By Nikki Bayley
B.C. is at the heart of the craft distillery boom in Canada with more distilleries in the province right now than in the rest of Canada put together – and the majority of them are based in the lower mainland, using local ingredients to create craft gins, vodkas, and a dizzying range of fruit-based liqueurs. From the internationally award winning Long Table Distillery’s Cucumber Gin, made with locally-grown ‘cukes to the B.C. black currents in Odd Society Spirits’ Crème de Cassis, the focus is on delicious west coast and valley flavours.
Alex Hamer founded the BC Distilled Festival to showcase and celebrate B.C. distilleries to a wider audience. After launching in 2014, the event throws open the doors each year to hundreds of local distillery fans who can sample spirits from the 22 distillers in attendance, “If you’re at all interested in tasting local spirits, the lower mainland is the place to come,” says Alex. “There is no better place in Canada, distillers are innovating styles of gin and vodka here that have never been done before, and they all push each other to keep going further. This is something that is only going to grow and get better. Now people are aging spirits and we’ll see some good whiskies coming in the next 4-5 years too.”
Thanks to recent changes in the law, distilleries are now able to have tasting rooms and visitors can sample the spirits and often try them in craft cocktails too, usually at handsome bars with the distillery’s still gleaming away behind glass.
“Visitors love it,” laughs Hamer, “you can try out something really interesting, spend the evening there and have a great local cocktail. The tasting rooms at Deep Cove Distillers in North Van, the Odd Society in East Van, the Liberty Distillery on Granville Island and the Long Table Distillery in North False Creek are especially nice. The Yaletown Distillery even has a bar attached so you can try everything they do there. Aside from sampling the spirits, you can learn more about the process on a distillery tour and meet the people who created and distilled the drink in your glass at the end.”
If you’re inspired by what you see and what you taste, you can buy spirits to take home and often pick up beautiful bar equipment too so you can start making craft cocktails too.
Visitors to the city are often amazed by the variety of locally distilled spirits on offer which use West coast ingredients like spruce tips or even local flowers and honey. Hamer is enthusiastic about this break with tradition, “that’s what’s really cool about what’s happening in B.C. and the west coast; we’re not tied down by tradition which gives us free range to experiment and it’s amazing that we’re doing this here.”