Every summer that I’ve lived in Victoria I’ve driven across British Columbia and the Rockies to visit my family in Calgary, AB, of course because I love my family but also because the drive is stunningly gorgeous. I couldn’t help but turn this year’s trip into a gin road trip with a mission to find out as much as I could about our BC gins and the people that make them. What I found out was that our BC distillers have more to offer than I could have imagined.
My trip kicked off with Vancouver’s inaugural GinAPalooza. An ingenious event, it succeeded in bringing together the best minds of BC gin and distilling in a deliciously creative and inspiring environment. I was fortunate to meet people in the area as passionate about local spirits as I am, and the event set the tone for my trip perfectly. From there, I set out to meet as many of the local distillers that I could in the time I had, with a goal of discovering what drove them to make their spirits, and how this was tied to where they were.
Amongst the BC distillers I met there was consistent message: they each had passion to create an incredible, unique product, and an inherent connection, whether subtle or outright, to the locale. These themes filtered down into two separate entities for me, both which tie the gin to the land or area where it is made: terroir and craft.
Historically BC, and in particular the Okanagan, has been internationally known as an important winemaking area. Terroir is a winemaking term that in broad strokes ties everything about the growing condition of the grapes – think slope, wind, sun exposure and soil – all to produce a unique end product, a wine, that is a direct reflection of the area in which it is made. While gin by definition can’t directly translate to terroir, as the historical botanicals don’t all grow in BC, there seems to be a consistent desire to represent “terroir” to some extent in the gins being produced here. Along with the fairly recent changes to craft laws, this seems to be driving BC gin producers to be making gin that both supports and reflects the beautiful areas they live in.
I would like to add note about the distilleries I visited on this trip: Odd Society Spirits, Okanagan Spirits, Urban Distilleries, Legend Distilling and the Dubh Glas Distillery. This is not to exclude other BC distilleries that I didn’t have time to visit, and I sincerely expect them to be the same, but I was floored by their generosity, including sharing their time, and their genuine passion for making amazing craft spirits that respect BC.
In contrast I also took the time to visit Alberta’s first craft distillery, Eau Claire Distillery, which while making a craft gin that includes local botanicals and is made from local grain, disappointingly seemed less connected and more about capitalizing on the “craft” label. I genuinely hope this is not the case, as they are making a gin that has great potential to really represent what craft and terroir should mean for Alberta. Hopefully the establishment of more small batch and craft distillers in AB will drive a more genuine approach, leading to spirits that will better represent the corner of the world I am most passionate about.
In any case, this past month was big BC gin eye-opener for me. I didn’t set out for it to be that way, but it has solidified in my mind the incredible momentum we have going in the BC craft distilling industry, especially in the area of gin.