Big Flavours, Little Packages

B.C.’s small-batch distillers got crafty in this season, releasing new bottled cocktails, gift packs, special editions and other little goodies—from vermouth to liqueur—ideal for stuffing stockings, or treating yourself to new tastes.

Odd Society’s Joel McNichol with the distillery’s collection of limited edition brewery collab whiskies. Katharine Manson photo

Cocktail lovers have a whole back-bar of B.C. craft cocktails and spirits to taste this holiday season. Mini-bottle sets are a hot commodity: Shelter Point’s 12 Days of Christmas advent calendar sold out, direct from the distillery, in hours. More common are spirit trios, which you can break apart into three little presents, or sample without investing in full-size bottles. Sheringham’s gin trios sell out at Legacy Liquor Store, where Remy Letendre, the buyer for the extensive B.C. craft spirits section, says, “This year, I was excited to see a few brands take part in the ‘tri-pack’ Christmas selection. I think it’s a great way for these craft distilleries to get people to try a wider range of products. The early success of the Esquimalt vermouth tri-pack just shows how people are willing to branch out … for home bartending.”

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Roll out the barrel

Where B.C. was once a major barrel producer, today distillers are scrambling to find casks

Whisky and barrels at Legend Distilling in Naramata. Jason Lehoux photo

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.

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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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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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Legend Distilling

In a former doctor’s office on the Naramata Bench, Dawn and Doug Lennie created Legend together, drawing on the local bounty of the Okanagan for the base and flavours of their gin and vodkas.

3005 Naramata Rd., Naramata
778-514-1010
LegendDistilling.com


PRODUCTS:

• Doctor’s Orders Gin
• Shadow in the Lake Vodka
• Black Moon Gin
• Slowpoke Farmberry
• Blasted Brew Spiked Coffee
• Slowpoke Sour Cherry
• Manitou Orange and Sumac Liqueur
• Naramaro


TASTING NOTES:


Doctor’s Orders Gin

FRAGRANCE: Slightly funky, tropical fruit.
FLAVOUR: Apples in the botanical mix add a bright freshness, floral notes.
FEEL: Nice mouthfeel.
FINISH: Floral, with slight bitterness.
BEST ENJOYED: In mixed cocktails, a Bramble perhaps.
THE BOTTOM LINE: Nice mixing gin, great packaging. —Shaun Layton, April 2016


Shadow in the Lake Vodka

FRAGRANCE: Alcohol, pepper.
FLAVOUR: Hot, spice.
FEEL: Lean up front.
FINISH: Dry, lingering heat.
BEST ENJOYED: In a Moscow Mule.
THE BOTTOM LINE: More of a mixer than a sipper. —Josh Pape, July 2016


Manitou Orange & Sumac Liqueur

FRAGRANCE: Fresh mandarin peel.
FLAVOUR: Slight sweetness that is packed with fresh mandarin and a light finish of sumac.  
FEEL: Light.
FINISH: The mandarin lingers on the back palate.
BEST ENJOYED: A good substitute for Cointreau or Triple Sec.
THE BOTTOM LINE: A lovely liqueur that packs a citrus punch with a touch of spice.  —Wendy McGuinness, October 2016


Black Moon Gin

FRAGRANCE: Familiar gin notes with a background of savoury aromatic rosemary.
FLAVOUR: Soft and savoury with both the juniper and herbs shining. 
FEEL: Oily in a good way with slight front-of-mouth tingle. 
FINISH: Long and herbal. Juniper and pine stays around. 
BEST ENJOYED: Would make for a fun cocktail gin with riffs on Gimlets and Collins coming first to mind.
THE BOTTOM LINE: A fun gin to play with. —Trevor Kallies, February 2017


Blasted Brew Spiked Coffee

FRAGRANCE: Fresh, sweet, roasted coffee bean.
FLAVOUR: Well integrated, sweet yet reserved coffee flavour. 
FEEL: Mouth-coating and viscous.
FINISH: Long-lasting sweet toffee and coffee.
BEST ENJOYED: In an Espresso Martini.
THE BOTTOM LINE: A well-suited substitute in coffee liqueur-based cocktails. —Robyn Gray, July 2017


Naramaro

FRAGRANCE: Cream soda. Candied citrus.
FLAVOUR: Citrus, gentian, licorice. In that order. 
FEEL: Sweet and bitter battling it out on your palate.
FINISH: Long. Sweet but dry.
BEST ENJOYED: Neat after a big meal. Maybe over vanilla ice cream or even added to an affogato.
THE BOTTOM LINE: More citrusy than most amari. Worth a shot. —Josh Pape, October 2017