BC winners at the Canadian Whisky Awards included (from left to right): Grant Stevely of Dubh Glas Distillery, Kevin Titcomb and Ken Winchester of De Vine Spirits, Terence Fitzgerald and Jason MacIsaac of Sheringham Distillery, and Leon Webb and Jacob Wiebe from Shelter Point Distillery. Charlene Rooke photo

At a gala awards ceremony celebrating 10 years, the 2020 Canadian Whisky Awards recognized famous whiskies and big achievements of the past decade, while giving kudos to small-batch innovations from artisan distilleries, including four from B.C.

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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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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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Amour for amaro

The Alchemist’s tasting panel revels in the complexities of made-in-B.C. amaros, vermouths and aperitifs

The lineup (l to r): Long Table Distillery’s Linnaeus Amaro No. 1, de Vine’s Moderna Vermouth, The Woods Spirit Co’s Pacific Northwest Amaro, Goodrich and Williams’ Bitterhouse Rubato, Bitterhouse DaMan and Bitterhouse LaDame aperitifs, Legend Distilling’s Naramaro amaro, Odd Society’s Mia Amata amaro and Bittersweet Vermouth. Dan Toulgoet photo

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.

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Vancouver Island alt-whisky takes its place in Jim Murray’s Whisky Bible

 It’s back to the future with de Vine’s Ancient Grains

De Vine’s Ancient Grains recently scored a 91.5 in Jim Murray’s Whisky Bible. Tulle & Tweed Commercial Photography

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.

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Apple Flip

At Olo, the Apple Flip is served with a side of Julien Fremont Calvados to round out the apple experience. Byron Smith photo.

At Olo, the Apple Flip is served with a side of Julien Fremont Calvados to round out the apple experience. 

INGREDIENTS:
• 2oz House Spiced & Solera Aged Honey Shine ‘Rum’ by Devine Vineyards
• 0.5oz Sea Star ‘Prose’ Riesling & Apple Dessert Wine
• 0.5oz Apple & Shiso Syrup
• One whole egg
• Okanagan Spirits Taboo Absinthe Spritz

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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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BC Distilled 2018

De Vine Spirits. Byron Smith/Tank Five photo.

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.

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