BC Distilled 2019 Recap


Audience Favourites

  • Absinthe: Alchemist Distiller, Summerland – Green Frog Absynthe

  • Akvavit: Sheringham Distillery, Sooke – Akvavit (winner 2017/18)

  • Amaro or Vermouth (Italian-style bitter liqueurs): The Woods Spirit Co, North Vancouver – Barrel Aged Pacific Northwest Amaro

  • Brandy or Eau de Vie: Merridale Cidery & Distillery, Cobble Hill – Cowichan Pear

  • Barrel-aged Gin: The Dubh Glas Distillery, Oliver – Noteworthy Gin | Barrel Rested (winner, 2018)

  • Flavoured or Infused Vodka: Taynton Bay Spirits, Invermere – Ginger Matcha

  • Liqueur (TIE):

    • Bruinwood Estate Distillery, Roberts Creek – Advocaat

    • Sons of Vancouver, North Vancouver ­– No. 82 Amaretto (winner, 2015/16/17) 

  • Gin: Sheringham Distillery, Sooke – Kazuki Gin

  • Other aged or white spirit: Resurrection Spirits, Vancouver – Resurrection White Rye

  • Rum: Sons of Vancouver, North Vancouver ­– Craft Coconut Rum

  • Vodka (TIE):

    • Ampersand Distilling Company, Duncan – Per Se Vodka (winner, 2016/17/18)

    • Wayward Distillation House, Courtenay  – Unruly Vodka

  • Whisky: Odd Society Spirits, Vancouver ­– Prospector Rye Whisky

  • Young Whisky (aged less than 3 years): de Vine Spirits – Ancient Grains (winner, 2018)

Survey Insights

There are some consistent trends in Audience Feedback – often they are things that are generally out of my control or that I’m not willing to change. If you’re really interested I encourage you to read last year’s recap, especially regarding food. I’m not going to comment very much, but will acknowledge your comments.

Things you’d like to see changed

  • More food … I am happy with the food balance, and don’t see it changing in the near future. The number restaurants we have and the amount of food they provide represents what a festival of this size can afford.

  • Food trucks — more, or less, or longer, or not at all. One comment on them: I don’t want the food trucks there they whole event. It’s a lot more difficult to manage the in and out traffic, and I’d have to pay them more (yes, I pay them to be there!).

  • Retail Store Inventory — The retail store got more comments this year than others — they ran out of some favourites rather quickly. I’m going to work with them to see if we can find a solution for next year. It’s somewhat challenging because there is a huge amount of inventory to manage, and we’re not always sure what you all will want MORE MORE MORE of in any given year.

  • The line up! This caught us off guard this year. It’s never been as slow as it was. I think the weather meant more jackets and bottleneck at the coat check. We will make changes next year to streamline it (ensuring a warm, sunny day).

  • Glassware — those of you who commented on your desire for better glassware obviously weren’t at the show two years ago for the NEAT glass fiasco. This comes down to cost, which is why I offer the option to purchase a Glenncairn glass. Believe it or not most years I do spend time trying to source better glassware, but usually don’t have luck finding the right balance of cost and design. Even renting ISO glasses would cost twice as much as buying and giving away our current ones.

  • Taxis — we called at least three times throughout the evening to try to get them there. Taxis in Vancouver … you all know.

  • Time — See last year’s comment. I still think three hours is enough, and any longer will risk overconsumption.

Things You Liked

  • Crowd size — I got a lot of feedbacl on the how much you appreciated that the event wasn’t overcrowded. I commented on this is last year’s recap so I’ll leave it.

  • Variety of distillers and products — Hey I get no credit for this. Distillers in BC are killing it!

  • Approach to ticketing / no tokens — I also commented on this last year. We’re staying the course on this.

  • Food — There were actually more positive comments than negative on the food availability (there are never any negative comments on the quality, only the number of restaurants). I think our restaurants did an amazing job this year, and a lot of you agreed. For the vegans/vegetarians … I actually offer a financial bonus to the restaurants to provide veggie food. It’s still not enough :)

  • PADS dogs – the puppies will return! Next year we’ll make improvements to the puppy lounge space. This year we raised over $8,000!

  • Presence of actual distillers / distillery staff – This is actually a requirement to participate in BC Distilled. Distilleries can’t just send agents/sales reps/friends. There has to be staff present. This will not change.

Final Notes

  • 43 volunteers helped with this event. How amazing is that?

  • Once again, South Peace Grain provided financial support for the festival. They are amazing supporters of the festival and of BC distilleries.

  • Next year, BC Distilled takes place on Saturday, April 4. Save the date!

