B.C. Spirits Gift Guide: 2021 Edition

Start your festive shopping now.

Photo courtesy of Okanagan Spirits

In a holiday season with some international supply-chain blips, shop local—and shop soon!—for B.C. small-batch spirts holiday gifts. Limited-edition and seasonal items sell out fast, so if you happen to miss out this season, get on e-newsletter lists or follow distilleries on social media to watch for the next drop, and be very nice (not naughty) until next year. Many items from last holiday season are bound to be available again, so check out last year’s guide, too.

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BC Distilled and Artisan Distilleries Partner for PADS Fundraiser

Proceeds from special bottles to benefit Pacific Assistance Dogs Society

Pacific Assistance Dogs Society (PADS) breeds, raises and trains fully certified assistance dogs for individuals with mobility and hearing disabilities and PTSD. Photo courtesy of PADS

BC Distilled—Canada’s largest spirits festival devoted exclusively to local artisan distilleries—remains on hiatus until 2022. But in the meantime, its organizers have partnered with five of the province’s top artisan distilleries to benefit a cause that has long been dear to their hearts.

Beginning Saturday, May 15, and for one month only, five limited-edition spirits will be made available exclusively from each participating distillery. $45 from each bottle sale will go directly to Pacific Assistance Dogs Society (PADS), which breeds, raises and trains fully certified assistance dogs for individuals with mobility and hearing disabilities and PTSD.

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The spirit whisperer

B.C. craft spirits pioneer Frank Deiter is taking on the world

Master distiller Frank Deiter has gone from founding Okanagan Spirits in Vernon to travelling the world as a consultant and instructor.
Photo courtesy of Frank Deiter

Frank Deiter is a man on a mission.

As the founder of Okanagan Spirits in 2004, Deiter charted the pioneering distillery’s early successes before leaving in 2011 to pursue other ventures. These days he works with Mueller Pot Stills, representing what is widely recognized as one of Germany’s leading still manufacturers across North America. He also maintains a hands-on presence throughout the craft-distilling industry as an independent consultant and instructor.

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Citrus Breeze

Gianluigi Bosco’s Citrus Breeze. Leila Kwok photo

This refreshing spritz recipe by Gianluigi Bosco, head bartender at MARKET at the Shangri-la Hotel, uses a vermouth you can make yourself.

• 3 oz Citrus Wine (recipe below)
• 0.25 oz melissa and peppermint hydrosols (see note)
• 2 dashes citric acid, available at gourmet stores
• Soda water, to taste
• Orange zest and mint, for garnish

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Collaboration nation

B.C.’s small-batch distillers are getting crafty with their foodie, wine and beer neighbours

Shelter Point Distillery partnered with Vancouver Island Salt Co. to create this barrel-smoked sea salt. Supplied photo

It was about two years ago when my love for Odd Society’s Wallflower Barrel-Aged Gin was uniquely reciprocated: the Ode to Wallflower pale ale mated Powell Street Craft Brewery’s Ode to Citra beer with the distillery’s former gin-aging barrels, created a summer love child of a beer. It was so popular, Odd Society barrel-sharing collaborations with Storm Brewing, Strange Fellows, Coal Harbour Brewing and Steamworks followed. 

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Say hi to rye

The Alchemist tasting panel samples Canadian and American rye spirits

The lineup included both American and Canadian whiskies, as well as unaged rye spirit. Dan Toulgoet photo

Our bartender tasting panel is never short of opinions, but no other spirit has ignited passion the way rye whisky did. Maybe because it’s our national spirit (sort of). Or maybe it’s just because bold flavours inspire bold statements.

Seven of Vancouver’s top bartenders gathered on a rainy afternoon at Homer Street Café for the tasting panel: Alex Black, bartender and mental health advocate; J-S Dupuis, beverage director of Wentworth Hospitality; Robyn Gray of the Rosewood Hotel Georgia; Katie Ingram, bar manager at Elisa Steakhouse; Grant Sceney, Fairmont Pacific Rim; and, from Homer Street Café, Rob Scope and David Wolowidnyk.

They loved the sweet spice and rich, bold flavour of the rye. But they differed on whether Canadian or American is better, and whether it has to be 100 per cent rye or can be a blend of grains. And they admitted that as much as they love rye, it’s a hard sell to consumers, many of whom are unfamiliar with it and prefer the simple sweetness of bourbon.

The panel tasted 12 rye-based spirits. Here’s what they had to say.

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Return of the green fairy

The spirit that supposedly drove a generation of French artists mad is back in B.C., where distillers are reinventing absinthe

The traditional way to serve absinthe is by filling a fountain like this one at Botanist with ice water, then dripping it through a sugar cube on a spoon into the spirit, where it creates the cloudy effect known as the louche. Dan Toulgoet photo

It’s all fun and games until someone loses an ear. Vincent Van Gogh’s escapades might have delivered the final cut to the fashionable, anise-flavoured spirit absinthe, invented in Switzerland in the late 18th century and favoured by Belle Époque bohemians. Seen as highly addictive and dangerous, it was banned in the U.S. and much of Europe for nearly a century, until 2007.

Likely the poor quality or high-proof base spirit—not the relatively small amount of hallucogenic thujone, naturally found in absinthe’s bittering agent, wormwood (Artemesia absinthium)—was responsible for absinthe-attributed naughtiness. But its reputation as the bad boy of the spirits world persists, as does its role in cocktails, particularly of the French-influenced New Orleans school, such as the Sazerac, Corpse Reviver No. 2 and La Louisiane.

Here are five local absinthes to try, from newcomers to B.C.’s standard-bearers.

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Absinthe Mojito

Jeremie Dyck photo

Okanagan Spirits’ anise-flavoured take on the Cuban classic.

• 1 oz freshly squeezed lime juice
• 1 tbsp sugar
• 6 mint leaves
• 1 oz Taboo Absinthe
• 1 cup crushed ice
• Sparkling water
• Garnish: 1 lime wheel

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At RauDZ, gin is in

Raudz Gin. Supplied photo

At RauDZ Creative Concepts, it’s not just about farm to table, but farm to glass. That’s why the Kelowna-based restaurant company has just launched its own craft gin, The Whole Truth, made by Okanagan Spirits and flavoured with locally grown botanicals.

It was inspired by The Truth, a variation on the G&T featured at RauDZ Regional Table on opening day a decade ago, back in spring 2009. The gin has plenty of refreshing cucumber and floral aromas, as well as the citrusy notes of mock orange, a native B.C. shrub that was foraged by Tyler Dyck, the CEO of Okanagan Spirits, at nearby Poplar Point.

The gin is available exclusively at RauDZ Regional Table, micro bar & bites, Sunny’s Modern Diner, and Terrafina at Hester Creek by RauDZ.