Spirit of Victoria

12 great places to get a drink in the Vancouver Island city

The B.C. Parliament Buildings are the centrepiece of Victoria’s vibrant Inner Harbour. Tourism Victoria photo

You could say that Matt Cooke has distilled the spirit of Victoria into his cocktails. The general manager at OLO Restaurant transforms Vancouver Island spirits and local produce into the kind of creatively food-friendly sippers that complement chef-owner Brad Holmes’ fresh comfort food so well. There’s often whisky or gin—Victorians love the smoky and botanical flavours of the British Isles—and a subtle nod to the classics. At the same time, Cooke conjures flavours that are completely new, and often made from scratch.

And he’s not alone. Despite its relatively small size, with a population about an eighth of Vancouver’s, Victoria has a vibrant cocktail scene that makes it truly a great place to get a drink, especially at these 12 watering holes.

Continue Reading

A shift out of neutral

The Alchemist’s tasting panel samples B.C. vodkas for a taste of the province’s most crowd-pleasing spirit

The lineup of vodkas tasted by the panel reflected a range of flavours from clean and neutral to surprisingly lush, fruity, bold and intense. Dan Toulgoet photo

Nazdarovya! With the FIFA World Cup kicking off this month in Russia, our thoughts have turned to vodka. (That and Neymar’s incredible comeback, of course.)

Vodka is often described as a “colourless, odourless, flavourless” spirit, but its clean subtlety is sometimes just what we crave. And so we asked our Alchemist tasting panel comprising some of Vancouver’s top bartenders—Olivia Povarchook of Vij’s Restaurant, Katie Ingram of Toptable Group and Josh Pape of Gooseneck Hospitality (Wildebeest, Bells and Whistles, Bufala, Lucky Taco)—to sample eight artisanal B.C. vodkas, share their thoughts and suggest cocktails to make with them.

Here’s what they had to say.

Continue Reading

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.

Continue Reading

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.

Continue Reading

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.

Continue Reading

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.

Continue Reading

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.”

Continue Reading

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.

Continue Reading

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.

Continue Reading

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.

Continue Reading