BC Distilled 2018 Recap


Audience Favourites

  • Amaro or Vermouth (Italian-style bitter liqueurs): The Woods Spirit Co. - The Woods Amaro
  • Apéritif or Digestif: Sheringham Distillery - Sheringham Akvavit
  • Brandy or Eau de Vie: Maple Leaf Spirits Inc. - Lady of the Cask
  • Barrel-aged Gin (Gin which has spent time aging in a wood barrel): The Dubh Glas Distillery - Noteworthy Gin - Barrel Rested
  • Flavoured or Infused Vodka: Sons of Vancouver Distillery - Chili Vodka    
  • Liqueur: Monashee Spirits Craft Distillery - Big Mountain Creamer
  • Gin: Ampersand Distilling Company - Ampersand Gin
  • Other White Spirit: Salt Spring Shine - Apple Pie Moonshine
  • Rum: Wayward Distillation House - Drunken Hive Rum
  • Vodka: Ampersand Distilling Company - Per Se Vodka (tie), Salt Spring Shine - Hive Vodka (tie), Sons of Vancouver Distillery - Vodka Vodka Vodka 
  • Whisky: Odd Society Spirits - Single Malt Whisky
  • Young "Whisky" (whisky-style spirits which have spent less than three years in a barrel): De Vine Wines & Spirits - Ancient Grains

Survey Insights


This is always a big topic in your comments. We had four great restaurants this year, and I think they provided more food that in past years. I also brought in food trucks for people to feed themselves before the show, which most of you appreciated (some didn't like them there). Some additional points:

  • I will bring the food trucks back next year. I purposefully didn't ask them to stay for the length of the event because I didn't want to manage a lot of in an out, but I'll think about it for next year. I may also bring in a third truck.
  • I understand the desire some participants have for more veggie/vegan options. I'll keep trying, but it's not easy (especially vegan).
  • The cost and effort of bringing in restaurants means there will never be enough food for some people at BC Distilled (sorry!). For me to ensure everyone could eat their fill would mean I would have to increase the ticket cost by $20-30 per person to cover my costs. I'm pretty sure no one wants that.

Things You Liked

  • Return to the original glassware: Generally people appreciated bringing back the shot glasses. The Glencairn glasses some attendees had didn't go unnoticed by many of you, and I got a few comments that they should be provided to everyone. I did offer them for sale, but it wasn't super obvious on the ticketing page. Unless I get some amazing sponsorship these won't become standard -- they're just too expensive (literally 10x the price of the shot glasses).
  • PADS dogs: half the comments were about the dogs. I have no plans to abandon that relationship. This year we raised nearly $6,000!
  • No tokens: this is another thing that I do not intend to change. I personally dislike events that use them, so why would I run one that way? Also, I believe people actually drink less when their samples don't cost extra (they are more willing to pour out stuff they don't like, and have no incentive to drink more to 'use up' paid tokens).
  • Less crowded: we had more distilleries this year, so I had to reduce the number of attendees to meet fire code requirements. However, I reduced it a little more than I needed to, and I think it worked out really well. I'll keep the numbers the same next year.

Things you want to see changed

  • Longer event: some people asked for more time. A couple of years ago I increased the tasting from 2.5 to 3 hours (that came with a $10 price increase). I'm not convinced I want it to go longer, if for no other reason than it just increases the likelihood of people getting too drunk.
  • Speeding up liquor purchases: I'll talk with the vendor about this (by the way I can't allow distilleries to sell directly - that's the rules), but I know it's a difficult thing to manage.
  • Music: a few of you would like live music (or a DJ). There was music over the speakers but it was difficult to get the volume right for a few reasons. There are some challenges here - there are two rooms, so ... two bands? Or one room gets shafted? And it's an extra cost I'm not eager to take on - the festival isn't a massive financial operation, and adding that cost without a way to pay for it would be difficult.
  • Products listed in the program: The challenge here is (1) the last minute nature of finalizing those products, and (2) the extra printing cost. Next year I'm going to look at going electronic. There's got to be an app for that.
  • More of spirt X: A note for those who wanted more whisky or more amaro or weren't happen that some spirits weren't for sale -- this is entirely out of my control. The distilleries decide what products to bring, and what products to sell. 
  • Comments on the location: this is an area where I don't have a lot of options. There are a slew of things that go into finding a location. The Croatian Cultural Centre is a pretty good location that meets all of the festival's needs. Hotels don't work. The Convention Centre won't even return my calls. I have spent dozens of hours trying to find other options with no luck. Do you have any great ideas? I'm all ears!

A Couple of Other Notes

BC Distilled 2017 Recap

Photo: Victoria Black of   www.wildheartscollective.com

Photo: Victoria Black of  www.wildheartscollective.com


BC Distilled Audience Favourites

Two new categories were added this year - Barrel-Aged Gins and Whisky. 

  • Apéritif or Digestif - Sheringham Distillery Akvavit
  • Barrel-Aged Gin - Odd Society Spirits Oaken Gin
  • Barrel-Aged Spirits (this is a catch-all category for aged spirits other than those with their own category) - de Vine Spirits Honey Shine
  • Brandy - Long Table Distillery cooperation with Deep Cove Brewers & Distillers - VSOP Reserve Pairs of Pears Brandy
  • Flavoured, Infused, or Barrel-aged Vodka - Sons of Vancouver Chili Vodka (winner 2016)
  • Gin - Ampersand Distilling Co Ampersand Gin (winner 2016)
  • Liqueur - Sons of Vancouver Amaretto (winner 2015, 2016)
  • Un-aged “Whisky” - Odd Society Spirits Mongrel
  • Vodka - Ampersand Distilling Co Per Se Vodka (winner 2016)
  • Whisky - Okanagan Spirits Craft Distillery BRBN Bourbon-style Corn Whisky

Other Survey Insights


This gets its own section as it generated a lot of feedback, positive and negative.

