by Jennie Orton
VANCOUVER – When you think of what could have possibly started the first craft distilled Amaro in the Vancouver market, you wouldn’t automatically reach for: “We were foraging for mushrooms one day.” But that is exactly what Fabio Martini and Joel Myers were doing when they turned to each other, after years of being enthusiasts of beer and spirits, and said, “Let’s start a distillery.”
The two men have been friends since high school in Chatham, Ontario, and have remained close. Myers, a lively and passionate person for whom sitting still for any amount of time seems to be truly painful, dove into a music career, notably playing bass for Bend Sinister, before working at Sons of Vancouver to learn the craft; Martini, a wide eyed and active idea man who leads foraging trips into the woods on a regular basis, got into the beer and brewing industry and made the contacts that would build the idea from its infancy. When the time came to turn a passion project into a living breathing business, the decision to work together was an easy one. And the name was a no brainer.
“I always like to say the idea for the distillery is literally born out of the woods,” laments Martini.
The friends, who still actively forage for botanicals for their recipes in the local forests of the west coast, decided on Amaro after discovering a notable hole in the local market for spirits of that type.
“We were doing our research and drinking a lot of Negronis at the time and there was a Campari shortage. Bartenders were starting to experiment with traditional cocktails more and were calling for a local product that they could support,” recalls Martini.
The process began, and the men had a very distinct idea for how they wanted this spirit to taste. Alas, normal distilling practices did not allow for the subtle flavor extraction they were hoping for. Now this — this is the cool part.
Myers’ wife, Dr. Jennifer Gardy, a PhD in bioformatics, read an article about a distiller in London using a vacuum distiller to extract intense flavors from macerations for his gin. Martini and Myers knew they had to try it, to innovate the distilling process to create something unique.
The wood nymphs had become mad scientists.
The contraption is something directly out of science class and the results are overwhelming. Using a sort of organic chemistry method of distilling in a vacuum under cooler but constant temperatures, like a botanical sous vide, they could pinpoint the exact essence they wanted out of his chosen botanicals, in this case grand fir needles.
Then the foraging continued, as the men discovered their neighbors across the alleyway (and Myers’ former employers) Sons of Vancouver Distillery were tossing out the dregs left over from the distillation of their popular Amaretto. The remnants of the bourbon vanilla and honey and apricots that the Amaretto settled on offered the perfect flavor profile to sweeten the Amaro with during the distillation. Woods purchased the dregs, distilled out the remaining alcohol, and was left with a delicious and complex sweet syrup that enabled them to avoid having to use granular sugar.
“It’s actually great on ice cream,” Myers says with a smile.
The result is a multi-faceted and intoxicatingly layered digestif. A first burst of citrus rind, pulled with expert timing from the fir needles in their 40-degree bath, then a syrupy sweetness courtesy of the apricot syrup, followed by the signature bitterness that Amaros are known and loved for.
“I still take the first sip and am like, ‘damn that…is bitter,’ it kind of slaps your palate around,” admits Martini.
The Amaro Woods has created is a triple threat: excellent in traditional Campari cocktails like the Negroni, holds its own alongside oak barrel aged spirits like bourbon in a good Boulevardier, and this writer’s favorite: on the rocks as a digestif.
“Sometimes I think when you have the right idea and the right approach, the serendipitous things just kind of show themselves,” Myers says.
Now that they have perfected their flagship product, the men of Woods are heading back out into the titular setting to forage for their next flavor. Word is it will be a liqueur based around chanterelle mushrooms, which Martini assures smell like earthy stone fruit and citrus when they are pulled apart. All in the name of bringing the forest to the distillery world using science!
“Let’s try to turn this on its head,” smiles Myers.
The Woods Spirit Co. is currently constructing its tasting lounge, but you can enjoy their Amaro at bars around the city and follow their adventures @woodsspiritco on Twitter and Instagram.