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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Spirit of Victoria

12 great places to get a drink in the Vancouver Island city

The B.C. Parliament Buildings are the centrepiece of Victoria’s vibrant Inner Harbour. Tourism Victoria photo

You could say that Matt Cooke has distilled the spirit of Victoria into his cocktails. The general manager at OLO Restaurant transforms Vancouver Island spirits and local produce into the kind of creatively food-friendly sippers that complement chef-owner Brad Holmes’ fresh comfort food so well. There’s often whisky or gin—Victorians love the smoky and botanical flavours of the British Isles—and a subtle nod to the classics. At the same time, Cooke conjures flavours that are completely new, and often made from scratch.

And he’s not alone. Despite its relatively small size, with a population about an eighth of Vancouver’s, Victoria has a vibrant cocktail scene that makes it truly a great place to get a drink, especially at these 12 watering holes.

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A shift out of neutral

The Alchemist’s tasting panel samples B.C. vodkas for a taste of the province’s most crowd-pleasing spirit

The lineup of vodkas tasted by the panel reflected a range of flavours from clean and neutral to surprisingly lush, fruity, bold and intense. Dan Toulgoet photo

Nazdarovya! With the FIFA World Cup kicking off this month in Russia, our thoughts have turned to vodka. (That and Neymar’s incredible comeback, of course.)

Vodka is often described as a “colourless, odourless, flavourless” spirit, but its clean subtlety is sometimes just what we crave. And so we asked our Alchemist tasting panel comprising some of Vancouver’s top bartenders—Olivia Povarchook of Vij’s Restaurant, Katie Ingram of Toptable Group and Josh Pape of Gooseneck Hospitality (Wildebeest, Bells and Whistles, Bufala, Lucky Taco)—to sample eight artisanal B.C. vodkas, share their thoughts and suggest cocktails to make with them.

Here’s what they had to say.

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B.C.’s most spirited festival

Clear your schedule for the BC Distilled festival.

Jeff Grayston photo

BC Distilled is the biggest artisan and micro-distillery event in Canada and a must for anyone interested in spirits and cocktails. It is April 14 at the Croatian Cultural Centre, with a trade tasting from 2 to 4:30 pm followed by the public event, 6 to 9 pm.

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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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Tell Me What You Will

Shawn Soole’s Tell Me What You Will showcases locally distilled products. Shawn Soole photo.

Showcasing local ingredients in a classic style. 

• 50ml Merridale Whisky Jack
• 20ml Odd Society Bitter Sweet Vermouth
• 10ml Merridale Apple Cider Brandy
• Dash of Bittered Sling Suius Cherry Bitters

Stir all ingredients and strain into a small coupe glass. Garnish with a lemon twist.

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Whisky Galore!

B.C.’s fledgling industry prepares for a bright future

Whisky is set to be the next boom in B.C. spirits. Thinkstock photo.

After just five years in business, British Columbia’s distillers have already confronted some mighty challenges. For one, it takes years of practice to make a quality product. Plus, craft liquor is expensive—not only for consumers at the till but for makers at the still.

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Merridale Craft Distillery

This Vancouver Island cider business applied their traditional fruit focus to distilling, creating a range that includes gin, fruit brandies, a rested whiskey and even a carbonated vodka.

PO Box 358, 1230 Merridale Rd., Cobble Hill

Read more about Merridale Craft Spirits:

A shift out of neutral: The Alchemist’s tasting panel samples B.C. vodkas for a taste of the province’s most crowd-pleasing spirit

Recipe: Tell Me What You Will


• Cowichan Gin
• Cowichan Copper Gin
• Cowichan Vodka
• Cowichan XXO Brandy
• Cowichan Rhumb
• Cowichan Spiced Rhumb
• Whisky Jack’s
• Cowichan Pear Brandy
• Cowichan Cider Brandy
• Oaked Harvest Fortified Cider
• Apple Dessert Fortified Cider


Cowichan Copper Gin

FRAGRANCE: Little hot, pear and apple on the nose.
FLAVOUR: Honeyed licorice, orchard fruit, slight caramel.
FEEL: Silky mouthfeel.
FINISH: Coriander and peppered bitter finish.
BEST ENJOYED: In a Martinez.
THE BOTTOM LINE: Very unique product, mix in stirred drinks. —Shaun Layton, April 2016

Cowichan Vodka

FRAGRANCE: Green apple and citrus, hints of floral notes.
FLAVOUR: Fresh attack, light and bright eau de vie.
FEEL: Cool clean apple.
FINISH: Coriander and peppered bitter finish.
BEST ENJOYED: Great over ice, or chilled neat. A great light choice for cocktails.
THE BOTTOM LINE: A delicious eau de vie, not necessarily for the hard line vodka drinker. Think outside the box and you will not be let down. —Wendy McGuinness, July 2016

Cowichan Cognac Style Brandy

FRAGRANCE: Cooked fruit and baking spice.
FLAVOUR: Warm mulled wine. Playful spices throughout.
FEEL: A lot of alcohol warmth.
FINISH: Finishes with some spiced brandy notes. Warmth carries through due to 47 per cent ABV.
BEST ENJOYED: After dinner or with chocolate.
THE BOTTOM LINE: Decent take on the iconic spirit. —Trevor Kallies, October 2016

Stair’s Pear Brandy

FRAGRANCE: Brilliant fresh pear nose.
FLAVOUR: Pear skin, almond and vanilla.
FEEL: Rich and deep.
FINISH: Long lasting fresh pear.
BEST ENJOYED: Neat at room temp.
THE BOTTOM LINE: A fine brandy with excellent fresh pear aroma and flavor. A great digestif. Aged six years. —Robyn Gray, February 2017

Cowichan Gin

FRAGRANCE: Mild apple and citrus aroma.
FLAVOUR: Slightly sweet with a botanical background. Definitely do not notice the 47 per cent ABV. 
FEEL: Almost viscous. Very pleasant. 
FINISH: Long and enjoyable. Orchard fruit shines through.
BEST ENJOYED: Long with soda or very cold over ice. Could be interesting as a sour. 
THE BOTTOM LINE: Fun gin showcasing the prowess and opportunity of foraged ingredients. —Trevor Kallies, July 2017