There's no question that people love the food, but as was the case last year, the number one complaint is that there wasn't enough. Last year we had five restaurants, and this year we had six (plus pickles!). Some thoughts:

  • Getting restaurants to participate is one of the biggest challenges of the show. It represents a considerable commitment of resources for them, and most restaurants can't or aren't willing to do spend the time and money it takes to participate.
  • I tried to get food trucks in this year but had no luck. I've learned some things and will probably try again next year.
  • Broadly, the cost of bringing in more food is prohibitive. I could bring in a caterer but it the festival's budget doesn't support it.
  • I'll continue to try to find a way to get in more food at a reasonable cost.

Other Notes

  • The Venue: The increase in space was appreciated. The show is getting close to capacity at this location - I'll be looking for something else, but it is extremely difficult to find a space which fits the needs of BC Distilled. We may end up back at the same place next year.
  • Pacific Assistance Dogs Society: The presence of PADS dogs stole the show again! We raised almost $4,000 for them this year through the 50/50 draw, the silent auction, and a portion of ticket sales.
  • Atmosphere: There were a lot of comments on the overall vibe of the show and how much people like it. Related to this is the fact that we don't charge for samples, which I think reduces consumption as people don't feel an obligation to finish each spirit to 'get their money's worth'.
  • Glassware: There was a general recognition that this glassware wasn't the most appropriate for the format. They would work for sitting at home sipping on something, but given the size of the spirits samples and the shape of the glass, most people would rather not use them at an event like this.  

A Few Other Notes

  • The festival sold out. Well, ticket cutoff was at 5pm on Saturday, at which point there was one ticket left for sale. I'll call that a sellout.
  • 26 awesome volunteers helped make this show happen. The wonderful gentlemen at Sons of Vancouver and The Dubh Glas Distillery kindly donated product to add to our gift bags. It's the best volunteer gig in town!
  • Our sponsors provided a huge amount of help in making the show happen, and I want to thank them one more time.

BC Distilled Fall Update

BC Distilled is on Saturday, April 8, 2017.

We're excited that the date is set and we've begun to recruit BC Distilleries for next year's show. We're even more excited that next year's event isn't on Easter! It'll be at the Croatian Cultural Centre again, and yes, PADS and their puppies will be back!

Lead-in Events

Legacy Liquor in Olympic Village (our retail partner) is allowing us to use their Harvest Table for some events leading up to the main tasting. It has a capacity of 36 and our plan is to run tastings before the main event on Saturday. I've put together a 30 second survey for you to offer your feedback on what kind of spirits you'd like us to focus on. If you're interested, please fill it out as soon as possible. Pricing would depend on the specific event, but would probably run $30-60. I know what three I'd like to run but I won't be buying the tickets, so I figured I should ask you.

New Distilleries

The industry continues to grow! I've been in contact with Crow's Nest in Abbostford, Monashee in Revelstoke, and Roots and Wings in Langley. I'm not sure which (or if any) will be open in time for the April event but we'll keep our fingers crossed. In total I'm aware of 11 distilleries with plans to open, although I'm positive there are more lurking out there. You can check out my complete list here


As always, we're looking for sponsors to help offset the cost of the show. If you work for an organization that might align nicely, or could make an introduction, please reply to this email. BC Distilled punches well above its weight in media attention, and as you know we have a great demographic.

BC Distilled 2016 Recap

Thank you everyone who attended BC Distilled this year, and to those of you who couldn't come, you missed a great time.

BC Distilled Audience Favourites

Each year I've done this a little bit differently, but I think we're getting close to an ideal format. The survey had a 41% response rate, which is pretty solid for a survey. Your favourites are:

  • Barrel-Aged Spirits: Long Table Distillery Barrel Aged Gin
  • Apéritif or Digestif: Gillespie's Fine Spirits Lemoncello
  • Brandy: Merridale Craft Spirits Stairs Pear Brandy
  • Infused Vodka: Sons of Vancouver Distillery Chili Vodka
  • Gin: Ampersand Distilling Company Ampersand Gin
  • Liqueur: Sons of Vancouver Distillery No. 82 Amaretto
  • Un-aged “Whisky”: The Liberty Distillery Railspur No. 2 Wildflower Honey
  • Vodka: Ampersand Distilling Company Per Se Vodka
  • Most Votes Overall: Sons of Vancouver Distillery Chili Vodka

You can also read the whole press release.

Other Survey Insights

I'm going to spend some time going through these in more detail in the future, but I thought I would share a few things that stood out on my first pass through:

  • Attendees loved the partnership with PADS. And to that one person - sorry, I will not bring in cats next year!
  • Attendees liked the food, but wish there was more (that was probably the number one comment regarding things you'd like to see changed). Me too -- it's actually quite difficult to get restaurants to join us. I did had seven signed up, but two dropped out in the ten days leading up to the festival. I need to spend time thinking through a different approach here.
  • I got a few comments about the variety of spirits - most liked it, but a few wanted more or less. To be clear, this isn't something I dictate - that's the distilleries' choice.
  • The majority of attendees liked the Croatian Cultural Centre - both its location and the venue itself, although I did get a few comments regarding how crowded it was. All I can say here is that finding a centrally-located venue which will allow me to bring in my own liquor license (this is required) and doesn't cost stupid amounts of money is probably the biggest logistical challenge the festival faces. 
  • Many of you had opinions regarding the length of the event. Plenty thought it was just right, but I did get several comments saying it's not long enough. The 2.5 hour time limit is on purpose. Even with small samples, 2.5 hours is plenty of time to get a little too drink. Going to three or four hours just introduces too much risk in my opinion. I'll think about other options, though. 

