The craft beer boom in Canada is well and truly underway, but what if you want something a little more…spirited? Well, there are exciting things happening in that area too. Recent changes to minimum production laws in provinces like Alberta and Ontario have meant that small craft distillers are starting to make their mark on the nation’s drinking habits—one small batch at a time.
So, next time you’re curled up next to the fire, try sipping one of these Canadian-made spirits.
Unruly Gin – Wayward Distillation House, B.C.
Wayward starts off with 100 per cent BC honey, turns it into alcohol and goes from there, infusing the honey spirit with juniper, cedar, citrus, lavender, sarsaparilla and coriander. Not your standard liquor store gin, it’s good both neat and in a martini (because, James Bond notwithstanding, that’s what a martini is made of).
Taboo Absinthe – Okanagan Spirits Craft Distillery, B.C.
Absinthe has a long history, especially in Europe, but for a variety of reason (which are outlined in this fascinating short history) was banned there and in the USA in the early 20th century. Well, absinthe has always been legal in Canada, and Okanagan Spirits makes it according to traditional recipes and techniques. Their website also includes a handy tutorial on how best to enjoy it.
Victoria Gin – Victoria Distillers, B.C.
Billed as Canada’s first premium gin, Victoria Gin has had a cult following for a decade. Choose from the “youthful” Victoria Gin, or go a little more sophisticated with their Oaken Gin—that is, gin aged in oak, which adds a whisper of vanilla and caramel to the already complex mix of botanicals.
Bittersweet Vermouth – Odd Society Spirits, BC
If you find sweet vermouth too sweet and you save your dry vermouth for martinis, then this is a nice option—sweet vermouth combined with Odd Society’s malted barley spirit. It’s good by itself (it’s strong, so sip slowly) or as an unexpected flavour in your favourite cocktail.
Gin Rummy – Eau Claire Distillery, AB
A limited seasonal offering, Eau Claire’s Gin Rummy is the best of worlds: crisp, complex gin and warm, caramelly rum—a perfect accompaniment to a chilly winter’s night. Combining gin, rum, barrel-aged spirits, and winter spices, the taste is reminiscent of rich, dark fruitcake. It combines well with tonic, and is also fantastic in warm drinks like toddies or hot buttered rum.
Dill Pickle Vodka – Last Mountain Distillery, SK
What better way to make a Caesar—the quintessentially Canadian cocktail—than with Last Mountain’s dill pickle-flavoured vodka? If you’re a pickle fan, you owe it to yourself to try Last Mountain’s naturally infused, dill-flavoured vodka. For a little more adventure, they make a spicy vodka as well.
Haskap Liqueur – Black Fox Farm Distillery, SK
Haskap are blue, elongated berries that taste like a combination of blueberries, Saskatoon berries, and raspberries—and Saskatchewan is an ideal place to grow them. Black Fox Farm takes haskap developed at the University of Saskatchewan (a cross between Japanese and Russian haskap, perfect for a short growing season with long days) and combines them grain spirits, honey, and caramelized sugar to create a sweet, smooth liqueur with a unique taste.
Stalk and Barrel Single-Malt Whisky – Still Waters Distillery, ON
Move over, Islay and stand aside, Speyside—Ontario’s producing a single-malt whisky that promises to rival its Scottish cousins. Billed as “groundbreaking” by the Wall Street Journal, Still Waters’ single-malt is made from 100 percent Canadian barley, then aged in bourbon casks. Each bottle is individually bottled and numbered and is available at either cask strength or at 46 percent ABV.
Rye Whisky – Dillon’s Distillers, ON
Dillon’s is probably best known for their gins (rose gin, strawberry gin, and cherry gin among them), but they’ve recently introduced a Canadian rye whisky that’s worth sampling. Made from 100 percent Canadian rye and aged for at least three years in oak casks, Dillon’s rye is pure, straight-up Canadian whisky at its best. (If you want the rye without waiting three years, you can try their white rye—same grain, no aging.)
Moonshine – Junction 56 Distillery, ON
Reminiscent of deep-in-the-woods bathtub stills and mountain air, moonshine has now gone mainstream. Traditionally the product of corn mash distilled and bottled without aging, moonshine’s modern production process now allows for more refinement of the once-hastily bottled spirit. Try it mixed with cranberry juice or lemonade for a refreshing treat.
Piger Henricus Gin – Les Subversifs, QC
Take traditional gin botanicals (juniper, coriander, and the like) and add parsnips (yes, parsnips) and you get a lovely micro-distilled gin with a slightly bitter taste and a floral aroma. And no, this isn’t just a marketing ploy—in the absence of sugar, parsnip was traditionally used as a sweetener in European spirits.
Grappa – Ironworks Distillery, N.S.
Ironworks’ grappa is a happy partnership between the distillery and Avondale Sky Winery—and a great way to use up grape skins left over from wine production. Housed in an historic blacksmith’s shop in Lunenburg—hence the name—Ironworks also offers a series of fruit liqueurs, several types of rum, and other delicious spirits.
Fortress Rum – Authentic Seacoast, N.S.
Fortress Rum recreates the 18th-century New France rum trade in an innovative partnership with Parks Canada, the Fortress Louisbourg Association, and the Authentic Seacoast Distilling Company. It’s aged in the Fortress of Louisbourg National Historic Site on Cape Breton and then blended and bottled in Guysborough. The rum is available for purchase and tasting at the Fortress—you can sip it while taking a peek into a 300-year-old tradition—and at liquor stores across the Maritimes.
Vodka – Prince Edward Distillery, P.E.I.
Vodka was traditionally made from potatoes (or grains)—so what better place to make traditional vodka than P.E.I.? Canada’s first and only vodka distilled from potatoes. Potato vodka is known for being particularly smooth and creamy, which makes it the perfect base for really good cocktails. Feeling adventurous? Prince Edward Distillery makes a wild blueberry vodka too.
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