Meet Matt Hassen, an Okanagan-based slash Vancouver-raised bartender who is currently Bar Manager at the Sage Pub in Osoyoos. With almost two decades banked in the industry, Matt is a veteran by every standard, with footprints stamped in many hot Vancouver locales, and an even hotter print stamped in Nicaragua, where he helped design a bar for a Surf Hotel. It is Matt’s vigor that will melt you to pieces though, and not just because he is an animal rescue advocate who frequently fosters furry little kiddos. Matt has eternally stamped himself into the lives of everyone in our hospitality family through his courageous battle with kidney failure, and a transplant that came from a colleague-friend who is now like family. Now recovering in the Okanagan where he is closer to family, Matt is in full life mode as he relishes in the industry that had his back, spreading positive vibes and love, and keeping himself in the game through cocktail competitions and travel. Catch him while you can, because his 2021 life plan has him Jeep-bound all the way to Chile!
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.
Family-owned distillery crafts world-class spirits from homegrown harvests
With its extended growing seasons and miles of fruitful orchards and rolling vineyards, B.C.’s Okanagan Valley is known best as Canada’s wine country. The site of many a weekend winery tour and the occasional fruit stand pit stop, one can hardly say “Okanagan” without also uttering “wine.” A lesser thought of connection? Distilled spirits.
Canada’s first custom crush facility moves into spirits
When Okanagan Crush Pad opened in 2011, it was the first custom-crush facility of its kind in Canada. With a focus on showcasing the fresh minerality of local grapes, OCP allowed small growers to make and market their own wines. Since then, the facility has grown by leaps and bounds. “We’ve graduated about 12 different wineries and have our own two labels, Haywire and Narrative,” says Matt Dumayne, OCP’s chief winemaker. The famed concrete eggs that replaced the traditional oak barrels for aging have been so successful that the facility has now phased out oak and invested in even more of the space-shaped vats over more concrete tankings totaling 60,000 litres.
Now, Dumayne gets to add another title: that of chief distiller. “I’d done some distilling previously in New Zealand, which is the only country in the world where it’s legal to distill in your own home,” he laughs. “I’d played around with brandies and grappas, and other spirits.”
The turning point was when OCP started looking into making a fortified, port-style wine. “We wanted to use our own wine, instead of a grain-based spirit from elsewhere,” explains Dumayne. “We received our license last October, and started by bottling a brandy-style grape spirit, made from seven different varietals. Each varietal makes for a different flavour profile, so there was a lot of experimentation at first.”
The result is the first release under the winery’s Narrative label, Spirit of the Vineyard, a triple-distilled spirit with a clean, fresh profile. And, while Dumayne states that vodka is not in the plans, he’s quick to point out that Spirit of the Vineyard can be used as a substitute for vodka. “It’s clear and very pure,” he explains. Nor is that the only spirit that OCP is launching.
In November, barely a month after the license was granted, Dumayne was contacted by Vij’s Restaurant Group about creating a handcrafted gin to celebrate the launch of the new location on Cambie Street in Vancouver. “We worked very closely with Vikram, Jay Jones and Mike Bernardo to create something very distinctive. It was a rush, but we had it bottled and ready for the opening,” noted Dumayne.
The result was Vij’s Bolly Water, a London Dry-style gin, savoury and a little spicy, with hints of fennel and anise—both ingredients that are heavily used in Vij’s kitchens. And with Vij’s Bolly Water under its belt, OCP is now working on its own Narrative gin, called 12 Botanicals, which leans more toward the fresh, citrus-driven style.
As for the future, Dumayne is working on some longer-term projects. “I’m aging some grape spirit in old wine barrels. It’s all experimental at this point. It will be at least three to five years before we have anything, but we’re aiming for something lively and fresh, with subtle French oak notes.”
Okanagan Crush Pad, based in Summerland B.C., is open for tours, tastings and has a retail centre that offers their full line of spirits and wine. The winery is located on Switchback Organic Vineyard, home to roaming sheep, chickens and ducks.
THIS POST IS SPONSORED BY:
Okanagan Crush Pad,
16576 Fosbery Road, Summerland,
The Summerland winery makes two expressions of gin (one of them for Vij’s restaurant), and a grappa-style spirit.
16576 Fosbery Rd., Summerland
Read more about Okanagan Crush Pad:
• Harvest vine: Canada’s first custom crush facility moves into spirits
• Narrative Spirit of the Vineyard
• Narrative Twelve Botanicals Gin
• Vij’s Bolly Water Gin
Narrative Spirit of the Vineyard
FRAGRANCE: Fresh, white petals.
