Distilleries

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.

 

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)

Alberta

Yukon Territory

Ontario

Saskatchewan

Prince Edward Island

Newfoundland

 

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).