B.C.’s craft distillers breathe new life into an old spirit
Over the last few decades, brandy has developed a branding problem. Not the Brandy who rose to fame with hits like The Boy is Mine in the late 1990s; rather, the once-venerable tipple that today is often seen as old fashioned, dull and enjoyed exclusively by the elderly.
Perhaps you’ve had it before in your grandma’s flamed Christmas pudding, drunk an occasional Sidecar at a hip cocktail spot or heard a reference to it in a Drake or Megan Thee Stallion song.
But outside of Cognac—a sub-category of brandy that has been embraced and promoted by the rap community—brandy has not been an intuitive or even conscious choice for most Gen Xers, millennials or Gen Zers.
Despite its waning popularity, there seems to be a trend emerging in British Columbia that just might clutch brandy out of the doldrums and back en vogue. Whether coincidental or created through circumstance, a number of B.C. wineries, cideries and distilleries have recently released their own small-batch, terroir-driven brandies—and they’re good, really good.
Named after the Gene Hackman film of the same name, this two-ingredient cocktail is easy to make and pairs wonderfully with dessert.
2 oz Maple Leaf Spirits Lady of the Cask brandy
0.75 oz Sons of Vancouver Amaretto
Garnish: lemon zest
A B.C. spirit comes out on top for the fifth consecutive year in the Canadian Artisan Spirit Competition: cheers to DEVINE Distillery’s Ancient Grains, also the Best in Class Young Whisky.
The grains may be ancient, but a globally unique, made-in-B.C. whisky is making modern history: Ancient Grains from DEVINE Distillery in Saanich is the Canadian Artisan Spirit of the Year 2022.
The top-scoring spirit across every category of the national competition, Ancient Grains is also the Best in Class Young Whisky for the third time (so classified because it matures for less than three years, which is the minimum requirement for labelling as “Canadian Whisky”). The whisky was originally created by master distiller Ken Winchester in 2017, using B.C.-grown heritage barley, einkorn, emmer, spelt and kamut, and matured in smaller quarter-casks.
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 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.
With 34 distilleries under one roof, the fourth annual BC Distilled festival offered a bounty of booze.
Maple Leaf Spirits turns fallen fruit into liqueur
Do you want to see the only way to shoot a bird?” asks Jorg Engel, owner of Maple Leaf Spirits, soon after we meet at his Okanagan distillery. I’m there with my daughter, Maya, and Engel is showing us the birds and chickens in the enclosure next to his tasting room.
I stare and my daughter’s eyes bug. Engel has a small green bird sitting on his finger and I’m wondering if I should cover Maya’s eyes. “Watch this,” he says, smiling gently. Without further ado, he cocks his finger like a gun at the little bird and quietly says, “Bam!” The bird swings and hangs upside down from Engel’s finger. A brief second of silence and then we burst into (slightly relieved) laughter. The bird is right side up again and chirping happily, obviously in on the joke.
Originally from Germany, and now based in the Okanagan, Jorg Engel has created a range of fruit-based liqueurs, brandies and grappas, produced from distilling 100 per cent B.C. fruit.
948 Naramata Rd., Penticton
Read more about Maple Leaf Spirits:
• Lady of the Cask Brandy
• Canadian Kirsch
• Pear Williams
• Italian Prune Scnapps
• Wild Apple Brandy
• Skinny Pinot Noir
• Maple Liqueur
• Cherry Liqueur
• Pear Liqueur
• Peach Liqueur
FRAGRANCE: Ripe cherries.
FLAVOUR: Maple, cherries—as advertised.
FEEL: Coats the palate, silky.
FINISH: Warm and pleasant.
BEST ENJOYED: Chilled, neat. Or as a substitute for Cherry Heering in a Blood and Sand.
THE BOTTOM LINE: Pretty pricey, but delicious and well made with good ingredients. —Josh Pape, April 2016
FRAGRANCE: Stone fruit, custard, vanilla, slightly hot.
FLAVOUR: Butterscotch, maple, smoky vanilla.
FEEL: Thin, in a good way for a liqueur.
FINISH: Balanced, with pleasant maple.
BEST ENJOYED: Over ice cream!
THE BOTTOM LINE: Great product and a cool little place to visit. —Shaun Layton, July 2016
FRAGRANCE: Fresh Pear.
FLAVOUR: Sweet pear eau de vie.
FEEL: Quite viscous and round.
FINISH: Long and lingering pear finish.
BEST ENJOYED: On its own straight up as an eau de vie, could also work as a great liqueur for creative cocktails.
THE BOTTOM LINE: Don’t let the cheesy packaging fool you. This is a very well made liqueur. –Wendy McGuinness, October 2016
Lady of the Cask Brandy
FRAGRANCE: Cocoa nibs, vanilla. More Scotch than Cognac.
FLAVOUR: Round and spicy.
FEEL: Hot, edgy, dry.
FINISH: Sweet first, then savoury.
BEST ENJOYED: As a Sidecar. Or maybe a Sazerac.
THE BOTTOM LINE: Fairly abrasive neat, but it makes a good cocktail. –Josh Pape, February 2017
FRAGRANCE: Fuzzy peach candies.
FLAVOUR: All peach with some tangy notes.
FEEL: Mouth coating. Syrupy texture. Not overly sweet.
FINISH: Peach sticks around for some time.
BEST ENJOYED: Neat for dessert. Very positive substitution for commercial brands.
THE BOTTOM LINE: Nice for dessert, great as a modifier when needing a peach liqueur for a cocktail. —Trevor Kallies, October 2017