FLAVOUR: Pears, Gewurtztraminer.
FEEL: Lush, creamy, round.
FINISH: Dry with long pepper.
BEST ENJOYED: Neat, or subbed in for the vodka in a Vesper.
THE BOTTOM LINE: Approachable—for a grappa. —Josh Pape, April 2016
Narrative Twelve Botanicals Gin
FRAGRANCE: Raisin and orange peel.
FLAVOUR: Citrus and floral.
FEEL: Pronounced sweetness.
FINISH: White pepper spice.
BEST ENJOYED: In a gin Martini
THE BOTTOM LINE: Grape spirit gives a fruity backbone, chamomile and lemongrass really shine through. —Robyn Gray, July 2016
B.C.’s oldest craft distillery has made an international impact.
At the grand old age of 11, Okanagan Spirits is the oldest craft distillery in the province. That may make it a relative newbie on the international scene, but it hasn’t stopped the world from paying it serious attention.
Since its inception in 2004, the family-owned and operated Okanagan business has twice been named Distillery of the Year at the annual World Spirits Awards, and two years ago became the first and only one of its kind in North America to be given a “world class” rating.
A trip to France and an unplanned tour of a Cognac distillery put Mike Urban on the path to making his own liquor. He now owns the largest distillery in the province.
325 Bay Ave., #6, Kelowna
Read more about Urban Distilleries:
• Urban Legend: How one Okanagan man’s hobby became a serious business
• Paul’s Tomb Gin
• Spirit Bear Espresso Vodka
• Spirit Bear Gin
• Spirit Bear Naturally Infused Vodkas
• Spirit Bear Vodka
• Urban Single Malt Whisky
• White Bear Spirit
• Apricot Schnapps
• Blackberry Liqueur
• Blackcurrant Liqueur
• Blueberry Liqueur
• Cherry Liqueur
• Okanagan Muscat Grappa
• Sweet Mead Honey Wine
Spirit Bear Gin
FLAVOUR: Chamomile tea, more lavender.
FEEL: Very even; similar tone from start to finish.
FINISH: Long, really dry. Quite perfumed.
BEST ENJOYED: In an Aviation—hold the Creme de Violette.
THE BOTTOM LINE: Worth a try if you enjoy floral flavours. —Josh Pape, April 2016
Urban Single Malt Whisky
FRAGRANCE: Mild grain, sweetness with citrus and subtle grassy notes. Definitely some oak.
FLAVOUR: Vanilla, citrus and wood.
FEEL: Oily with a nice smoothness.
FINISH: Medium. The grain sticks around, the sweetness doesn’t.
BEST ENJOYED: Splash of ginger ale.
THE BOTTOM LINE: Released in 2011, decent for the first single malt style whisky produced in B.C. —Trevor Kallies, July 2016
FRAGRANCE: Grape jelly, port, sour cherry.
FLAVOUR: Welch’s Grape Fruit candy (in a good way).
FEEL: Sweet at first, with a burst of acidity.
FINISH: Tart, fruity, acidic.
BEST ENJOYED: In classic English cocktail, the Bramble.
THE BOTTOM LINE: Buy a bottle, it’ll last for a while. A little goes a long way. —Shaun Layton, October 2016
Spirit Bear Espresso Vodka
FRAGRANCE: Fresh brewed coffee.
FLAVOUR: Bitter cacao and coffee.
FEEL: Astringent and dry.
FINISH: Lasting coffee flavor.
BEST ENJOYED: As an Espresso Martini.
THE BOTTOM LINE: Locally roasted beans in Kelowna bring a dry style espresso-flavored vodka great for drinking on the rocks or in an Espresso Martini. —Robyn Gray, February 2017
Sweet Mead Honey Wine
FRAGRANCE: Honeysuckle, baked sweets.
FLAVOUR: Sweet, dry, nutty; orange blossom, orgeat, candied rose complemented by fall spice.
FEEL: Beautiful, silky sweet, yet not too syrupy. Riesling-like finesse.
FINISH: Slightly sweet, nutty, almost like an Amontillado sherry.
BEST ENJOYED: Solo in a small wine glass.
THE BOTTOM LINE: Phenomenal honey wine. Very versatile. Buy now. —Shaun Layton, October 2017
At their Penticton distillery, Graham Martens and Naomi Gabriel take barley from Vanderhoof, malt it in Armstrong, then distill it with spring water from Anarchist Mountain.
270 Martin St., Penticton
• Heritage Vodka
• Legacy Gin
• Genesis Whisky
• Blessed Bean Coffee Vanilla Liqueur
FRAGRANCE: Dill, licorice.
