Canadian Craft Spirits: Where do you start?

Canadian Craft Spirits: Where do you start?

Ah, the excitement of seeing a new craft distillery open up in your locality. It’s fun and important to support the up and comers. They are a big boost to the scene of craft cocktails. Often they will build spirits around gaps in the bartenders arsenal. For example, having spoken to countless craft distillers, I am confident we will see an explosion in Old Tom styled gins in the coming year. 

British Columbia showcased the growth of their craft spirit scene this month with the BC Distilled Micro-distillery festival. With almost 20 distilleries showing off their wares. Everything from Absinthe, Bitters, Gins, Fruit brandies and Vodka. A handful of Single Malt Whiskies that are all nearing release. Walking around, I tasted a dozen Vodkas surprised at the range of taste profiles. From the single malt Earl Grey notes of distiller Michael Pizzitelli’s Arbutus Coven vodka, to the lemongrass citrus of Long Table Texada vodka and the fennel notes of Odd Society‘s East Van Vodka. 

Charles Tremewen, the Founder and Distiller of Long Table Distillery says that his goal in the beginning was to strictly have a Gin distillery, so the Texada vodka came as a bit of a delicious afterthought.

Mike Urban Master Craft Spirits Distiller

Mike Urban Master Distiller for Urban Distilleries in Kelowna BC

Mike Urban, Owner and Master Distiller of Urban Distilleries makers the highly touted Spirit Bear Gin and Vodka, as well as a Grappa Moscato and a Single Malt Whisky. Mike laughed heartily when I asked him what came first out of his still. He responded, 

“My background was as an Engineer. I was making beer and wine at home as a hobby. I wanted to build a still for the challenge of understanding how to design and build it. When completed, the first thing I distilled was one of my homebrews. It was awful! I promptly dumped the batch”

Victoria Spirits created Canada’s first copper still premium gin before moving on to producing cocktail bitters, Eau de Vies, Hemp Vodka and a soon released Whisky. Their Master Distiller Peter Hunt has a degree in Molecular Biology. He was very candid about his first recipe for the still. With a somewhat embarrassed chuckle he allowed, 

” I looked at a bottle of Bombay Sapphire. It has its botanicals listed on the side. So those were the ingredients I started with.”

Alberta will see the next explosion in craft distilleries. Recent changes in their laws has cleared way for smaller productions to operate.

Eau Claire Distillery has set the stage as Alberta’s first craft distillery, in Turner Valley.

Eau Claire Distillery Craft Spirits

The Eau Claire team pose in front of their still

Recently, I talked to Eau Claire Distillery CEO David Farran. He has been in the craft scene for years. One of the builders of the original Alberta craft brewery Big Rock he is also a vital force behind the newer Village Brewing Company. I wanted to get some sense of where a new distillery starts out. He responded, 

“Our Head Distiller (and Village Brewery Brewmaster), Larry Kerwin, developed the recipe himself, using his knowledge and knowing what he wanted as a final result. We talked a lot about what constituted a great vodka and how we were going to achieve it. Much weight was put on the type of grain, the complete mash bill and ultimately how it needed to be distilled to bring out the flavours we were looking for. The recipe, born of 40 year’s experience in the business, came out of Larry’s head!”

Safe to say, we’re excited for the ‘seed to sip’ vodka and everything that follows from this very experienced crew.

As of today, Last Best Distillery is building a prominent new spot in downtown Calgary. We will post their products as soon as they are released. 

In Whitehorse city Yukon Spirits is another tremendous craft brand that we happily work with.

Bob Baxter, the owner of Yukon Spirits and Brewery, came from an engineering background with the dream of leaving the hustle and bustle of Ontario for something slightly more idyllic. They have a rosehip, raspberry and sage botanical vodka, called Solstice, on the market. Recent releases have included an excellent Haskap Berry Marc. Whisky in the barrel.

Craft Spirits Yukon Spirits Haskap Marc

So I asked Bob what came first? 

“The first product that we ran through our still was a batch of whisky. A recipe based on lots of reading plus picking the brain of a couple of industry contacts we had made. But, basically, the recipe and technique came out of our heads based on putting info together from many sources.

Of course, whisky changes with time with regard to flavour. Having the opportunity to blend together many bits from different barrels and batches, we were not overly concerned that we were going to make something undrinkable. “

Bob admits there was an 18 month challenge to creating the Solstice vodka, 

“We made infusions of lots of different types of berries, plus herbs like rosehip, sage, parsley, mint – you name it. We then blended bits of this with bits of that to find a good flavor combo. Based on those tests, we came up with a recipe and made a small batch, knowing that we were using the best info we had but also knowing that it might not taste like we thought it would, as we scaled up the quantities and used our (cleaner) commercial still. We did end up dumping the first trial, but adjusted and were happy with version two.”

So what Canadian Craft Spirits have you most excited?

Lastly, for those not clear on the definition of Canadian Craft Spirits:
Craft Spirits

Here’s the agreed definition of a craft spirit by the Craft Distillers Guild of Canada, British Columbia Chapter

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Written by

Bartender. Dirt City Bon Vivant. Writer for @CulinaireMag | Contributor to Liquor.com | Partner in @justcocktails |

1 comment

  • livelikeburning

    Nice piece man. Nice to have the great distillers growing accross the country. Now for less GOV’T control and we have ourselves a proper distilled revolution.

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