victoria spirits

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.