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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Rock & Rye: Resurrecting a distinctly Canadian spirit in Vancouver

As a Canadian distillery, Resurrection Spirits has taken ownership of a distinctly Canadian spirit: rye. Photo: Resurrection Spirits Inc./Facebook

There is an inescapable paradox at play in the notion of craft production. It is like the beloved local indie band that creates a hit single and then ends up filling stadiums on the next tour. “Sellouts!” we cry, too cool to support them now that they are popular. “It used to be about the music, man.”

Make something cool, people like it. Too many people like it, your thing is not cool anymore. It is a philosophical minefield that makes artisanship a tough gig.

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Bottled Up! with Brian Grant

Brian Grant. Laura Starr photo

Meet the incomparable Brian Grant. With 20 years in his back pocket in the bar industry, he can school you with stories of what he’s seen and done in and around the Downtown, Yaletown, and Gastown neighbourhoods of Vancouver. He can also school you in a boxing ring, as he is an absolutely beloved and revered coach at Eastside Boxing, and a big part of the annual boxing charity event, Aprons for Gloves. Intimidation need not apply though. In everything he does, Brian is engaging, patient, and inspiring, whether he’s yelling his pep talk in your corner during a boxing match, or pouring your favourite drink at his extremely cozy lounge in East Vancouver that doubles as his distillery for Resurrection Spirits. Starting from the bottom, he has crafted a life in this industry through perseverance and humanity, and he continues to give and give and give some more. A big cheers to this legendary Vancouverite!

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A barrel of fun

Private-cask whisky sales are a “futures” investment in B.C.’s small-batch distillers. Here’s how and why they do it.

istockphoto.com photo

They’re lined up like Papa, Mama and Baby Rye: 20-, 10- and five-litre mini-barrels, their ends embossed with the names of proud owners who, in eight weeks or so, get a crash course in craft spirits aging—and their own one-of-a-kind bottles of Custom Rye.

“We were kind of inspired by beer growlers,” says Brian Grant. He and Resurrection Spirits partner David Wolowidnyk charge customers once for the barrel ($150 to $350 depending on size), which they can pay the distillery to fill with white rye (or even gin) multiple times, at the bargain price of $37.50 a bottle. Vancouver’s Homer Street Grill and Unwind are among bar clients already serving their own private batches.

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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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Business in the back, party in the front

Distillery tasting rooms are some of the hottest cocktail bars in B.C. Here are a few to try in the Vancouver area.

The tasting room at Surrey’s Central City Brewers & Distillers is a welcoming space to sample spirits and enjoy a cocktail or two. Duncan Joseph photo.

Distillery visits aren’t just for spirits geeks—although staff (even the distillers) are usually keen to tour guests through the production line. Even micro-distilleries now offer flights, cocktails and tastings, some spiked with snacks or entertainment. More reasons to visit: You can buy bottles right from the source, including seasonal and limited releases, only-at-the-distillery products (such as collaborations with local brewers or food producers) and even cocktail accoutrements. Since many distillery tasting rooms are small, family-run affairs, call ahead or check social media for hours, especially if your group is more than a few or would like a tour.

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From vermouth to high volume: Cocktail trends for 2018

Some of Vancouver’s top bartenders give their thoughts on what’ll be hot next year

Glass straws will be seen more widely as bars strive toward more sustainable practices. The Last Straw Co. photo
Glass straws will be seen more widely as bars strive toward more sustainable practices. The Last Straw Co. photo

Raise your glass to the end of 2017, a year that brought us one disaster after another, from raging wildfires to the near-daily perp walk of sexual predators. Between all that and the inescapability of frosé, it’s a year we’re mostly happy to forget.

And so we look forward to 2018. We checked in with some of the city’s top bartenders to discover what’s shaking for the New Year.

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Resurrection Spirits arises in East Van

City’s newest craft distillery is focused on making ‘spirits for bartenders’

Resurrection Spirits co-owner Brian Grant got interested in distilling around a decade ago when, as a bartender, he couldn’t find the bitters he wanted and started making his own. Photo: Dan Toulgoet
Resurrection Spirits co-owner Brian Grant got interested in distilling around a decade ago when, as a bartender, he couldn’t find the bitters he wanted and started making his own. Photo: Dan Toulgoet

A new artisan distillery opening up in B.C. isn’t exactly news these days. There are already 51 of them around, with another 13 in the works and as many as 80 licences floating around out there, according to B.C. Distilled founder Alex Hamer.

What is news, though, is when that distillery is co-owned and operated by one of Vancouver’s best bartenders.

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Copper Harvest

Brian Grant's Copper Harvest. Photo: Dan Toulgoet
Brian Grant’s Copper Harvest. Photo: Dan Toulgoet

An elegant, spirit-forward cocktail created by Brian Grant, distiller and co-founder of Resurrection Spirits.

INGREDIENTS:
• 2 oz (60 mL) Resurrection Spirits White Rye
• 1 oz (30 mL) Carapano Antica Formula sweet vermouth
• 2 dashes orange bitters

METHOD:
Place all ingredients in a mixing glass with ice and stir well. Strain into a cocktail coupe. Finish with flamed orange peel oil and garnish with an Amarena cherry. Serves 1.

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