It’s a good time to be a spirits-lover in Canada. Across the country, as liquor laws loosen and the locavore movement just keeps growing, new craft distilleries are starting up faster than you can stir a martini. While British Columbia (especially Vancouver) has the greatest density of offerings, you’ll find distillers from coast to coast putting their own stamp on gin, vodka, whisky, eau de vie, liqueurs, bitters and other spirited beverages.
New to the scene? Distiller Charles Tremewen of Vancouver’s Long Table Distillery (which has a hip new tasting room and lounge) explains how:
“Take the glass, swirl it, bury your nose in and experience the bouquet. Then take a sip and do something called clucking—aerating the spirit across your tongue. You’re going to get sweet, bitter and sour on your palate at first. Then, when you do the clucking, you’re passing the vapour through your nasal passage, where you’re going to pick up the flavour, and your interpretation of that spirit is going to come through.”
Now that you’re a pro, here are some distilleries to visit for a tasting, tour or to pick up the perfect souvenir bottle.
For a Tour and Tasting
Ironworks Distillery, Lunenburg, N.S.
Lunenburg’s Ironworks gets its name from its home in a 19th-century former marine blacksmith’s shop. Tours encompass the distilling and aging processes and end with samples of spirits and liqueurs, including Bluenose Black Rum, made from local Crosby’s molasses.
Dillon’s, Niagara, Ont.
Dillon’s is best known for its stellar gins, including its Rose Gin, infused with rosehips and rose petals. As you tour the facility to learn how the distillers craft spirits from Ontario grain and fruit, you can taste the vodka, absinthe and eau de vie on offer.
Okanagan Spirits, B.C.
With tours and tastings in both its Kelowna and its recently upgraded Vernon locations, Okanagan Spirits will fill you in on the process of creating liquors and liqueurs (like its perennially popular absinthe) from B.C. fruit and grain.
Dillon’s/Photo courtesy of Wine Tours Toronto
For Souvenir Spirits
Victoria Distillers: A long-time critics’ favourite and grandmother of the scene, Victoria Gin blends 10 botanicals into a premium spirit that’s well worth a place of honour on your bar cart.
Odd Society Spirits, Vancouver: Offerings include a crème de cassis made from B.C. blackcurrants that blends beautifully with bubbly in a Kir Royale.
Eau Claire Distillery, Alberta: Creations include farm-to-glass vodka and gin, the latter infused with saskatoon berries, among other plant-based flavours.
Still Waters Distillery, Toronto: The focus here is whisky; its Stalk & Barrel single malt is made from 100-per cent Canadian barley, aged on-site for at least three years.
Les Subversifs, Quebec: Parsnip is the not-so-secret ingredient in Piger Henricus Gin from Les Subversifs, which also makes a version blended with reduced maple syrup.
Tangled Garden, Nova Scotia: Fruits and herbs from the Annapolis Valley are blended into liqueur flavours like damson plum and basil or strawberry-lavender.