A spirited affair at the BC Distilled festival 

Inaugural event shows that B.C. is about more than just craft beer

click to enlarge PHOTO BY TYLER SCHRAMM - THAT'S THE SPIRIT Pemberton Distillery was one of 17 craft spirit producers exhibiting at the first ever BC Distilled festival in Vancouver on May 10. Changes in liquor laws have led to considerable growth in B.C.'s craft spirit industry.
  • Photo by Tyler Schramm
  • THAT'S THE SPIRIT Pemberton Distillery was one of 17 craft spirit producers exhibiting at the first ever BC Distilled festival in Vancouver on May 10. Changes in liquor laws have led to considerable growth in B.C.'s craft spirit industry.

On May 10, some of the province's top craft distilleries were celebrated at the inaugural BC Distilled festival in Vancouver.

If you wondered why it's taken so long for such an event to take place, you're not the only one. In the last handful of years, small-scale distilleries have been popping up all over the province, and the consumer is finally starting to take note of B.C.'s other craft alcohol industry.

"We've always had the big craft beer movement," said Tyler Schramm, co-owner of Pemberton Distillery, one of 17 distilleries featured at the festival, "but (people) are starting to realize that there are craft spirits as well, and it's a really positive vibe that we're getting."

Pemberton Distillery, producers of the only certified organic potato vodka in the world, was one of the first players to come onto the B.C. craft spirit scene in 2009, at a time when most small-scale vodka makers were trying to replicate mainstream commercial products from Smirnoff, Absolut and Finlandia, said Schramm, who was inspired after being introduced to the flavourful sipping vodkas of Poland while completing his distilling training in Europe.

Mixologist Lauren Mote, manager of Vancouver's UVA Wine and Cocktail Bar, has been working with Pemberton Distillery products for years, and said the family-owned company's vodka is in a class all its own.

"(Pemberton Distillery) has a very interesting distillate, which I think would be hard to fit into a traditional vodka category because it has so much flavour to it," she said. "Traditionally vodka is used to lengthen the flavours of other ingredients in cocktails, whereas Pemberton Distillery products add flavour while lengthening other ingredients, so it's interesting to play with."

And while the Spud Valley brand was one of the first craft distillers in the province, the Schramms now have a host of whole new competitors in the burgeoning spirit scene, thanks to changes in provincial liquor legislation that eliminated a 170-per-cent retail mark-up on bottles for smaller spirit makers who source their ingredients entirely within B.C.

"That basically made the whole industry viable," Schramm said. "There were a few of us (craft distillers) that existed before, but if that hadn't of happened, I don't think we would have lasted long term if we were operating under the previous system; it was just too hard to make it work."

Pemberton Distillery enjoyed another first this winter after releasing its craft single-malt whiskey, a first for B.C. Producing aged spirits is "a pinnacle goal" for many craft spirit makers, Schramm said, as the time it takes to age whiskey (three years under Canadian law) is not a viable option for new distilleries trying to turn a profit. But with more distilleries sprouting up every year, it shouldn't be long before we start seeing more bottles of craft whiskey hitting a shelf near you.

I don't know about you, but all of that boozy talk has me hankering for a refreshing cocktail, and lucky for us, Mote, co-founder of small-batch bitter and extract retailers Bittered Sling Extracts, has just the thing:

Green Fairy

1.00 oz Pemberton Distillery Gin

0.50 oz Green Chartreuse

0.50 oz Apple Manzana Liqueur

0.75 oz Lime Juice

0.75 oz Pear-Anise Syrup

2 dashes Bittered Sling Autumn Bog Cranberry Bitters

Shake all the ingredients together with ice, double strain over fresh ice in a double old-fashioned glass, top with sparkling water, stir and serve. Garnish with a rosemary sprig, and enjoy!

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