Canada is a country of incredible natural bounty that is about more than just maple syrup. Though lacking a national dish (despite contenders like poutine, beaver tails and Canadian bacon), they do know how to create a beautiful beverage. Craft breweries have been popping up all over the UK in the past couple of years as our passion for beer pushes us to strive for the perfect pint. The same is true of Canadian distilleries and those who have returned to traditional techniques to craft a collection of stunning spirits. Before your flight to Canada, make sure you look into which of these distilleries are near you and stop off for a true Canadian tipple.
In British Columbia
British Columbia is home to the majority of the distilleries that have done so much to improve the reputation of Canada’s liquor industry. Thanks to recent provincial laws there has been a concentration of distillers fermenting their own alcohol and sourcing ingredients from British Columbia in order to retain craft status.
Gordon Glanz Founder and Distiller of Odd Society Spirits told us about the legislation that inspired many craft distilleries in the area:
“Regulations and provincial taxation have changed for sure. But more than that, I think distilleries and spirits are being included in local food movements. Consumers want to connect with producers. How great is it to drink a rye that uses grain grown up north in Dawson Creek, BC.”
Odd Society- Vancouver BC
Odd Society Distillery is a small-batch craft distillery that focuses on making quality products through traditional methods. Based in East Vancouver, Odd Society crafts gin, vodka, Canadian whisky and even Mongrel (like whisky but not aged) which you can try in the tasting lounge. Friendly staff are happy to go through the finer points of the distiller’s art, while you watch the magic happen behind full height windows and sip on Odd Society’s fantastic tipples.
We spoke to Gordan Glanz, Founder and Distiller at the distillery, who was happy to tell us about the ethos of the brand:
“At Odd Society, our brand ethos is ‘Refined Rebellion’. With each product we create, the goal is to push the traditional definition of that spirit in a unique, local way but only if the result is special and delicious. In the end, people vote with their palate and it has to great or we can’t survive.”
Though Odd Spirits Society opened in 2013, Founder and Distiller Gordon Glanz has a long history within the industry. Founder and Distiller Gordon Glanz holds an MSc in brewing and distilling from Heriot Watt University in Edinburgh, Scotland where he experimented with distilling whisky using raw grains and commercial enzymes before studying under the masters at Springbank distillery in Campbelltown. Back in his hometown of Vancouver, Gordon is applying his penchant for experimentation and knowledge of tradition within the Odd Society, which he operates alongside his wife, Miriam Karp.
Shelter Point – Vancouver Island BC
Shelter Point Distillery is built on three principles: ‘pure water, Canadian grain and sea air’ and the 380-acre farm on Vancouver Island has all three of those elements. Shelter Point describes itself as artisanal so its vodka, whisky and sunshine liqueur appeal to even the most refined palates. The ethos at the centre of Shelter Point is its green credentials, which extend beyond just buying locally as the team actually grow the barley and distil their spirits on the same piece of land.
You can tour the distillery and taste their incredible products form Wednesdays to Sunday between noon and five pm, though drop them a message before and to let them know you are coming. They also have a fully stocked gift shop on site so you can come away with the perfect souvenir.
The Liberty Distillery – Vancouver BC
The Liberty Distillery is on Granville Island in Vancouver and, as an area renowned for its culinary excellence, The Liberty Distillery is well placed. With products named Truth, Trust and Endeavour, it is clear there are strong ethics at the centre of this business. They use organic BC grain to make their spirits and honour time-tested, traditional techniques. Not only do they produce excellent vodka, gin and whiskey, but they encourage all customers to have fun and be creative with their spirits.
If you have a trip planned to Vancouver, stop off for a signature cocktail to fully appreciate the spirits they have created. The knowledgeable staff are happy to tell customers about the distilling process and history of distilling in the area.
Victoria Distillers- Vancouver Island, BC
Amateur and professional mixologists alike should have heard of Victoria Distillers, as they continue to strive towards the purist base to create the perfect cocktails. Victoria Distillers offers a classic tour and tasting experience to allow visitors to truly understand their distilling process. With spirits like chocolate liqueur, Sidney Spiced and Empress Gin on offer, it can easily turn into an afternoon event.
Maple Leaf Spirits – Penticton BC
What could be more Canadian than maple liqueur? Made from Canadian maple syrup with a cherry spirit base, this is exactly what is on offer from Maple Leaf Spirits. This is not the only spirit available, however, as they make liqueurs from fruits including peaches and pears as well as fruit brandies.
