Looking for a local spirit to wet your whistle? Here are our favourites from this year's B.C. Distilled Festival
Credit: B.C. Distilled Festival

Looking for a local spirit to wet your whistle? Here are our favourites from this year's B.C. Distilled Festival

Didn’t make it to the first-ever BC Distilled Festival? Seventeen of B.C.’s micro-distilleries (plus Yukon Shine from our our neighbour territory to the north) served up samples of spirits and liqueurs from absinthe and aquavit to vodka and white whiskey, plus plenty of my fave: gin. Only the truly tenacious could have tasted everything, but here are five standouts from the event.

Okanagan Spirits - Absinthe
Credit: B.C. Liquor Store

Okanagan Spirits - Absinthe

Okanagan Spirits was Canada’s first distillery to bottle absinthe, the mysterious green spirit whose key ingredient – wormwood – was said to cause hallucinations. Actually, the high-proof (60 per cent) anise-flavoured liquor, which is bottled under the apt name, Taboo, is more likely to have medicinal qualities because of its botanicals such as sweet fennel and lemon balm.

B.C. Ingredients: A spirit base made from fruit, not grain.
Pedigree: Absinthe was first distilled in Switzerland; Taboo absinthe is distilled in Vernon and Kelowna.
Protocol: Add two parts of ice-cold water to one part absinthe (remember, it’s 60 per cent alcohol) and watch the louche (cloudiness) form. Do you see the green fairy? Sip slowly and contemplate whether overindulging in absinthe really caused Vincent van Gogh to lop off his own ear.
 

Sons of Vancouver - Amaretto
Credit: Sons of Vancouver

Sons of Vancouver - Amaretto

With a name like Sons of Vancouver, you might expect a little anarchy from the North Vancouver distillery (which officially opens this fall), but it’s actually creating a stir with its amaretto. (OK, they also have an ass-kicking spicy vodka.) Did you know that nary a nut goes into making this bittersweet almond-y tasting liqueur? It’s a deliciously unexpected addition to the B.C. booze market.

B.C. Ingredients: The vodka base spirit is made with Fraser Valley grain; it’s flavoured with Okanagan apricots and sweetened with northern honey.
Pedigree: Originally from Italy; SOV’s amaretto is distilled in North Vancouver.
Protocol: Mix the amaretto in a Benzooka cocktail, says Son’s James Lester, making oblique references to The Big Lebowski and White Russians. Shake together, with ice, 2 oz. amaretto, 2 oz. orange juice, 1 oz. soy milk. Strain into an ice-filled old-fashioned glass; garnish with an orange twist.

“What makes this drink unique and perfect for summer is that it gets its consistency from soy milk, which doesn’t curdle like cream when mixed with OJ,” says Lester. Drink a few and you’ll soon notice that your rug “really ties the room together.”
 

Odd Society Spirits - Créme de Cassis
Credit: Odd Society Spirits

Odd Society Spirits - Créme de Cassis

Créme de Cassis already sound highbrow and the black currant liqueur crafted by Odd Society Spirits even has some royal roots. The limited edition run is distilled to the secret specs of chef Hervé Martin, owner of The French Table in Vancouver and formerly personal chef to Belgium’s late King. It’s no surprise the luxurious liqueur was voted Best in Show at the B.C. Distilled Festival. So dash out to Odd Society’s tasting lounge and buy a bottle toute de suite!

B.C. Ingredients: Black currants
Pedigree: Originally from France; Odd Spirits Society’s Créme de Cassis is distilled in East Vancouver, B.C.
Protocol: Drink on its own as an aperitif or digestif, or mix in a 1:4 ratio of Créme de Cassis to white wine to make a classic Kir. Or drizzle over vanilla ice cream for a to-die-for dessert.
 

SR Winery & Distillery - MaQ Vodka

SR Winery & Distillery - MaQ Vodka

Learning Korean can be a daunting task, but drinking a little MaQ soju – Korean vodka – from SR Winery & Distillery is an excellent primer. “MaQ” is the word for barley, the key ingredient in the single-distilled soju, which literally translates to “burned liquor.” While most distillers vary their vodkas with flavouring, SR produces four percentages of soju – 18%, 23%, 34%, 41% – for its diverse clientele. The lowest, 18%, is geared to the traditional Korean market and the higher percentage spirits are ideal for mixing in cocktails.

B.C. Ingredients: 100 per cent B.C. barley, grown in Prince George
Pedigree: Originally from Korea; MaQ soju is distilled in Surrey, B.C.
Protocol: It’s traditional to sip soju neat (or add a slice of cucumber) and make a toast – Gun-Bea! — in celebration of life.
 

Long Table Distillery - Cucumber Gin
Credit: Long Table Distillery

Long Table Distillery - Cucumber Gin

With so many B.C. distilleries crafting small batches of gin, you can practically play a parlour game trying to guess their clever concoctions of botanicals – aside from the all-important juniper. Long Table Distillery’s namesake cucumber gin wins the top prize in my mind. Fresh cukes are complemented by two peppers that add a subtle hit of spice, rounding out the nine botanicals in the mix. No guessing games required.

B.C. Ingredients: Cucumbers grown on the Sunshine Coast
Pedigree: The Dutch produced genever (gin) before the Brits made it their own; Long Table cucumber gin is distilled in Downtown Vancouver, B.C.
Protocol: Long Table suggests serving its cucumber gin in a dry martini or in a chilled lemon-rimmed glass, garnish with – what else? – a slice of cucumber.