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B.C. whisky comes of age
At the 2016 BC Distilled whisky tasting, many spirits were sampled from the cask: most did not yet meet the minimum three-year age requirement to be bottled and sold as whisky, making the tasting as rarified as a trip to Speyside or southern Kentucky. Of those served at the 2017 tasting on April 4, six are already for sale
that is, if you can get your hands on a bottle. Buy or order from the distilleries, liquor stores or at the Legacy pop-up shop at BC Distilled. A few tickets are still left for the annual small-batch spirits festival, from 6–9 p.m. on Saturday, April 8, at the Croatian Cultural Centre.
Right now, what you can buy from this Oliver-based distillery (makers of Noteworthy gin) is an unaged new-make or white dog barley spirit. But, in a courtesy tasting from the aging-in-process spirit at barrel strength for the second year in a row, this candy-store spirit smells like toasted panettone and evokes a taste-memory of Good & Plenty. Things are going to get good and freaky by the time this baby turns three.
It can’t be called bourbon unless it’s made in ‘Murica, but following the spirit of the law (more than 51 per cent corn on the mash bill, aged in charred American oak barrels) got these clever longtime distillers everything but the vowels. With a hit of rye on the nose, BRBN goes down as smooth and sweet as eggnog (think: vanilla, spices and nutty notes).
There’s a DIY spirit to this Kelowna-based brand: you’ll find a small French oak stave in every bottle, for each imbiber to fish out on his or her own, when the palate has maxed out on woodiness. May I suggest now? This cola-coloured spirit has an interesting sultana raisin and rubber tires nose, but tastes more of barrel than barley.
The strict local-only rules of craft distilling would have seemed to exclude B.C. from having a native peat-smoked whisky
until distiller Tyler Schramm discovered a peat bog almost in his mountain backyard. (Rumour has it there’s one in Richmond, too.) After nearly five years in bourbon barrels it’s still a lovely, hay-like whisky with a delicate smoky finish. Don’t let the somewhat bizarre nose (nuts and melon) scare you off.
This sunshine-coloured spirit is the golden child of a brewer (Gary Lohin) and a distiller (Stuart McKinnon). The Surrey-based operation has produced what could blind-taste as a Lowland scotch, all grassy, green-apple nose with a nicely butterscotch flavour that opens up to reveal soft smoke.
Tasted last year, this Saanich-made spirit was already smokey, spicey, buttery gold. It just gets better: the 2017 release has developed a light cedar-like nose and a candied orange note, plus an unmistakable salty lick that will make you believe that the terroir of spirits is an actual thing. This Canadian Whisky Awards silver winner is sold out at the distillery, but you can always buy your own barrel.
There’s a reason aficionados line up down the block from this Powell Street Vancouver distillery for each release: the first whisky last December sold out in minutes, and if there are any rogue bottles of the maple-cask-finished second release out there, grab ’em. Fans of Woodford Reserve bourbon will love the cherry and pepper nose and smooth, butterscotch taste.
Not tasted at the BC Distilled event, but worth seeking out, this Campbell River-made single malt is bottled at a fiery 46 per cent alcohol (and also available in a 58-plus per cent cask strength bottling). A rich caramel potion, it might be the strongest indicator yet that B.C.’s whisky industry is barreling forward.