Get a Taste of B.C.’s Top Distillers

Restock your liquor cabinet with the spirits we sipped at BC Distilled

Credit: Travis Collier

Restock your liquor cabinet with the spirits we sipped at BC Distilled

With 27 craft distilleries showcasing their spirits at this year’s BC Distilled festival, it’s tough (but tempting) to try to sample everything on offer. Especially with tried-and-true distilleries such as Odd Society Spirits (the Bittersweet Vermouth is a fave) and Long Table Distillery (we love its refreshing cucumber gin) pouring perfection.

At this year’s fest some stalwart distillers shared slightly tweaked recipes or offered new ways to sip their staples. The expanded space at the Croatian Cultural Centre was brimming with industry newcomers too, with several such as Legend Distilling serving up multiple spirits.

Ready to restock your liquor cabinet? Click through for plenty of inspiration from North Vancouver to Naramata.

The Woods Spirit Co. offers a bitter fix

I love amaro, the bittersweet Italian liqueur that includes Italian bottles such as Campari, Cynar and Aperol, which gives the Spritz cocktail its bitter orange flavour. When I heard that an amaro was being debuted at BC Distilled by The Woods Spirit Co., I knew it had to be my first stop.

Those in the know recognize that distilling amaro (the Italian word for “bitter”) isn’t a newcomer’s game. Traditional Italian recipes date back decades (Campari originated in 1860 and Aperol was introduced in 1919) and are well-guarded secrets. Did I mention that The Woods Spirit Co. is a distillery so new it barely exists: no bricks-and-mortar home and no website? But maybe that’s a good thing…

A West Coast twist on Italian tradition

The Woods Spirit Co. co-founders Fabio Martini (you can’t make up such a spirited name) and Joel Myers hit the bittersweet spot with their citrus-forward recipe. Martini tells me that the pair of foragers “wanted to make a gin from the forest” but switched gears when their go-to Negroni cocktail got shelved because of a Campari shortage. Classic botanicals such as bitter orange, gentian, wormwood and “lots of rhubarb” are married with Grand fir needles (and other secret ingredients) that give this amaro its signature citrus flavour. Sip it neat to savour the pleasing bitter finish or add a splash of freshly squeezed grapefruit juice. It’s definitely going to edge out the Campari in my liquor cabinet.

Sons of Vancouver’s ass-kicking martini

It seems like just yesterday that the Sons of Vancouver kicked off their Indiegogo campaign to raise funds for their micro-distillery in North Vancouver. Yet James and Richard are practically old sages at this year’s BC Distilled fest.

Although the Sons haven’t launched a new product, they’ve made some tweaks to their Chili Vodka, which has an orange tinge to it from the dried Thai dragon chilis, which offer a powerful kick. Mixing this spicy spirit in a Caesar is a no-brainer, but the Sons’ take on a Spicy Pineapple Martini is enticing in a slightly masochistic way. The tropical fruit juice tempers the Scoville levels slightly, but even James Bond would get his ass kicked from this killer cocktail.

Credit: Sons of Vancouver

Sons of Vancouver’s vegan-friendly Benzooka

Although I’d happily sip Sons of Vancouver’s handcrafted No. 82 Amaretto neat, I gamely sampled the Benzooka, an intriguing mix of equal parts No. 82 Amaretto and orange juice shaken with a half part of soy. The verdict: It’s like an adult Creamsicle without being overly sweet. Vegans, this creamy cocktail is calling your name.

More clams in the mix at Walter Caesar

While a concoction of clams and tomatoes still confounds many non-Canadians, we love that Walter Craft Caesar Mix offers an all-natural and sustainable (it’s Ocean Wise) alternative for that Canadian classic and brunch staple: the Caesar. The all-natural mix got a mini-makeover says co-founder Aaron Harowitz, who amped up the clam factor and toned down the tomato thickness. It still comes in spicy and mild mixes—the latter preferred by bartenders who want to add their own layers of flavour, says Harowitz.

Walter Caesar to launch a new spice rim

When chatting with Harowitz, he revealed that he prefers a gin-based Caesar instead of vodka. And within seconds there’s a fresh Caesar in my hand that’s been dosed with Defender Island smoked rosemary gin (see next slide). The extra earthiness it imparts is a revelation and a perfect pairing for the sweet tomato flavour.

Another essential element: the spice rim that’s being launched next month. And don’t be surprised to hear more news from Walter, which made some deals on Dragon’s Den, which was televised last week.

Legend Distilling bottles a rosemary gimlet

Legend Distilling’s Jesse Bannister is making the most of the VIP event’s two-hour window, simultaneously pouring samples and answering questions in rapid-fire succession.

Like most boozes, there’s a birth story behind each bottle handcrafted at the Naramata distillery, which opened last May. Defender Island gin, for instance, infused with flame-charred locally grown rosemary was dreamed up out of laziness, says Bannister, who tells how he used to make a lot of rosemary gimlets and thus, this spirit eliminates those extra steps. The stylish black bottle isn’t just alluring; its opaqueness preserves the toasty hue of the smoked gin, plus its smaller size makes it stash-friendly for surreptitious boozing.

Okanagan elderberry and lavender in Doctor’s Orders gin

The medicinal-looking bottle of Legend Distilling’s Doctor’s Orders gin comes by its name and shape honestly: the distillery, after all, is in Naramata’s original doctor’s office. Will it cure what ails you? Yessir. Mainstays such as coriander and locally foraged juniper berries and citrus have been married with mint, apple, elderberry and lavender—all grown in the Okanagan. It’s a refreshing counterpart to the Defender Island gin and both deserve a prime position in your home bar. Another concoction on offer: Manitou, a brand-new liqueur made with sumac and orange.

Forest botanicals and berries for Bohemian Spirits

In a previous life, Bohemian Spirits founder Wade Jarvis used to be a forester. It was just last June that he started selling his Vagabond vodka and in September he launched his Limited gin, which is made with the Vagabond as its base spirit.

The Kimberly-based distiller’s deep knowledge of the woods led him to used wild, locally foraged botanicals and berries to infuse his Limited with forest-like flavours. Douglas fir and cottonwood buds are blended with sweet-tart huckleberries and a bit of mountain ash, making for an unconventional gin that earns its free-spirited name. Gin lovers will sip it straight up and embrace every nuance of this bold beverage. Too much? Add a splash of good-quality tonic to create a classic G&T.