A decade of great Canadian whisky

B.C. distillers scored big at the 10th annual Canadian Whisky Awards in Victoria last night.

The BC winners at the Canadian Whisky Awards included (from left to right): Grant Stevely of Dubh Glas Distillery, Kevin Titcomb and Ken Winchester of De Vine Spirits, Terence Fitzgerald and Jason MacIsaac of Sheringham Distillery, and Leon Webb and Jacob Wiebe from Shelter Point Distillery. Charlene Rooke photo

At a gala awards ceremony celebrating 10 years, the 2020 Canadian Whisky Awards recognized famous whiskies and big achievements of the past decade, while giving kudos to small-batch innovations from artisan distilleries, including four from B.C.

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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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Ginned up

The evolution of terroir-driven made-in-B.C. gin

Some of the botanicals used to make gin; juniper, in the centre, is the only one that is absolutely essential. istockphoto.com photo

When news arrived that Sooke’s Sheringham Distillery had scooped Best Contemporary Gin in the World at the prestigious World Gin Awards, I, like so many others, was truly thrilled. After all, what an achievement for the relatively neophyte distillery perched on Canada’s wild and westernmost edge.

But there was also a personal connection, as the awards were judged at London’s Honourable Artillery Company, right across from where I used to stay at my Uncle Ricky’s apartment.

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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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Farm to Flask

Artisan distilling started a conversation about the terroir of spirits. But can you taste those uber-local ingredients in the bottle?

On the drive up to Saanichton from Victoria, hand-lettered signs for honey and free-range eggs compete with honour-system farm stands exchanging wildflowers, produce or jam for money stuffed in a can. When I arrive on an oceanside hilltop, Ken Winchester points out 25 acres of certified organic vineyards, maple and fruit trees and, farther in the distance, barley being farmed to his specs before it’s malted at Phillips Brewery in Victoria. “I’m also a beekeeper, among other things,” says the deVine winemaker and Bruichladdich-trained distiller, gesturing to the hives. He’s more than that: he’s a farm-to-flask disciple.

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Liquid Gold

It can take years before brown spirits get to market. Here’s how B.C. distilleries keep their businesses liquid in the meantime

Illustration by Tara Rafiq

Imagine you make widgets: finely crafted, artisan widgets. Customers pay more for vintage widgets, so there are laws around how old they have to be as well as their quality. You spend a couple of years building your factory with expensive, traditional widget-making equipment. You hire workers, pay for raw materials, power and utilities, and finally fill a warehouse with a bunch of bulky, heavy containers, then wait a few years before you can sell any of your exquisite stock at a premium price. In the meantime, you absorb labour and storage costs to maintain your inventory, which you lose a mysterious chunk of every year as some widgets slip through the cracks and just disappear into thin air.

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Whisky in the jar

After five long years, Shelter Point’s single malt has come of age

Head distiller James Marinus at work. Supplied photo

“Ready for the tour?” Patrick Evans asks with a chuckle. I climb into the 4×4 expecting a leisurely ride through Shelter Point Distillery’s expansive property.

I am mistaken: Evans hits the gas and we’re off-roading into the bush faster than I can say, “I’ll take a wee dram.”

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Four-Winds-Of-Change

Justin Taylor’s Four-Winds-of-Change cocktail. Oliver Harden photo

INGREDIENTS:
• 1 oz. Shelter Point Distillery Whisky
• 0.75 oz. lemon juice
• 0.5 oz. clove-infused maple syrup*
• 3 dashes of Bittered Sling Gastown Bitters
• 2 oz. Four Winds Pale Ale

METHOD:
Combine all ingredients in a mixing glass. Add ice and stir for 15 seconds. Strain over fresh ice into an Old Fashioned glass. Garnish with apple slices.

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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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Shelter Point Distillery

Self-described “farmpreneur” Patrick Evans and family established a distillery on their 380-acre farm near Campbell River, growing their own barley for their single-malt whisky and vodka.

4650 Regent Rd, Campbell River
778-420-2200
ShelterPoint.ca

Read more about Shelter Point Distillery:
Whisky in the jar: After five long years, Shelter Point’s single malt has come of age


PRODUCTS:

• Shelter Point Single Malt Artisanal Whisky
• Shelter Point Cask Strength Whisky
• Double Barrelled Single Malt Whisky
• Canada One Artisanal Vodka
• Sunshine Liqueur


TASTING NOTES:


Yo! Off the Wall Spiced Vodka

FRAGRANCE: Cinnamon.
FLAVOUR: Barley sweetness and cinnamon spice.
FEEL: Clean and smooth.
FINISH: Residual sweetness and tickling spice.
BEST ENJOYED: In a highball with an artisanal cola.
THE BOTTOM LINE: Barley spirit makes this nicely balanced vodka easy-going. —Robyn Gray, April 2016


Shelter Point Single Malt Whisky

FRAGRANCE: Mild grain, little citrus and oak.
FLAVOUR: Slight hint of spice, fruit sweetness and a hint of chocolate.
FEEL: Smooth and silky.
FINISH: Medium long, grain lingers and is very pleasant.
BEST ENJOYED: Neat or rocks; you’ll be fine either way.
THE BOTTOM LINE: Balanced and delicious. Easily mistaken for a more established distillery.
This is a good buy.
 —Trevor Kallies, July 2016


Canada One Artisan Vodka

FRAGRANCE: Quite neutral. Very clean, a hint of spring flowers.
FLAVOUR: Heaps of anise, black pepper, mace.
FEEL: Buttery feel, in a great way.
FINISH: Coriander and black pepper, long, pleasant finish.
BEST ENJOYED: Very cold and crisp classic Martini, no garnish.
THE BOTTOM LINE: This one was a real surprise; thumbs up! —Shaun Layton, October 2016


Barrel of Sunshine Liqueur

FRAGRANCE: Quince, orange marmalade, maple custard, mulled wine.
FLAVOUR: Tarte Tatin in an ISO glass! Quince, apple cider, candied orange.
FEEL: A little thick, but for what it is very pleasant.
FINISH: Christmas spices, citrus explosion.
BEST ENJOYED: In a Sidecar or Brandy Crusta. Or with soft cheese and fruit preserves after dinner.
THE BOTTOM LINE: A great addition to any back bar. —Shaun Layton, July 2017


Double Barrelled Single Malt Whisky

FRAGRANCE: Caramel and cacao.
FLAVOUR: Pronounced alcohol with baking spices.
FEEL: Light and astringent.
FINISH: Lasting toffee warmth.
BEST ENJOYED: In a Rob Roy.
THE BOTTOM LINE: Baking spice flavours play amazingly with sweet vermouth. —Robyn Gray, October 2017