Just like the craft beer decade that really burst onto the scene from the mid-90s, craft distilling is trying to take the local alcohol craze one step further.
Luckily for me, I grew up in the west of Canada and my family now reside on its coast. So, when I head back for visits, I tend to get to try all sorts of cool, up and coming drinks.
Outside of the thoroughly amazing beer and ale offerings, there are now more distilleries popping up. One of the first to do so in Canada was Victoria Spirits, which is making a name for itself in the craft gin and vodka world. Its Victoria Gin is stocked in the parliamentary dining rooms in Canada and the other offerings – like oak-aged gin and hemp vodka – are proving worthy on the drinks scene and a favourite of bartenders.
Master distiller Peter Hunt has worked for the family business since it switched from small-batch wine production to spirit distillation. The former molecular biologist decided to give up medical research in favour of alcohol research and hasn’t looked back since. He’s joined by brother-in-law Phil Lecours (the distiller), sister Anna (Phil’s wife, the creator of the company’s bitters) and sister Mia (a London-based label designer).
The decision to experiment on the company’s 217 litre handmade, wood-fired copper still (imported from master-stillmakers Muller-Brennereianlagen) and make whisky came in 2009 when they filled one first run, small bourbon barrel with their new make spirit, which is double-distilled and “run through as hard and fast as it can be” to produce a unique spirit, according to Peter.
“Using a still like this, you’ll get a different flavour than a typical still. But that being said, it makes some fantastic spirit,” he said to me during a tour of the twee 35ft x 40ft distillery.
The new make spirit has been carefully monitored ever since. Last year, it was decided the small first run barrel was giving the new make too much flavour, too quickly, so the decision to mix it with a new batch of new make was made. The whisky – currently named ‘Craigdarroch’ after nearby Craigdarroch Castle – will not be ready until 2014.
But the waiting does not seem to faze Peter – possibly because he finds himself too busy doing constant runs for the gin and vodka ranges.
“It’s a bit fly by the seat of our pants right now. I might throw in a barrel of new make again because I like what it did the last time,” he added, chuckling.
What did I think of it?
Well, it is only just over two years old, but it was quite exciting. It was very oaky, but that felt like it would settle down a bit with age. There were notes of apple and a strong twang of vanilla on the nose. But while those flavours could potentially overpower on the palate, I was surprised to find a real burst midway through my sip, with notes of pink peppercorn, pears and caramel seeping through. I think it will be an exciting spirit when it finally finishes doing its work.
In the interim, it was simply a pleasure to meet Peter and witness first hand what seems to be a growing trend on the west coast.
“I know there’s lots more [distilleries] coming because I’m getting the calls from people who want to start,” he told me.
Exciting all around…