FLAVOUR: Anise heavy, funky fruit.
FINISH: Citrus and aniseed.
BEST ENJOYED: In a Corpse Reviver #2.
THE BOTTOM LINE: Mix with citrus and absinthe. —Shaun Layton, April 2016
Blessed Bean Coffee Vanilla Liqueur
FRAGRANCE: Raw vanilla; imagine opening a bag of vanilla bean pods.
FLAVOUR: Milk, vanilla and coffee. Almost a barista drink.
FEEL: Not as sticky as expected. Smooth and clean for a liqueur.
FINISH: Nice coffee bitterness at the back.
BEST ENJOYED: Great addition to coffee or latte, or on rocks as a decent after dinner option.
THE BOTTOM LINE: Very good alternative to commercial coffee liqueurs. —Trevor Kallies, July 2016
Black Goat Vodka
FRAGRANCE: Sweet, lightly toasted grains.
FLAVOUR: Vanilla, tropical fruits, white pepper.
FEEL: Silky and soft.
FINISH: Sweet, shorter.
BEST ENJOYED: As your favourite highball. But darker.
THE BOTTOM LINE: Bit gimmicky. If you want black vodka, go for it! —Josh Pape, October 2016
FLAVOUR: Some heat with a decent amount of grain.
FEEL: Innate creaminess.
FINISH: Touch of grainy smoothness.
BEST ENJOYED: Toss it in the freezer and drink it ice cold.
THE BOTTOM LINE: Wax dipped with no tab, so required a knife to open. They leave a decent amount of grain flavour in the distillate so it is enjoyable to drink! —Trevor Kallies, February 2017
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
• 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
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.
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
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
A family-owned award-winning distillery with a wide range of products to its name, including an absinthe, and both rye and single malt whiskies. Tours and tastings are available in both its locations.
5204 24th St., Vernon
267 Bernard Ave., Kelowna
250-549-3120 | 778-484-5174
Read more about Okanagan Spirits:
• Essential Vodka
• Family Reserve Vodka
• Essential Gin
• Family Reserve Gin
• BRBN Bourbon-Style Corn Whisky
• Rye Whisky
• Okanagan Shine
• Taboo Genuine Absinthe
• Kirsch Danube
• Old Italian Prune
• Poire Williams
• Raspberry Framboise
• Gewurztraminer Marc
• Pinot Noir Marc
• Blackberry Liqueur
• Blackcurrant Liqueur
• Blueberry Liqueur
• Cherry Liqueur
• Cranberry Liqueur
• Haskap Liqueur
• Raspberry Liqueur
• Rhubarb Liqueur
• Sea Buckthorn Liqueur
FRAGRANCE: Sweet, ripe Bartlett pears.
FLAVOUR: Fruity, with a great boozy backbone.
FEEL: Clean, loads of mid-palate.
FINISH: Austere, dry, lean.
BEST ENJOYED: Neat, after a big meal.
THE BOTTOM LINE: A delicious introductory digestif. —Josh Pape, April 2016
FRAGRANCE: Cherry pit, fruit rollups, rose petals.
FLAVOUR: Tart cherry pie.
FEEL: Beautifully thin and bright.
FINISH: Cherry skins, rose water.
BEST ENJOYED: Remember The Main cocktail.
THE BOTTOM LINE: Great product showcasing Okanagan fruit. —Shaun Layton, July 2016
FRAGRANCE: Sour cherry.
FLAVOUR: Sweet cherry with underlying almond.
FINISH: Relatively short.
BEST ENJOYED: In a Last Word cocktail.
THE BOTTOM LINE: Very excited to see this product. A popular ingredient in classic cocktail recipes, it is great to have a local iteration. —Robyn Gray, October 2016
Taboo Genuine Absinthe
FRAGRANCE: Refreshing hints of citrus from the lemon balm, pleasant fennel presence.
FLAVOUR: All the herbaceous notes you’d expect from absinthe.
FEEL: Great body, initial sensation of alcohol heat.
FINISH: Long, hot, delicious.
BEST ENJOYED: Neat.
THE BOTTOM LINE: Try it neat without the sugar cube or any water dilution. —Scott Barner, February 2017
FRAGRANCE: Certainly smells like a corn whisky. Has a sugary note as well.
FLAVOUR: Corn and oak, some mild vanilla on the front.
FEEL: Warm, slightly mouth coating.
FINISH: Corn sticks around, shadowed by the alcohol heat.
BEST ENJOYED: Good with some ginger ale and held up in an Old Fashioned.
THE BOTTOM LINE: Interesting taste for a Canadian take on “BRBN.” —Trevor Kallies, October 2017