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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Canada’s best artisan spirits announced

Sheringham Akvavit named Canadian Artisan Spirit of the Year

B.C., which is home to almost 45 per cent of Canada’s artisan distilleries, took home the greatest number of awards, including the Artisan Spirit of the Year: Sheringham Distillery Akvavit. Lucy-Kate Armstrong photo

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.

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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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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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Through the grapevine

How a vintner became one of B.C.’s leading distillers

Room with a view: deVine’s distillery looks out at Mount Baker. Supplied photo

Though his reputation preceded him, I first met Ken Winchester, fittingly, in a winery. Back in 2005 he was growing grapes and making wine at Vancouver Island’s only certified organic vineyard, at Saanich Peninsula’s Barking Dog Winery. Welcoming, travelled, and unpretentiously smart, he became a quick and easy friend, and was an early advocate for drinking and supporting local.

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De Vine Spirits

This Saanich-based distillery is proud to use local fruits, honey and grains in their spirits. Also a winery, they use their own grapes as the base for their Vin Gin.

6181B Old West Saanich Rd., Saanichton
250-665-6983
DevineVineyards.ca


PRODUCTS:

• Sitka Vodka
• Vin Gin
• New Tom Barrel-Aged Gin
• Genever Gin
• Honey Shine Beekeeper’s Reserve
• Pomme Barrel-Aged Apple Brandy
• Black Ram Blackberry Brandy
• Moderna Vermouth


TASTING NOTES:


Honey Shine Beekeeper’s Reserve

FRAGRANCE: Waxy, floral notes.
FLAVOUR: Vanilla, marzipan.
FEEL: Thinner than expected, still pleasant.
FINISH: Slightly bitter, spice, honey sweetness still comes through.
BEST ENJOYED: Bees Knees Cocktail.
THE BOTTOM LINE: Good buy for an interesting B.C. spirit. —Shaun Layton, April 2016


Vin Gin

FRAGRANCE: Citrus and spice.
FLAVOUR: Juniper forward, spice.
FEEL: Clean and crisp.
FINISH: Sweet lemon.
BEST ENJOYED: In a Pegu Club cocktail.
THE BOTTOM LINE: At 45 per cent ABV it allows the botanicals to shine in balance with a fruity sweet backbone of grape spirit made of Pinot Noir and Gruner Vetlinger. —Robyn Gray, July 2016


Moderna Vermouth

FRAGRANCE: Dark stone fruit, baked plums, vanilla.
FLAVOUR: Fruit forward up front, leading to bitter clove and citrus peels.
FEEL: A little thin for a vermouth of this complexity.
FINISH: Bitterness and clove stays around forever.
BEST ENJOYED: Makes a great Americano.
THE BOTTOM LINE: Not bad for a B.C. vermouth; the Italians have been doing it for hundreds of years. —Shaun Layton, February 2017


Genever Gin

FRAGRANCE: Pungent, green cardamom, toasted spice.
FLAVOUR: Fennel, cardamom, clove.
FEEL: Not subtle.
FINISH: Dry and hot.
BEST ENJOYED: As a bold Gin & Tonic. Or find a Rembrandt recipe with dry vermouth and Drambuie.
THE BOTTOM LINE: A fun cocktail ingredient. —Josh Pape, July 2017