whisky illustration
Day 80, by Melanie Kimmett as part of her Poster Project. Used with permission.

I didn’t know what to expect when I got us tickets to the grand tasting hall at the Hopscotch Festival, the Vancouver beer and whisky event. I was hoping the place would be filled with vendors who know their craft. See, we enjoy our whisky chez Werker. And so we wanted to go and taste and learn.

Greg and I had, as would be expected, very different experiences of the event last night – though we both loved it. We agreed that there was an overabundance of talky salespeople (at least one of whom mispronounced the region in Scotland he kept talking about), and that taps into (see what I did there?) the thing I woke up thinking about this morning.

There were two vendors in the whole place that grabbed my attention. Unlike the big scotch and bourbon distilleries that have been around for eons, these two distilleries are new. They’re very different from each other, but they’re each trying new things. Things that may or may not be appreciated by the established whisky industry – I don’t know a thing about the industry so I really couldn’t say. But I do know about applying novel approaches to established mediums, and that’s why I’m so excited about these two small businesses.

The first is Victoria Spirits, based in Victoria, BC. What grabbed me last night is their Oaken Gin – gin they age for three months in new American oak barrels. Gin usually isn’t aged at all, let alone in barrels like whisky. Ordinarily, I can’t stand gin. I find it bitter and it makes me pull a face. This gin, though I wouldn’t necessarily seek it out frequently, didn’t make me pull a face at all. I’ve never tasted anything like it, actually. Mostly, I love the experimentation. “Hey, let’s see what happens if we put gin in a barrel!” (Good things happen, apparently.)

The second distillery blew my mind. We went to a short talk by John Hall, the distiller at Forty Creek Whisky, out of southern Ontario. John’s been a wine maker for forty years and decided to start distilling in the early ’90s. What grabbed me so much about him and his craft is that he approaches whisky distilling as a wine maker; he’d never actually worked in a distillery. He took what he knew and applied it to something else. His whiskies are outstanding, and award-winning. He’s very frank about his approach: If he were a twelfth-generation distiller, he’d just be toeing the line. As a first-generation distiller, he’s making his own rules. Greg and I have a mind to take a holiday to Ontario to take him up on his invitation for a tour of his distillery. There’s simply nothing I find more exciting than speaking with a rule-breaker about his craft.

Are there microdistilleries in your area? I hear there are several in Portland. (Of course there are several in Portland. Portland’s just awesome like that.)

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I agree – it was exciting to see 2 companies playing around and making interesting stuff. And awesome that in the case of 40 Creek it’s being rewarded in the industry. yay!

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