Tasting

BC Distilled 2018 Recap

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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

Food

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

Food

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

Sponsorship

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).

Cheers,

Alex
 

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.

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.

 

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.

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.