On my continual quest to find good, unique booze, I recently came across a fantastic little outfit producing some of the best spirits I´ve tried of late.
Nestled away up a country road on a former vineyard in Saanich, just outside Victoria in British Columbia, Canada, is the small, artisan distillery called Victoria Spirits, which produces Canada’s first premium gin – along with a selection of other products like hemp vodka and orange bitters.
It’s a family affair, with everyone from the mom and step-dad, to the son, daughter and in-laws contributing in their own small way, from marketing and label design to, of course, lots of taste testing.
It all begins in a small workshop with a wood-fired still, made by third generation still makers in Germany.
On the day of mine and my father´s visit, Peter Hunt, the master distiller, was whipping up a batch of hemp vodka. The golden pipes of the still were snaking around a large, copper orb where the various ingredients that comprise each tipple bubble and brew, like a witch’s cauldron on Halloween. Inside the 217 litre pot – which is sealed like a bank vault – were thousands of toasted hemp seeds bobbing around in liquid. It smelled oily, nutty and intoxicating, sure to cast a spell.
It’s a labour-intensive process – because it’s a wood-fired still, the process needs to be controlled throughout the full six hours and wood added every five to 10 minutes to keep the temperatures perfectly balanced. But this is what makes it a grand example of an artisan distillery.
After checking out the ¨lab¨ we headed upstairs to try out the final product. And I wasn´t disappointed.
The signature gin is rich and flavourful, with each of the 10 botanics that it is comprised of (things like orris root, coriander, star anise and, the classic, juniper) working together rather than overpowering. The Oaken Gin – or aged gin, which Hunt jokes is the “gin for whisky drinkers” is distinct, slightly oakey and a far cry from the products a corporate distiller would pump out, while the Left Coast Hemp Vodka is nutty and much fuller than any ordinary vodka, leaving an oily aftertaste that is pleasantly surprising and could easily be drunk on its own over ice.
The company is growing strong, and will soon be in stores across Canada – my only fear…everyone else will find out about it and I won´t have any to myself!