From Field-to-Glass: Okanagan Spirits and the rise of B.C. craft distilleries

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Keeping things local without compromising quality has always been an issue when it comes to ‘field-to-glass’ or ‘farm-to-table’ movements. Businesses are often stifled by their geographic region, taxation policies and access to top-quality ingredients. However, here in British Columbia we’re beyond fortunate to have such an abundance of products and ingredients that are 100 per cent locally grown. Our wineries have garnered international acclaim, our fishing is world-renowned, our fruit is bountiful and our farmers have some of the highest ethical standards in the world.

That being said, I’ve noticed that people who are conscious about buying food from local and organic grocers often don’t make the same careful choices when it comes to their spirits purchases. I’m here to tell you that not only are those choices available at your local liquor store, but they often exceed the quality of well-known top spirits brands. In fact, due to some recent changes in laws governing distilleries British Columbia is becoming a hotbed for craft spirits.

Okanagan Spirits

Case in point: Okanagan Spirits — the province’s first craft distillery, which started up before B.C. even issued that specific licence. Since they first fired up their still in 2004, Okanagan Spirits has used only B.C.-grown products with no additives or artificial ingredients, producing an award-winning line of grappa, brandy, whisky, fruit liqueurs, gin and vodka.

I spoke to Okanagan Spirits’ Rodney Goodchild about what the company is working on for the future, and he quickly referred to B.C.’s first single malt whisky, the ‘Laird of Fintry.’ It’s an exceptional expression of terroir from the Okanagan Valley, produced in very small quantities and released only once a year. The company even implemented a lottery system for people vying to get their hands on this rare and special spirit. Layered with tones of plum and stone fruit, this whisky shines with a delicious finish of vanilla and spice developed over six years spent in French and American oak.

Goodchild also tells me their second distillery in Vernon will allow them to produce spirits in greater quantities and to expand into other markets, making them a huge local success story.

The local cocktail movement

The cocktail movement in B.C. — and in particular, Vancouver — has immensely helped local craft distilleries. “The bartenders act as ambassadors for our spirits. They are the front line and put our products to work to create magic for people,” says Rodney, who refers to his products as “tools” for the bartender. I couldn’t agree with him more. These very tools have helped give my cocktail program its identity. It’s important to me to continually strive to reduce my program’s carbon footprint by choosing local ingredients, and to connect my guests to the field through the glass. Many of my cocktails are also named after local landmarks with the hope that guests will actually seek them out afterwards. I truly believe that a cocktail can act as a concierge — it doesn’t get much more local than that!

Check out a few of my locally-inspired recipes below and begin your field-to-glass journey through B.C. with me:

1. Nine O’Clock Gun

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Inspired by the Stanley Park cannon that blasts every night at 9 p.m., originally established by the Department of Marine and Fisheries in 1898 to signify the Sunday closure of fishing, this cocktail is enriched with maple smoke and packs a potent punch. It’s quite possibly the best way to signify the end of your day of fishing — or whatever else you enjoy.

Ingredients:

  • 1.5 oz Maple Smoked Okanagan Spirits McLoughlin and Steele Whisky
  • 0.5 oz Cocchi Vermouth di Torino
  • 0.5 oz Campari
  • 0.25 oz Canadian Maple Syrup
  • 3 dashes Angostura Bitters

Method:

  • Stir ingredients together in a mixing glass.
  • Serve in an old fashioned glass over ice.
  • Garnish with cherry.

2. Professor Suzuki

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Named after B.C.’s own renowned environmentalist, the Professor Suzuki is all about reducing your carbon footprint. This cocktail features some of the best ingredients from British Columbia, including our world-famous cranberries and honey. This local twist on the classic Cosmopolitan will surely lift your spirits — who knew you could support local while imbibing?

Ingredients:

  • 1.5 oz Thyme-Infused Okanagan Spirits Vodka (place a few sprigs of thyme in the bottle to infuse)
  • 0.25 oz Okanagan Spirits Cranberry Liqueur
  • 0.25 oz Okanagan Spirits Sea Buckthorn Liqueur
  • 0.5 oz Unsweetened Fraser Valley Cranberry Juice
  • 0.5 oz Wildflower Honey Water (1 part Surrey Honeybee Centre Honey, 1 part water)
  • 0.5 oz Lime Juice

Method:

  • Pre-chill a coupe glass.
  • Combine all ingredients in a cocktail shaker and add ice.
  • Shake for 15 seconds and double-strain to couple glass.
  • Garnish with a fresh sprig of thyme.

3. VanDusen Sour

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Named after lumberman and philanthropist Whitford Julian VanDusen, who established the VanDusen Botanical Garden in 1975, this cocktail plays on the floral expressions created by mixing coriander-infused aquavit, and vanilla and elderflower liqueurs. One sip will transports you to the maze of rare flowers and plants growing in our majestic local gardens.

Ingredients:

  • 2.0 oz Okanagan Spirits Aquavitus
  • 0.5 oz Galliano Vanilla Liqueur
  • 0.5 oz St. Germain Elderflower Liqueur
  • 0.5 oz Lime Juice
  • 0.5 oz Lemon Juice
  • 0.75 oz egg whites (whipped to a foam)

Method:

  • Pre-chill a couple glass.
  • Combine all ingredients in a cocktail shaker and add ice.
  • Shake for 15 seconds and double-strain to coupe glass.
  • Top with egg white foam. Add 3 drops Peychaud’s Bitters, and use a tooth pick to design a flower pattern.

If you have any questions or feedback on the cocktails above, come and say hello at Boulevard Kitchen & Oyster Bar where they’re served on our menu.

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About the author

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Justin Taylor A renowned bartender and cocktail creator, Justin Taylor has been a fixture in the industry in both Toronto and Vancouver for the better part of two decades. As Bar Manager at Boulevard Kitchen & Oyster Bar, located at the iconic Sutton Place Hotel Vancouver, Justin continues to stir up the Vancouver bartending scene with a heady mix of knowledge, panache, wit and hospitality.
@taylormixology

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