Thanks everyone for your feedback! 

I've randomly selected three respondents and they've been contacted about the gift certificates. I don't even have their names so I can't share them with you (I only know their email addresses).



BC Distilled is grateful for the support of its sponsors: 

South Peace GrainLegacy Liquor StoreVictoria DistillersThe Liberty Distilleryde Vine Wines & SpiritsBCLivingEAT Magazine, The Alchemist, and Vancity Buzz.

Happy Birthday Long Table

LongTablePress It was just about a year ago that the first distillery to operate in Vancouver in a long time opened up on Hornby Street.  Long Table Distillery kicked off an exciting year for fans of locally-produced spirits, with five other distilleries opening in the lower mainland, and bringing our total to 14 in the province.

I sat down to talk with founder and distiller Charles Tremewen to find out how the year went.  I asked him what his biggest surprise was in the last year: "I have been amazed by how wonderful the fans are - once they recognize the products we produce. It's fantastic how appreciative people are of fine local spirits."

Long Table opened it's doors with a London Dry Gin and Texada Vodka, but has since added  other products, including an aquavit, a cucumber gin, and peppermint mist.  The year ahead promises more innovation.  Charles plans to continue to grow his product base, explore more BC ingredients, and look to collaborate with BC growers and producers.

Gin and Tonic Fridays

Another interesting question for me was how the addition of so many distilleries has impacted Long Table.  "We're seeing a shift due to the synergy of a growing awareness in Vancouver of distilleries," Charles said.  In this case, the competition appears to have been good for business.  This gets at the heart of our purpose at BC Distilled, with the idea that a broader general awareness is good for the distilling community as a whole.

Long Table recently got another first under their belt, with the launch of their tasting lounge, something the provincial government recently allowed.  Their first Gin and Tonic Fridays was held on Janruary 31, opening to a packed house, as well as a visit from Vij's Railway Express and Vikram Vji himself. This new option for distilleries promises to be a great way for fans to try the products and interact with the distillers -- we'll no doubt see Charles' colleagues follow suit in short order.

If you haven't yet, perhaps it's time to drop by, have a taste, and wish them a happy birthday. It's the first of a few birthdays fans of local spirits can celebrate in 2014.

Arbutus Distillery in Nanaimo

AurbutusDistillery2 Now that's a big still! Arbutus Distillery, housed in its own custom-built facility in Nanaimo, is getting close to putting its new 1000L still into operation, bringing a welcome addition to the BC distillery scene, and establishing themselves as Nanaimo's first craft distillery.

I had a chance to visit them over the holidays and meet with distiller Michael Pizzitelli to find out a little more about their plans and also see their impressive facility. Like a few of our other craft distillers in BC, Mike trained at Hariot Watt in Scotland.

Last year Arbutus Distillery made a splash together with their creative team at Hired Guns Creative when they released label designs for their Coven Vodka and The Empiric Gin, both of which generated a lot of attention.

The Tasting Room

The stills are in, regulatory waters have been mostly navigated, and they're  hoping to be up and running this spring. Out of the gate we'll see a vodka and gin to go with those fancy labels. Mike also has plans for an absinthe (Baba Yaga -- love those names), which will be the third produced in BC.

With that great building he's in there'll be some room to put some barrels aside for aging whisky, which is good news for our young local single malt industry.

This is another one to watch -- I'm looking forward to seeing what Mike will come up with.


British Columbia Single Malt Whisky

Pemberton's Limited Batch Release Single Malt I was a lucky man on Tuesday: Tyler Shramm was in Vancouver and dropped off my order of his Limited Batch Release Single Malt Whisky.  Pemberton Distillery's whisky marks the latest -- but not the last -- we'll see of new single malts produced in British Columbia.  Already on the scene is Okanagan Spirits Laird of Fintry single malt, which had a very limited release last month (I wasn't one of the lucky ones to get my hands on a bottle).  Urban Distilleries also produces their own unique and award-winning take on a single malt.

But there's more on the way.

  • Odd Society Spirits has plans for an unaged/white whisky, and Master Distiller Gordon Glanz says he'll be putting some aside to age.  
  • Lisa Simpson at The Liberty Distillery has told me they will also produce a white whisky, with plans to barrel some for aging.
  • Victoria Spirits, mostly known for their great gin, reports on their site that they have whisky aging ... I think I need to make a trip to the Island to snoop some more.
  • The Dubh Glas, which I visited this summer, will be BC's second purpose-built single malt whisky distillery, after -
  • Shelter Point Distillery, on Vancouver Island.  Their whisky is "quietly aging in barrels" until 2014.

That's eight distilleries either planning, currently producing, or aging single malt whisky.  It's not quite up to Scotland's volume, but they do have a five century head start us.

