North of the border micro-distilleries are churning out travel-worthy gins.
Stellar west coast craft distilleries abound in the U.S. such as California’s St. George Distillery and Washington’s Dry Fly. So, it’s no surprise how the trend has now migrated north. British Columbia, Canada’s western province is booming with new farm-to-flask booze makers.
In 2012, there were eight micro distilleries in British Columbia. Today, there are 54 in B.C. with 15 more opening on the horizon. Due to a quicker turn-around time (versus whisky) and endless possible variations, gins are the predominant spirit being produced here.
I took a road trip through Vancouver Island to see the breathtaking scenery, surf in the freezing Pacific Ocean and sample the bounty of new craft spirits (there are 16 distilleries total on Vancouver Island).
Hot tip: Bring an extra suitcase for all those drinkable souvenirs you’ll sample. (Due to legal reasons, alcoholic beverages made in British Columbia can’t be sold in the States.) From a farmhouse in Duncan to a brewery-turned-distillery in Victoria, here are a few of my favorite small batch gins on Vancouver Island:
Phillips Brewery Fermentorium, Victoria, B.C.
Matt Phillips, one of the city’s most fun-loving craft beer makers, launched his first spirit in May 2015. Stump Coastal Forest Gin, with a wooden label, is infused with B.C.-grown botanicals, such as juniper, cascade hops, grand fir, bay laurel, coriander and lavender. The Fermentorium offers tastings of Stump gin and other artisanal drinks, such as seasonal brews, tonics and hops bitters. Hot tip: don’t miss checking out the colorful organ that makes music by blowing air over empty beer bottles when the keys are played.
Victoria Spirits, Victoria, B.C.
As one of the granddaddies of the B.C. craft gin distilling movement dating back to 2008, Victoria Distilleries proudly calls itself “Canada’s First Premium Gin” with their Vic Gin. Made by hand, the signature juniper-forward gin features note of cardamom, citrus and rose petals. Make reservations in advance to visit the family farm and distillery for a tour and tasting by master distiller, Peter Hunt. Beyond the Oaken Gin, an amber-colored gin aged in new American oak barrels, request to sample their Left Coast Hemp Vodka, Spiced Sidnety, and Craigdarroch Whisky.
Merridale Ciderhouse & Craft Distillery, Cobble Hill, B.C.
Located on an apple farm, Merridale is Canada’s largest producer of craft ciders. Along with their delicious pomme bubbly, they also make apple brandy, apple fortified wines, and a myriad of spirits. Lucky for gin fans, Merridale’s newest ventures include two gins: Cowichan Gin, Cowichan Copper Gin, an aged gin. The base spirit is fermented from a variety of local fruits including apples, pears and cherries and then infused with 47 botanicals. Tastings and tours are available daily. Plus, they offer cool, on-property yurt stays in the orchards, available from April through October.
Ampersand Distilling Co, Duncan, B.C.
Operated by Jessica and Jeremy Schadt, Ampersand represents the epitome of hip, new wave distillers flush with passion for local ingredients both in Canada and Stateside. Handmade from organic B.C. wheat, Ampersand’s gin—ideal for vodka lovers with its juniper-light notes—is sold at the local Saturday farmers market and featured in a slew of bars throughout Vancouver Island. Locals like it so much it’s been voted “BC’s Best Gin” for two years in a row (2016, 2017). Distillery tours—and you’ll want to see the unique coil-system still designed by Jeremy and his dad, both engineers by trade, in person, (by appointment only).
Arbutus Distillery, Nanaimo, B.C.
Biochemist-turned-distiller Michael Pizzitelli likes to do things a little different. The bottles that house his absinthe, gin and vodka are works of art unto themselves. For example, the bottle of Coven, his B.C. wheat-based vodka, glows in the dark. For London dry style gin lovers, Empiric Gin is a tasty twist on the classic style with lemon verbena, rosemary and lavender botanicals. Visit Arbutus distillery, located in an industrial part of town, for complimentary tastings and chats with Pizzitelli and his sister as they wax seal or label each bottle by hand.
To taste more of the island’s libations, visit HelloBC.com for a full list of cideries, breweries and distilleries. Hot Tip: Legal drinking age in British Columbia is 19.