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East Van Vodka

Odd Society Spirits

DistilleriesPhoto: Grant Harder; Cause and Affect.

A few years back, Gordon Glanz was at his dreary office job and surfing the Internet on his lunch break when he came across the website of Heriot-Watt University, which offers a master's program in brewing and distilling. He quit his 9-to-5 gig and temporarily relocated his family to Scotland so he could immerse himself in the study of spirits. "I've got a very supportive wife," Glanz says.

Today, Odd Society, his East Vancouver-based grain-to-glass micro-distillery, makes some of the most delicious and – true to its name – quirkiest spirits around. East Van Vodka, for example, is made from British Columbia-grown malted barley. It's essentially distilled beer, and with grassy caramel notes and a distinct barley flavour it's also a rare vodka that actually tastes like something. Don't even think of mixing it with tomato juice and packaged Caesar rimmer. Far better to savour it on the rocks.

Långbord Akvavit

Long Table Distillery

DistilleriesPhoto: Long Table Distillery (Långbord Akvavit)

Aquavit has a reputation in some parts as Scandinavian firewater. That might have something to do with the homemade versions out there created from rotgut and a handful of herbs and spices. Downtown Vancouver's Long Table Distillery has restored the spirit to its rightful glory with the superb and velvety-smooth Långbord Akvavit (långbord is Swedish for "long table"). Charles Tremewen, who owns the year-and-a-half-old business with his wife Rita, distills the stuff with a classic mix of six botanicals and Seville oranges. Poured straight from the freezer, it has an icy-clean, assertive and refreshing taste. It's superb as an aperitif or with open-face sandwiches.

Three Point Vodka

Eau Claire Distillery

DistilleriesPhoto: Matt Palmer (Three Point Vodka)

For 42 years, Larry Kerwin was one of Canada's top commercial beer brewmasters. (If you've tried beers from Big Rock, Molson, Sleeman, Miller, Carling O'Keefe or Fosters, you'll know his genius.) But until he and his partners at the brand new Eau Claire Distillery began running test batches of gin and vodka last spring, he was an amateur in the world of spirit-making. First released in test batches in March 2014, Three Point Vodka is mellow and rich, with a bit of toffee sweetness, a seam of vanilla and a distinctly creamy finish. Eau Claire, Alberta's first craft distillery, is set in Turner Valley, 45 minutes southwest of Calgary. There's no small amount of local pride – one of Eau Claire's partners has begun planting his nearby farm with rye and barley for the distillery, using draft horses for the ploughing. You've got to raise a glass of gin to that kind of dedication.

Stalk & Barrel Single Malt Whisky

Still Waters Distillery

DistilleriesPhoto: Still Waters Distillery (Stalk & barrel Single Malt Whisky)

Last year, when Barry Stein and Barry Bernstein, owners of the Toronto-area Still Waters Distillery, announced the release of their first single-malt whisky, they didn't know what the response would be. The partners, long-time friends and Scotch geeks, had three casks – about 800-odd bottles' worth – made from Alberta barley. Flavour can change dramatically in the barrel, and at a few points during the whisky's three-year maturation they weren't sure when the stuff would ever be ready to sell. When the morning of the release arrived, the lineup snaked out the distillery's door. No wonder: Still Waters Single Malt is young but undeniably delicious, all butterscotch and wet hay, subtly sweet maltiness and ripe autumn pears. Lucky us: There are already 200 more casks aging.

Piger Henricus Gin

Les Distillateurs Subversifs Microdistillerie

DistilleriesPhoto: Stéphan Ruffo (Piger Henricus Gin)

Stéphan Ruffo, one of the partners behind Les Distillateurs Subversifs in Saint-Alexandre-de-Kamouraska in eastern Quebec, knew better than to make an ordinary gin. There's more than enough competition already from the likes of Tanqueray and Bombay Sapphire. Besides, the company – as its name indicates – wanted to do something subversive. The idea to use parsnips came from a nearby market gardener. Ruffo and his partners tried it out and realized the guy was onto something great. The taste is mild and approachable: gin, but with less of the sharp-tasting juniper and more of an earthy, subtly peppery, softly floral back note. Be advised, however, that a shot does not count toward your recommended daily intake of vegetables.

Black Dragon Shochu

66 Gilead Distillery

 Photo: Roberto Caruso (Black Dragon Shochu)

The Japanese liquor shochu was all but unknown in North America until a decade ago, when it began turning up in trendy bars as an exotic (and often inexpensive) vodka alternative. The people behind 66 Gilead Distillery, a tiny operation that's run on a farm in Ontario's Prince Edward County, knew it could be something more. Black Dragon is made from rice and barley, as well as a bit of sesame. The result has a little moonshine burn alongside the countervailing oaky roundness – some drinkers might even compare it to whisky. You can't take a slug without a smile and a little cough and the feeling you're tasting something serious: homegrown hooch sporting a fine silk suit.


One more way to raise the bar:

La Courailleuse

Distillerie Fils du Roy

All of the wormwood and most of the herbs that go into Sébastien Roy's La Courailleuse absinthe come from his garden on New Brunswick's Acadian Peninsula. Roy insists on sealing his copper-pot still with a sticky paste of flour and water, and on grinding some ingredients in a hand-powered mill. He makes just 3,000 bottles annually, and his latest batch is exquisite: verdant green, turning milky white when the customary water is added. The taste is herbal and anise-backed, complex enough that you'll want to mull the flavour for at least a day or two.




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