While I'm a fan of many kinds of spirits, in my opinion single malt whisky is one of the great testaments to human creativity.  British Columbia has an opportunity, with our growing distilling industry, to become a serious whisky producing region.  It will take 10 or 20 years, but if we as consumers support our distillers and show them we're eager for these products, they will reward us.

Now back to that Pemberton Single Malt: it's just three years old, the minimum to be called a single malt.  Its time in ex-bourbon casks has given it a great mix of flavours -- for our first tasting my wife and I got vanilla, almonds, very light caramel, with some spices (we couldn't pinpoint more specifically) and fruity overtones.

At such a young age, it's not the smoothest whisky on the market, but the complex flavours more than make up for it.  I'd take it over many older single malts I've tried from around the world, including Scotland.  Tyler is letting some age longer, as well -- the latest I've heard is that he's planning his next release at five years.  The character of this whisky is sure to get even better with a couple of more years in the barrel.  If you're a whisky fan, I highly recommend getting your hands on a bottle of the the three-year-old, though.  This is a rare opportunity.


BC's Liquor Policy Review

There are some patterns emerging in the public feedback on John Yap's first blog post regarding modernizing BC's liquor laws. I spent some time reading through them so you wouldn't have to. In my entirely unscientific review, here's what I've found people want:

  • Allow drinking in public, especially in parks. This is definitely one of the top suggestions people are raising. If you've ever seen Edinburgh (where public drinking is allowed) on a Sunday morning, you might give this idea some sober second thought (so much broken glass ...). If you've even been harassed by Vancouver's finest at English Bay for your bottle of pinot, this idea makes sense.
  • The government should get out of liquor distribution. I think this idea needs some serious consideration.  It would be worthwhile to revisit why our government is in the distribution business at all. Is there a compelling reason besides a desire to hang on to all that revenue? Would other models result in similar net revenue for the province?  Would other models make better sense for consumers or business, or the economy as a whole?
  • Allow liquor to be sold in grocery stores. John Yap dedicated his second blog post on this topic, so clearly this idea is getting his attention.
  • Allow minors accompanies by adults into pubs. I was surprised by the number of comments asking for this. I don't have kids, but I do recall trying to go to a pub one Sunday afternoon with a friend and his toddler and being given the bum's rush. What the hell?

Other ideas I liked but not getting as much popular attention:

  • Reduce liquor taxes. I'll refine this to suggest reducing markups on spirits at least. Spirits in this province have an effective retail markup of 170% versus 123% for wine and beer. These should be equalized. There is a very good reason why many craft distilleries in BC choose not to sell their products through the Liquor Distribution Board: they can't afford to.
  • Give bars and restaurants wholesale pricing. It's kind of amazing that they don't already get that. It certainly helps to explain why we pay two or three times retail for that bottle of wine. Think about this the next time you buy a $60 bottle of BC wine at a restaurant -- the winery probably takes $10 to pay for their operating and production costs.
  • Allow home distilling. New Zealand decided enforcing this law wasn't worth the expense, so the legalized it. It can be done without dire consequences. This may be a giant leap when we can probably only expect the province to take baby steps, but it's worth mentioning.

Here's how you can express your ideas on this topic. Let's all keep our fingers crossed that this whole exercise leads to some positive and progressive changes in the province.

Fun with Bitters

My Bitter Collection I still remember my first exposure to bitters. It was probably four years ago, and my wife and I were driving through the Saanich Peninsula, taking the slow road to Victoria, stopping off here and there to collect bottles of wine (this is really the best way to travel). One of the places we really wanted to visit was Victoria Spirits. I already knew their gin but wanted to see the distillery and find out what else they had on offer.

One of the surprises we came across was their Orange Bitters. I knew about bitters but didn't really care - they weren't something that I felt I needed to try. Well, we tried them, and we were hooked.

From that point on Victoria Spirits Orange Bitters made their way into most of the gin and tonics we made, and we did our part to evangelize them to our friends, either by the bitters in drinks we made or by giving away our fair share of bottles as gifts.

It seems like the use of bitters have taken off in a pretty serious way since then. My uneducated perspective is that this is partially due to the resurgence of a cocktail culture in Vancouver and other cities, but also the fact is, we just have more and more options available, both locally and from around the world.

So many bitters

Bittered Sling & Long Table

My timing for thinking about bitters coincided nicely with an event on August 22, Bitters 101 at Long Table Distillery, run by Bittered Sling.  Charles Tremewen, the master distiller at Long Table, hosted Lauren Mote and Jonathan Chovancek from Bittered Sling. Lauren is a mixologist and Jonathan is a chef -- and they bring not only incredible passion and energy to their business, but seemingly endless knowledge about bitters and their use not only in making drinks but also in cooking.

The two of them took a sold-out room of happy attendees through the history of bitters, accompanied by a couple of outstanding cocktails (thanks Lauren cocktails and Charles for the gin!), some outstanding cake (thanks Jonathan!), and most importantly a tasting of their bitters. Each tasting came with recommendations for use in cocktails and well as cooking.  I liked them all, but my favourites where the Suius Cherry, Shanghai Rhubarb, and the most unique for me Cascade Celery.

Personally the most important thing I came away with was a desire to learn to use bitters more in my cooking -- which is probably not the right thing to say on a website dedicated to drinking spirits.  I promise I'll also start using them more in my cocktails!