Based in Penticton, a few hours east of Vancouver, Anette and Jorg are proud of their distillery’s history: “My husband Jorg registered our distillery in 2004, and started operating in 2005. We are now the oldest licenced distillery in British Columbia still in the first owners’ hands.”
Ampersand Distilling Company- Vancouver Island, BC
Family values are at the heart of Ampersand Distilling Company on the five-acre organic farm in Cowichan Valley. Ampersand Gin is the award-winning spirit they are renowned for but they also create a stunning vodka as well. The engineering background of this father and son business comes into play with their unique stills that help create the incredibly pure spirits.
If you are in the area and dying to sample some of Ampersand’s products, you can organise a tasting tour by appointment or head down to Duncan Farmer’s Market on a Saturday morning throughout the summer.
Other Canadian Distilleries
Though British Columbia may historically be home to Canada’s spirit industry, especially being the first province to throw off the shackles of prohibition in 1921, other Canadian territories also have their own offerings.
Still Waters – Concord, Ontario
Still Waters Distillery is based in Concord, Ontario and focuses on creating the perfect whisky, which is a challenge not many distillers are ready to attempt. Barry Bernstein was happy to tell us the hurdles that their distillery had to overcome:
“Still Waters Distillery is the first micro-distillery in Ontario and one of the first in Canada. We are also one of the few that focuses exclusively on whisky. Unlike the US, where there are probably 10 times as many micro-distilleries, Canadian law, like Scottish law, mandates a minimum 3 year maturation for whisky, which is why most micro-distilleries are not focused on producing whisky as they are anxious to get positive cash flow much sooner. We started our production with a single malt whisky using 100% Canadian two-row malted barley. Our feeling was that there are excellent single malt whiskies made all over the world and there was an opportunity to do so here in Canada, especially given our reputation for growing grain and centuries of distilling tradition. We subsequently produced a 100% rye whisky and now a more traditional blended Canadian whisky using our other whiskies in the blend.”
There is a store on site to purchase the perfect gift to take back to a whisky lover at home. You can also talk to staff about their meticulous process of creating wonderful whiskies.
Kinsip – Prince Edward County, Ontario
Nestled on Prince Edward Island in Ontario, Kinsip puts the craft in craft distillery. Visit their farm-based distillery, complete with picturesque views and a flock of chickens. Jeremiah Soucie spoke to us about how their spirits inform more than just drinks, but can be found in a multitude of local products:
“Our core business is making spirits, however we would like to position ourselves to be much more than that. Call it a ‘lifestyle’ brand, we speak for more than just great spirits. For example, in addition to our spirits, we are probably most known for our Whisky Barrel Aged Maple Syrup. We take our empty whisky barrels and fill them with maple syrup, barrel age it for approximately 6 months and then bottle this familiar yet decadent product that becomes a conversation. Everyone has something they use it for that is special to them. Salmon, ice cream, cocktails, the list goes on! Once we age the syrup, we put the whisky back into the barrel to become maple whisky. It is a whisky forward maple whisky, not one that is overly sweet. We have partnered with a hot sauce maker that produces two different sauces using our whisky. Our spirits have gone into preserves, into chocolates and, most recently, canned beans from a local cannery. We worked with a candle maker in Ottawa to create a signature scent, Whisky Barrel and Smoke, a blend of scents reminiscent of spirits and the barrel.”
Despite their whisky-flavoured sauces and scents, they are still passionate about the spirits themselves. Jeremiah was quick to tell us about the careful balance that goes into all of Kinsip’s spirits:
“I like to say in small batch distilling, you want to be different but not too different. That means you are accessible but are not simply trying to replicate an existing product in the marketplace. Gin and whisky are great examples of this. Both give us a great deal of creative freedom to put our stamp on them. Whisky for example – our flagship is 100% rye. Rye in Canada is not actually all rye. It is synonymous with whisky and may only contain 10% rye. Ours is 100%. We look to innovate with new products like our most recent, County Cassis, which is a creme de cassis or blackcurrant liqueur. There are very few made in Canada and most available outside of the small batch spirits world are just too sweet. We try to strike a balance between fruit and sugar and we would like to think we’ve done pretty well at that!”
Image Credit: Odd Society Distillery, Shelter Point Distillery, The Liberty Distillery, Victoria Distillers, Maple Leaf Spirits, Ampersand Distilling Company, Still Waters Distillery, Kinsip