Gin in all of its dark, twisty history, does not have much of a legacy in Canada. Despite this, British Columbia is bursting with distilleries that are straight up developing some great gins. Recent changes in liquor laws favoring craft distilleries and a unique desire to showcase the amazingness of the region have culminated in an environment ripe for gin creation that is leading gin production in Canada.
Craft distilleries have recently been popping up in droves in BC. Most have started as grassroots businesses with close ties to their communities, some starting out specifically to make gin but many with an eye on making whiskey. While whiskey distillers wait for their spirits to age in barrels, they are perfecting their vodkas from local fruit, grain, and even honey, and creatively embellishing them with juniper and a host of other botanicals. In a region where wine normally dominates, gin is quickly becoming a trendy vehicle for these new distilleries to provide a more immediate product that showcases their creativity and the best of what the region has to offer.
While “craft” can be a controversial term in distilling in other areas of the world, the delineation is clear in BC. A few key people, including BC’s oldest distilleries have been key in the lobbying efforts to introduce laws that both regulate and promote craft production. In 2013 the province established clearly defined regulations for a distillery to obtain a craft versus commercial designation, including limits on the volume produced, requirement for the spirit to be made from 100% BC-grown raw material, and fermented and distilled onsite. Benefits for craft distillers reduce their costs and allow them to sell in Farmer’s Markets. Other changes in liquor laws allow tasting rooms in distilleries, even enabling them to sell products produced elsewhere, bringing the communities even closer to local spirits and ultimately encouraging new craft distilleries.
Most BC distillers are aware of Canada’s less than enthusiastic consumer demand for traditional juniper-forward gin and instead most are leaning towards making gins that, in addition to the more traditional botanicals, showcase local botanicals such as apples, hops, lavender, spruce and fennel, with a less-robust juniper backbone. This has led to a uniquely creative more regional style that pays homage to our rich agricultural and resource heritage, while still honoring traditional elements of gins in varying strength.
All of this is to say that BC distillers, or at least the ones I’ve met, do a stellar job of connecting to customers and above all producing high quality spirits that respect the land they are made from. The rest of Canada, and even potentially beyond, can learn some lessons from these passionate producers. If you understand the distillers it makes sense that gin is their delivery method of choice to impart their creativity while showcasing their local stomping grounds. This all makes me, a gin fan, very happy.