Some Local Options

In BC, we're doing pretty well with our options:

  • Victoria Spirits recently expanded their line, including Orange, Rosemary Grapefruit, and Black Pepper. I was lucky enough to try all three at the year's Edible BC show, and can recommend them all with enthusiasm.
  • Vancouver's Bittered Sling, of course. See above ...
  • In Victoria, Housemade Bitters produces several small batch bitters, as well. I have yet to try them, but am keeping my eye out for the opportunity.


An extra early peak at The Dubh Glas Distillery

The First Tasting at The Dubh Glass On an overcast but still beautiful day in the Okanagan I had the opportunity to meet Grant Stevely, soon-to-be-master-distiller at The Dubh Glass Distillery in Oliver, BC.  Located just a few minutes north of the Oliver town centre, right on Highway 97, work is just starting on their purpose-built distillery, with an expected completion date of December 2013.

Grant was a welcoming host and gave my wife and me the honour of being the first people to taste some spirits at the distillery -- we sampled some Still Waters Stalk & Barrel Single Malt from Concord, Ontario, Saskatoon's LB Distillers Gambit Gin, and some Masterson's Rye.

I was stuck by the strong vision and that Grant has for his distillery, as well as his forward thinking.  While he will produce other spirits which are sure to be a treat, his focus is on creating craft single malt whisky.  He is lucky to be just down the road from Canada's largest cooperage, Okanagan Barrel Works, so he will have the opportunity to explore different finishes and build a close relationship with a local barrel maker.  In addition, Grant has plans to explore the opportunities that come with being surrounded by wineries in every direction looking to offload their spent barrels, which have been soaked in all sorts of interesting flavours.  We're sure to see some innovative stuff come out of a it.

The Dubh Glass represents for us another example of the exciting future of BC distilleries -- passionate distillers who are helping BC to become a major source of innovative craft spirits. I can't wait to see them up and running.

Canadian Vodka Alternatives

The Mighty Vodka Column There has been a lot of news lately around Russia's agressive stance towards the LGBT community, especially in light of the upcoming Sochi Winter Olympics. One of the forms of protest that people have gravitated towards is the idea of boycotting Russian vodka (and specifically Stolichnaya, giving rise to #boycottstoli) .  He didn't come up with the idea, but Dan Savage has done a lot to promote and defend it.

Whether you feel a boycott is necessary or valuable, the fact is British Columbia and Canada produce all the vodka you need.  If you're a vodka drinker, you have no excuse: stay local and buy Canadian vodka:

British Columbia (also see our map)


Yukon Territory



Prince Edward Island



We Visited The Liberty Distillery for a Sneak Peek

TLD still door Another beautiful Tuesday afternoon, and another treat for us -- this time we visited The Liberty Distillery on Granville Island. We spent a good hour talking to Lisa Simpson, the Director of Operations, about their plans and journey towards becoming one of Vancouver's craft distilleries.

TLD is aiming to open in September (fingers crossed), joining Odd Society Spirits to make for a very good September for Vancouver's craft distillery scene.

They have a beautiful space on Granville Island, and will no doubt be an instant hit with tourists and those of us interested in local spirits.

Out of the gate, TLD plans on offering a wheat-based gin and vodka, as well as a white (un-aged) barley whisky. They also plan on casking some of their rye to age, so we can look forward to exciting future releases of aged whisky.

You can go by their location on Granville Island and peek in their big garage door windows if you want to check out their great still set up -- one for whisky and gin, and another for vodka.

TLD distillery space

TLD vodka still

TLD Towers

TLD both stills


Odd Society Sneak Peek

One of the great things about being a part of BC Distilled is taking a leisurely journey on a sunny Tuesday afternoon to get a sneak peak at one of Vancouver's imminently new distilleries this week: Odd Society. We found master Distiller Gordon Glanz hard at work putting some of the finishing touches on his impressive set up -- two stills, including one still for whisky and gin, and second still with a 15 foot column for vodka.

Gordon is hoping to open his doors to the public in September. Looking at where Gordon comes from, including an M.Sc. in Distilling from Hariot-Watt University in Scotland, we're excited to see what kind of magic he will have on offer for us.  All their spritis will be grain-to-table (ensuring that craft designation!): un-aged whisky, gin, and vodka, with plans to barrel age some of that whisky, and also bring some seasonal specialties.

The distillery is at Commercial and Powell, which is starting to take shape as a little bit of a hub for local alcohol production. For those of us who are familiar with Distillery Row in Portland, this is an exciting idea -- a concentration of microbreweries and distilleries within walking distance of each other could make for some fun Saturday afternoons (or Tuesdays, if you can manage it).

Local in Brooklyn, NY

The Bar at Oenology I recently headed to New York City for my first trip. For my wife and I when we decide to go somewhere the first things we think are, where can we eat, and what can we drink? Of course I was eager to find out what kind of local flavours New York craft distilleries had to offer. The first thing I wanted to find out was if NY State was also seeing regulatory changes, as BC and many other states and provinces have.

The regulatory changes in New York State started in 2002, when they significantly dropped the licensing fee from $50,000 to $1,400 for start up distilleries. In 2007 the state introduced a farm distillery license, making it even easier for new distilleries to start up, as long as they used at least 50% NY state agricultural goods. The result has been positive - more distilleries are opening up, and they have strong relationships with local farms (and are generating new tax revenues for the government, of course!).

