Spirited event gathers Vancouver's thirstiest on Apr. 8 for a taste of the unexpected
Whether you were a lifelong connoisseur of craft spirits or you simply couldn’t give a dram, the warm glow provided by BC Distilled on Apr. 8 was likely to have won you over.
After all, it’s hard not to get excited when you have 34 of the province’s best and most innovative micro-distilleries all lined up in a room (okay, two rooms) together. Samples were flowing throughout the Croatian Cultural Centre as attendees were treated to sneak peeks at some upcoming releases, as well as mouthfuls of perennial favourites such as Sons of Vancouver’s amaretto or Odd Society’s creme de cassis.
Leading up to the event, whiskies were buzzing particularly hard, as many distilleries have finally been in business long enough to offer something that’s been in a barrel for the obligatory three years. Amaros also proved to be quite numerous, likely spurred in part by the overwhelming popularity of The Woods Spirit Co.’s west coast variation, which debuted at the 2016 event. Attendees were also tossing the r-word around (rum, that is) after sampling offerings from DeVine Vineyards and Victoria Spirits.
Most noticeable, however, was a new tasting glass which debuted at BC Distilled this year. Though it was a lovely souvenir and undoubtedly the perfect way to experience one of the many bottles that got taken home at the end of the night, it was a veritable nightmare for vendors and patrons – hard to clean, slow to empty, sticky to hold. If the custodians at the Croatian Cultural Centre haven’t already nipped this idea in the bud, don’t be surprised if the feedback of attendees steers a course back toward to the humble shot glass in the future. Even at the trade and media tasting earlier in the afternoon, a general consensus was already clear: “I would kill for a Dixie Cup right now.”
However, none of this discounts that the fourth instalment of BC Distilled was a smashing success, including the nearly $4,000 that was raised in support of Pacific Assistance Dogs Society (PADS). The following are a series of highlights from the event – a mixture of the most interesting and most delicious spirits on offer. If you were there, feel free to tell us what we missed. If there’s one thing we’re learning as this event expands, it’s that tasting everything is virtually impossible!
Arguably one of the best whiskies of the entire tasting, the single malt from Shelter Point Distillery (Campbell River) was a smooth, caramel-forward dram that would be more than worthy of a spot on your back bar.
The Lohin McKinnon single malt from Central City Brewing and Distilling (Surrey) showed promise now, but will undoubtedly be even better after a few more years in the barrel.
Okanagan Spirits (Vernon/Kelowna), BC’s oldest craft distillery, showed up ready to get a party started with a bottle labelled BRBN, a corn whisky (read: bourbon) that had all the vanilla smoothness and nutty spice you could possibly ask from anything made in the US of A.
One of the most unique gins on the market right now has to be the Seaside from Sheringham Distillery (Shirley) where a one-of-a-kind botanical – local winged sea kelp – is added during the distilling process.
In terms of colour, The Liberty Distillery takes the cake with its Endeavour Pink Gin, naturally tinted through the addition of macerated cranberries. Not only is it a conversation-starter in a bottle, but a pretty ambidextrous ingredient when it comes to cocktails as well.
Ampersand Distilling Company (Duncan) did not disappoint with their flagship offering, a gin flavoured with a delicious-yet-simple blend of eight botanicals that first won over attendees at the 2016 event.
As for barrelled gins, there is no better example than Odd Society Spirits’ (East Vancouver) Wallflower Oaken Gin, which carries the perfect mix of smooth and smoky without losing any of that signature gin flavour.
There’s just something special about Ampersand’s Per Se vodka, with its creamy mouth feel and subtle hints of vanilla. Delicious enough to drink on its own but neutral enough to mix with just about anything, it drew a lineup for nearly the entire tasting.
Being extra careful not to call it a rum quite yet (the ‘three years rule’ strikes again), Victoria Distillers (Sidney) were pouring the Sidney Spiced, an “aromatic spirit” that is going to make a lot of people happy this holiday season when eggnog returns to the grocery stores.
DeVine Vineyards (Saanichton) brought something on the other end of the spectrum – a honey-based spirit called the Shine, which tasted more like a single malt whisky than anything Captain Morgan would bend a knee for.
Hands down, some of the most unique and complex flavours to fill a glass at BC Distilled this year had to have come from Pairs of Pears, a brandy that also came equipped with a fantastic back-story. (Hint: it involves Deep Cove Brewers and Distillers making a pear brandy that over-extended the parameters of their license, leading to a call being made to Long Table Distillery who then agreed to adopt it and become its legal guardian so that it didn’t have to be dumped down the drain.) Expect a mouthful of ripe, oily and beautifully fresh Bartlett pear flavours with a vanilla sweetness and lingering creaminess.
Merridale Ciderworks’ (Cobble Hill) Cowichan Cognac was another standout, aged for 10 years in French oak and showing how much a little time can benefit BC’s craft spirits producers.
Legend Distilling was showcasing the Manitou, a beautifully balanced orange and sumac liqueur which, on ice, would be about the closest thing you could get to a Creamsicle in a glass. They also brought along their newest product, a yet-to-be-released amaro which offered a beautiful bouquet of oranges, grapefruits and nutty sweetness.
The Akvavit from Sheringham Distillery turned more than a few heads, and for all the right reasons, too. Complex and refined, this Scandinavian spirit starts out sweet with hints of anise and baking spice, before taking a savoury turn with dill flavours greeting the palate.
A few booths over, Odd Society Spirits was sampling an Elderflower liqueur, which distiller Gordon Glanz promised would be making an appearance in their tasting room later in the spring. Their newest offering, the Mia Amata, is best described as the craft equivalent of Fernet-Branca – a beautiful and equally Negroni-ready interpretation of a classic amaro.
Spice is another pattern that seemed to be emerging from the 2017 event. The Chilli Vodka from Sons of Vancouver was a hit as always, but has finally (and deservedly) begun to win over a larger audience with its versatility in everything from tropical tiki drinks to the mighty Moscow Mule.
One of BC’s newest distilleries, Monashee Spirits (Revelstoke), has followed along a similar path by creating the craft answer to Fireball, but with an added chilli heat that picks up where the cinnamon drops off. They also unveiled a cloudy concoction known as Big Mountain Creamer (think Baileys but better), made with real cream and local honey – and, thankfully, managing not to overdo it with sweetness. People were impressed, to say the least!
Stay tuned to BCDistilled.ca for updates on next year’s event. At the rate our province’s craft spirits scene is growing, it likely won’t be long before this festival begins the search for a larger venue!
Campus Life Editor
Community Relations Manager
Arts and Culture Editor