By Graeme Wiggins
VANCOUVER – Sometimes solving problems creatively can give rise to secondary benefits. In the case of East Van’s Odd Society Spirits, they took standards they had to fulfill in order to meet certain government licensing requirements and created a delicious new ginger beer. So not only did they manage to solve the restrictions problem, they ended up further diversifying their menu of beverages and providing what is sure to become a go-to summer drink.
“To make our vermouths we have a winery license,” explains Odd Society brewer and distiller Joel McNichol, “and in order to get the winery license we need to produce a certain amount of wine product per year. Ginger beer qualifies under that. And the turnaround time is significantly easier and better than wine. What we would be required to make for a winery license is more wine than we would need. We can make this and get it out the door and can it.”
The end result, Ginger, is a refreshing, low alcohol drink that retains the spiciness of a ginger beer without kicking you right in the taste buds. It’s perfect for picnics and day drinking.
“I hate to say this, but if you’re a total ginger beer connoisseur, quite often people who are really into it are hard to please because they want that punch in the nose and slap in the face,” says McNichol. “I wanted to do something more approachable. Even people who don’t drink ginger beer are drinking this one.”
Unlike some ginger beer, Ginger is not made like a traditional beer with malts. It uses organic sugar for fermentation. This, again, arises out of government licensing requirements.
“Initially I wanted to make it with malt, but according to license it would be a beer, so we used organic sugar as the fermentable,” explains McNichol. “There’s no mash, no malts.” Rounding out the ingredients are water, yeast, chilli peppers, dried orange peel, and fresh ginger, lemon and lime.
“There are all sorts of restrictions on how we can serve this,” he says. “It can’t be kegged. One of my dreams is to age this in gin barrels and release it, but that’s not realistic.”
This, mixed with the fact that it would be hit with a pretty high tax at liquor stores, means that it’s only available at Farmer’s Markets around town and, of course, Odd Society’s bottle shop and cocktail lounge. For McNichol, that’s an ideal situation.
“I can think of nothing better than grabbing some at a farmer’s market in the summer and having one on the way home,” he jokes. But joking aside, this ginger beer is seriously tasty.
Odd Society Spirits is located at 1725 Powell Street.