My wife and I picked one local Brooklyn distillery to visit - Kings County Distillery, New York's oldest distillery -- around since 2009! -- and the first operating in NY State since prohibition. The distillery didn't open until later in the day so we decided to pick a random subway stop in Brooklyn and wander around. It's kind of like Kitsilano, only bigger and better and more.  We had decided to make our way to the distillery when we found Brooklyn Oenology, purely by chance. We figured we'd find some air conditioning and wine to cool off with, but they also had a first class assortment of stuff from local distilleries. We availed ourselves of the cool (literally and figuratively) space and fine selection.

We tried Delaware Phoenix Distillery's Bourbon, produced from an 19th century recipe -- a classic, tasty bourbon. We also sampled Atsby's Armadillo Cake Vermouth, was a real treat for us.  It was our first artisan vermouth and I think would offer some amazing cocktail possibilities. I'm not sure a craft vermouth would be possibile in BC -- vermouth is a fortified wine (wine added to a distilled beverage), and our new craft laws require the product to be distilled and fermented on site, which would mean you'd need to find a distillery which could ferment the wine or a winery which could also distill the liquor.  We also tried Comb 9 Gin, which is distilled from fermented honey, of all things.  It wasn't very juniper heavy, and as our  friend The Gin is In points out, it has some good floral characteristics. There's nothing like stumbling upon a random gem like this place!

Barrels of Bourbon

After a long, hot, and misguided walk through Brooklyn (stupid Apple maps) we finally arrived at Kings County Distillery, just as a tour was starting.  They have only recently moved to this new space - a refitted bank in the Brooklyn Navy Yard - although they are already getting close to using up their storage space. They have some pot stills brought in from Scotland, but they aren't up an running yet. In the mean time they are running three shifts using several small 'home distiller' class stills.  Once their pot stills are up and running their output should be impressive, both in quantity and quality.

Kings County produces a moonshine (un-aged corn whiskey) as well as a barrel aged bourbon whiskey and a chocolate flavoured whiskey (surprisingly good -- not too sweet). For aging they use five gallon new american oak barrels.  The smaller barrels have two key advantages for them - first, with a smaller barrel you get a larger surface contact area for the liquid, which speed up the aging process (about 14 months), and second, it makes it easier to haul them up the stairs to their second floor storage room!  We found the bourbon to have a very sweet aroma, which no doubt comes from the corn base, but wasn't too sweet to taste. It was good enough that I was wishing I hadn't travelled carry-on, stopping me from brining anything back.

One of the things we really liked about this distillery is that it not only uses NY State corn, but it then sends it's spent mash to back into the country side to a local farm with pigs.  During their move, when they stopped production, apparently the pigs went on a little bit of a hunger strike, upset that they weren't getting their afternoon buzz. I'd do the same.

Proof Washington

Proof Washington Sound Spirits Proof Washington gets me dreaming about where BC distilling industry could be headed.

A couple of weekends ago I went to Seattle to attend Proof Washington, hosted by the Washington Distiller's Guild and attended by 42 Washington and Oregon distilleries, plus what I'm guessing was close to a thousand spirit enthusiasts in one afternoon and one evening session.

This was the first event of its kind in Washington, and it comes about five years after that state saw some regulatory changes which resulted in a boom in new distilleries. At BC Distilled, besides our excitement to try so many local products in one place, we were keenly interested in seeing how this event was run. We're pretty sure Vancouver will see something similar, if on a smaller scale, on 2014.

The festival was held at The Foundry, in a mostly-industrial area south of the city. Besides the great selection of distillers, the room had plenty of other local treats, including a fine selection of chocolate and cheese makers, as well as tasty bites from local restaurants. They also loaded up on the water stations ... smart idea.  There was even off sales, which was killing me, because my 24 hours in the US wasn't enough to give me any allowance to bring back alcohol. The border guard found it hard to believe I didn't have any booze when I told him where I'd been.

Beyond how well the event was run, what I was really struck by was the creativity I saw in the products. Some highlights include:

proof Washing bainbridge

Sound Spirits - on top of their creative marketing, they produce a gin with malted barley as well as an aged gin. Really tasty and creative.

Bainbridge Organic Distillers - Their Organic Doug Fir Gin is very smooth and not too juniper-heavy. Perfect for a very dry martini. Their Battle Point Organic Whiskey was also a treat.

Dry Fly - One of the original Washington distillers showed up with some first class products, including a Triticale Whiskey and a Barrel Aged Gin (reusing their own whiskey barrels).

Wishkah River Distillery - Honey Vodka, Bulfinch 83 Unfiltered Gin, and Thirteen Corners Virgin Cask Whiskey … all great products.

These are the ones I can remember, but we tried many other amazing products, as well as some outstanding chocolate and cheese. I imagine next year will be even bigger and better. We'll be there.

