French 75 Royale

Justin Taylor’s French 75 Royale. Dan Toulgoet photo.

This lilac beauty is a perfect addition to your next garden party.

• 2 cups Victoria Spirits Empress Gin
• 1 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
• 0.75 cup lavender syrup (see note)
• 1.5 tsp orange bitters
• 4 cups dry sparkling wine

Combine ingredients in a large pitcher. Stir gently, then bottle, seal and refrigerate or stash in ice.

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It’s G&T time

The Alchemist’s tasting panel searches for the best B.C. gin to enjoy with your tonic

The G&T is a warm-weather classic. But which B.C. gin is the best choice?

Now that spring has finally sprung, we’re craving lighter sprits and fresher flavours. In other words, we’re craving gin, especially when it’s mixed with tonic water.

Our tasting panel comprising some of Vancouver’s top bartenders—Max Borrowman of Juniper Kitchen & Bar; Amber Bruce of The Keefer Bar; J-S Dupuis of Wentworth Hospitality (Tableau Bar Bistro, Homer St. Café); and Josh Pape of Gooseneck Hospitality (Wildebeest, Bells and Whistles, Bufala, Lucky Taco)—sampled nine B.C. artisanal gins, suggested the best cocktails to make with them, and then mixed them with tonic water to determine which worked best.

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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All hail the Empress’ new reign

Victoria’s grande dame gets a makeover with a sexy new bar and a truly royal namesake gin

The new Q Bar at the Fairmont Hotel Empress in Victoria, BC. Fairmont Hotel Empress photo

The gin is sky blue – that’s right, blue – and it has a delicate floral aroma. Add a little tonic water, though, and it magically turns a beautiful royal purple.

“It’s spectacular, isn’t it? It goes from that nice blue, then you pour the tonic in there, it swirls around, and you get that nice pink colour,” says Peter Hunt, president of Victoria Distillers. “It’s certainly something fun for bartenders and mixologists to play with.”

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Empress 1908

The Empress 1908 cocktail. Victoria Distillers photo

The original 1908 cocktail, featuring tea-infused vodka, was introduced to celebrate the Fairmont Hotel Empress’ 100th anniversary. This royal update gets its purple hue from the butterfly pea flower in the Empress Gin by Victoria Spirits.

• 2 oz (60 mL) Empress Gin
• 0.75 oz (22 mL) lemon juice
• 0.75 oz (22 mL) simple syrup (see note)
• 1 egg white

Place all the ingredients in a cocktail shaker, without ice, and shake vigorously. Once you have created voluminous foam, add ice, and shake again. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass. If you like, garnish with dried butterfly pea flower blossoms. Serves 1.

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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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Vancouver Cocktail

The Vancouver cocktail. Laura McGuire photo

The Sylvia Hotel’s signature cocktail was created in 1954. 

INGREDIENTS:
1.5 oz London Dry style gin such as Victoria Gin or Long Table Gin
0.75 oz sweet vermouth such as Punte E Mes or Odd Society Bittersweet Vermouth
0.25 oz or “a good splash” of Benedictine liqueur
2 dashes of orange bitters

METHOD:
Place all ingredients into a mixing glass with ice and stir well. Strain into a chilled Martini glass. Garnish with a twist of lemon peel.

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Victoria Distilling

Launched in 2008, Victoria Gin graces bars across the country. Their first small-batch, limited release whisky was launched in early 2015.

9891 Seaport Pl., Sidney
250-544-8217
VictoriaDistillers.com


PRODUCTS:

• Victoria Gin
• Oaken Gin
• Empress 1908 Gin
• Left Coast Hemp Vodka
• Sidney Spiced
• Chocolate Liqueur


TASTING NOTES:


Oaken Gin

FRAGRANCE: Hint of toffee and wood, background of baking spice.
FLAVOUR: Toffee, vanilla, and clove.
FEEL: Buttery, slightly viscous mouthfeel, creamy.
FINISH: Long, creamy finish with a hint of pine.
BEST ENJOYED: In a gin Old Fashioned or neat, with a big ice cube.
THE BOTTOM LINE: One of the first local gins to be aged in oak, making an elegant style of craft gin, although pricey. —Trevor Kallies, April 2016


Victoria Gin

FRAGRANCE: Anise, clove, angelica, with a slight burn.
FLAVOUR: White pepper, rose, bitter lemon.
FEEL: Creamy, quite clean.
FINISH: Slight bitterness, hint of spice.
BEST ENJOYED: Makes a great Negroni.
THE BOTTOM LINE: The new packaging is more attractive, though I miss Queen Vic on the bottle. Good gift for out-of-towners. —Shaun Layton, July 2016


Left Coast Hemp Vodka

FRAGRANCE: Earthy, toasted grains, nutty.
FLAVOUR: Buckwheat, rye spice, roasted walnuts.
FEEL: Silky, balanced, sustained.
FINISH: Pleasant, clean.
BEST ENJOYED: Chilled, neat or as a Martini with an onion.
THE BOTTOM LINE: More flavour than your average vodka, and worth a try. —Josh Pape, October 2016


Chocolate Liqueur

FRAGRANCE: Intense cocoa nib and chocolate.
FLAVOUR: Bitter, as expected. Little to no sweetness.
FEEL: Light to medium body.
FINISH: Long, bitter finish.
BEST ENJOYED: Would make a super-cool Old Fashioned or Brandy Alexander.
THE BOTTOM LINE: If you like bitter spirits or liqueurs, this is for you. —Scott Barber, July 2017


Empress 1908 Gin

FRAGRANCE: Green and vegetal up front with spice undertones.
FLAVOUR: Juniper, citrus. Lightly floral. 
FEEL: Quite a journey. Unassuming at first but then the spices take over.  
FINISH: Bitter and long. 
BEST ENJOYED: Great neat, but nobody does that. Makes an excellent Gin & Tonic with lemon.
THE BOTTOM LINE: A well made spirit worth checking out. —Josh Pape, October 2017