By Jennie Orton
VANCOUVER – Most regions throughout the world that become known for a certain style of distilling earn their distinctions through years of cultivating strict traditional techniques and practices. And much like the youngest child in a family, Canada is not only just as interested in these things as our older counterparts, but we have fewer rules and therefore can get away with WAY more.
It is this newness to the practice and the vagueness of the overall rules that create an atmosphere for experimentation and artistry that makes BC Distilled, in its fourth year as Canada’s largest spirits event reserved exclusively for local distilleries, so genuinely interesting.
“It’s really a new-world approach to making product,” says BC Distilled founder and organizer Alex Hamer. “We aren’t bound by any tradition here and that means we are able to make whiskeys that are aged in barrels that have had different things in them in the past. None of that would’ve happened 10 years ago, and certainly wouldn’t have happened in the places where these things traditionally come from.”
Recently the province changed the liquor laws to allow for more participation by independent distillers and more creative license with production. Since this development, the number of craft distilleries has increased exponentially, thus achieving the province’s goal of creating a vibrant and inclusive industry in the province for spirits. And the results are intriguing to say the least.
“We’re getting to the point in BC where we are developing a bit of a terroir with gin; we’re creating some really unique styles,” says Hamer. Case in point: Sheringham Distillery in Shirley, BC, has begun distilling both gin and akvavit with hand-harvested sea kelp.
With British Columbia being a bounty of natural gifts, the local flavours that can be locally sourced are very exciting. The result is a festival featuring a staggering 34 BC distilleries, which amount to about 80 percent of the distilleries operating in the province. In one place, with a liver of steel, you can see what your province has been doing with grain at the main tasting, which takes place at the Croatian Cultural Centre; one of three spirit showcases taking place at Legacy Liquor; or the Distillers’ Dinner at Forage. Hamer urges newcomers to the festival to go in prepared.
“You need to decide, ‘Am I going to focus on a region or a type of spirit?’ but you should really come into it with a plan. You need to figure out an approach; there are too many products to try them all.”
Challenge accepted, sir.
BC Distilled runs from April 3 – April 8. The BC Gin Showcase is April 3, the BC Whiskey Showcase is April 4, and the BC Aged Gin Showcase is April 5, all at Legacy Liquor. The Main Tasting Festival is April 8 at the Croatian Cultural Centre. Tickets for all of these can be found at bcdistilled.ca. The sold-out Distillers’ Dinner is April 7 at Forage; visit the festival website to get on the waiting list.Croatian Cultural Centre