The Craft in Craft Distilling

Schramm'sRecently we enjoyed a little bit of a Twitter exchange regarding what constitutes "craft" in the world of craft distilling. This was spurned by a couple of articles - first, in The Atlantic, and then a response and a little more in-depth blog post at Liquidity Preference. There are a lot of terms being thrown around, like neutral grain spirits (NGS), non-distillery producers (NDPs), and even a new one to us, 'grain to glass'. The discussion revolves around how distilled spirits are made. At one end, a distillery can purchase in bulk high-proof (like, 190% ABV) alcohol from an industrial manufacturer, to be delivered to their door. They could then literally drop a cheese cloth full of botanicals like juniper berries and lemon peels, let it steep, add some water, bottle it and call it gin. At the other, you can have a farm growing their own grains, malting, fermenting, and distilling their own spirits. And there's a bunch of options in between.

Right now we probably run the gamut here in BC. At BC Distilled we have yet to try something from this province that we've thought was really poor quality, but of course we've tried things we like more or less, and there are definitely different grades of quality, as there is in any market.

As we mentioned in a previous post, though, the BC Government has largely taken care of this for us, at least for now, in defining a craft distillery as one which uses 100% BC agricultural inputs, and ferments and distills their product on-site. As we mentioned in our Twitter exchange, we expect there are distilleries in BC who are not very happy with this definition, as they use NGS. We also know from personal experience that you can get decent quality goods produced from NGS spirits.

We think that in some ways this very pure definition may constrain some creativity, or stop what might be some perfectly reasonable practices. For example, it might a good idea for a distillery to buy a batch of sub-par wine from down the road at their local BC winery, and use it to distill into a tasty vodka. Under the current rules we don't think that would be allowed unless the distillery was willing to give up the craft designation for that product (and in so doing hand the government its 163% markup). The 163% savings is also only available for on-site sales at the distillery, which will benefit urban producers, but isn't an incentive for something like a farm distillery unless it is still very close to an urban area.  Finally, we're aware that while this is a great idea in theory, it may not be entirely practical in the current BC agricultural market -- it's just not designed to support small batch distilling yet.

Our fledgeling industry is still finding it's feet, though. The recent changes from the government are a start, and if nothing else have got the discussion going and have clearly kickstarted the what we hope will become a craft distillery boom in British Columbia.

We think more progressive changes are ultimately needed, but in the mean time as consumers we look forward to seeing how this plays out.

A Small But Shining Local Presence at a Dram Come True

Every year Vancouver's own Writers Festival holds a fundraiser called a Dram Come True. It's focused on Single Malt Scotch, with some Irish, Canadian and Japanese whiskies thrown in for good measure. After a two or three year hiatus I decided it was time to visit and see how things have changed. In the past it was held in a private mansion in Shaughnessy. It was packed full of people, but you could wander the awesome grounds with a a scotch in hand and if it's your thing light up a big ol' cigar to help you with some existential contemplation.

Pemberton Distillery Single Malt

This year it was held at Hycroft House. It was a much bigger location, which meant more room to move around. The lines at the tables were still there, but it was definitely more roomy. Leave your cigars at home, though, as the new property doesn't allow them.

The event held the usual suspects, such as Macallan, Ardbeg, some very nice Caol Ila, and so on.  Also making a strong appearance was the Canadian version of the Scotch Malt Whisky Society, whose headquarters in Leith, Scotland some of us might consider to be close to the centre of the universe. This is definitely not an event to highlight the best of Canadian or BC spirits, though.

One treat was the presence of Pemberton Distillery, tucked away from the other tables. And they came prepared - serving their soon to be bottled single malt whisky, aged in bourbon barrels and barely three years old. It was a treat, to say the least. I tried one forgettable ten year old Canadian Rye Whisky which had nothing on our Tyler's newest product.  It's coming in September this year and I cannot wait.

I think ADCT has lost a bit of its heart moving to the bigger location, but it's still a great event and it's fun to support the Writer's Festival. If they can get more BC-based whiskies in the years to come it will make it all the more special.


What's happening with distilleries in BC?

Our wonderful province has seen some significant changes in the distilling space in the last year or so. At BC Distilled we think this is good news - for everyone who cares about drinking locally produced spirits, about seeing the industry grow, about supporting the BC economy (including farmers, distillers, bars, restaurants), and most importantly about creating a market that can start to innovate and produce great products. So what's changed. Why are we so excited?

If distilleries:

1. Produce less than 50,000L a year, and 2. use 100% BC agricultural goods, which they 3. distill on site,

then they can call themselves a craft distillery.

The magic of the craft distiller label ...

In BC, our craft distilleries can sell their spirits on site and save on the big fat BC Liquor retail mark-up. This is the thing that's really important: BC Liquor Distribution Board charges 163% markup on liquor products sold in their retail locations. They used to charge the same markup even if the liquor was sold directly at the distillery. Now they don't for direct sales.

Let's put that another way: on a $45 bottle of gin, if you buy it direct from your local craft distillery, thats around an extra $20-25 in your local craft distiller's pocket.  It's not a small amount, and it's probably one of the main reasons why distilleries are starting to pop up everyone -- a lot of them in urban areas.

These kinds of changes can have a big impact on the amount of fun we as consumers have. In Washington State, where they made similar changes in 2008, they went from a couple of craft distillery to dozens today. Do you think their resident gin and whisky aficionados are having more fun or less now?

There are even more changes our government can make to promote this industry, just to level the playing field with our fine local wineries and breweries. But it's a good start.

Now let's celebrate with a martini.