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BC Whisky Weekend 2023

This weekend we were at the 2nd annual BC Whisky Weekend. A celebration and learning of all thing whisky, and a little something something gin. Spread across 2 days with various courses to sign up for, each featured its own set of spirits to discover and try.

But this year it wasn’t just about the spirit. The classes here designed to teach participants about pairings. Whether it is with snacks, desserts, or mixes for the perfect cocktails.

Our group of armature whisky enthusiasts decided to sign up for a couple of Sunday classes agreeing to take the gin and tonic session and the one that would teach us the best practises on pairing whisky with charcuterie meats.

Held at Legacy Liquor’s event space, this was a more intimate class, that allowed for better instruction and conversation with our host and whisky expert, Reece Sims.

Starting with Gin, our class began with and focused on a handful of gins from the over 100 distillery across BC. Out of the 30 distilleries featured this weekend, this was 7 different gins from 7 different local distilleries. The goal was to find your favourite out of the lot and learn how to incorporate it into the best gin and tonic for you.

Gin is essentially vodka with botanicals that are steeped. It has to have juniper. And can be produced in 1 of 4 different methods. The traditional ones of steeping and vapour infusion tends to be more expensive. So modern methods of concentrating, and compounding, where flavours are distilled individually and then mixed together at the end are more common.

In order to be considered a local and receive the tax incentive as a craft distillery, there are a few requirements. BC grain and fruits are needed to flavour. The spirit has to be prepared traditionally with classic methods of fermentation and distillation. And they cannot exceed 100,000 litres of said product in a year, or that would make them a commercial distillery.

Our tasting lineup included brand new products that just came out this year. The class began by going through each, sipping each and identifying them by their Gin Flavour Camps: classic dry style, floral, citrus, fruity, herbal, toasty, and savoury.

There are 10 main ingredients in a London style dry gin and it may be overwhelming to memorize all the flavours or all the botanicals, so Flavour Camp allows you to concentrate on the over arching camp to help differentiate what you are tasting and decide what is it you like.

Shelter Point Saratoga Sands Gin that was on the drier side with a sweeter start that ends peppery.

Wayward BC Craft Gin had herbaceous notes from spruce tips. It started piney and forest fresh, and ended floral with citrus notes.

Copperpenny No. 006 Oyster Shell Gin is currently my favourite to recommend. It is slightly salted thanks to it being steeped in spent Fanny Bay oyster shells, as one of its botanicals. The inspiration behind this was to have it pair precisely with Fever Tree’s Mediterranean tonic for a more savoury cocktail.

Tofino Old Growth Cedar Gin was described as the more amped up version of their classic West Coast Gin. More herbaceous with a blend of 10 botanicals including wood and Western red cedar tips.

The Heritage Acres Hurdy Gurdy Gin was a new one, a year old from Abbotsford. A citrus forward gin a spicy lemon note on the palate.

Empress is Victoria’s Empress hotel’s house gin and with their second release they wanted to play with flowers, to have a spirit parallel the hotel’s high tea experience. This is the Empress 1908 Elderflower Rose Gin, which is naturally floral.

Forbidden Sprits Distilling Eve’s Original Gin was a fun name. Made with apples and on the dry side.

Once better acquainted, we were given plenty of time to creatively mix our own gin and tonic using 4 different Fever Tree modifiers, which used only naturally sourced ingredients. Once mixed we could choose what flavour enhancing ingredients we wanted to add into it. A collection that included rosemary, thyme, dill, lime leaves, dried citrus wheels, juniper berries, and rose petals.

There was no wrong way about it, just the ability to play with pairings and find what suits you. And at the end of the session we had 7 unique cocktails to drink.

Our second back to back class had an hour gap in between for set up, so our group decided to grab a bit of food nearby. We ventured to Bao Down, a Filipino inspired restaurant that was best known for the white bao sliders. Separate review of that to come.

When time we headed back for our BC Whisky Weekend class number 2: Whisky & Charcuterie.

With a similar start to that of our gin class. Our host Reece spoke to the BC craft distillery scene. Most of it repeated for us.

Majority of what we were trying today from the whisky line up were small releases done in a batch by batch bases. Each, looking for creative ways to do the traditional. Many not yet available outside of BC and were bottled for this class specifically.

As a class we would walk through each and taste as we went a mix of single, blended, and corn whiskies. Each without additives, preservatives, or artificial flavours.

The 19 different Flavour Camps of whisky are
Grainy, which would have the whisky tasting young. Green with either herbaceous or floral notes. Golden fruits, Red fruits, Baked, Candied, Spicy, Roasted, and Funky.

Mad Lab Spirits’ Single Malt Whisky #9 just came out. It is prepared with a direct fire still, where they fire the bottom of the still so it crisps up the mash and creates a smokey flavour without it being peated. This was aged under 4 years at 42 months. Caramel sugar on the nose, roasted and nutty on the palate. We had this in the baked, roasted, and spice Flavour Camp.

This is Tofino Distillery’s first ever whisky. The West Coast Whisky which we got a taste of weeks before it would be released in December 2023. Aged 5 years minimum, 4 of which in new American oak for caramel and vanilla notes with baking spices. And finished 1 year in Sherry cask for spice and leathery notes with dark fruit.

I was an immediate fan of the Two Brewers Whisky Release no. 41. This is a special one time only release with a mere couple 100 bottles. It is lightly peated and opened up with golden fruit like pear.

I also liked Bear Face Whisky’s Triple Oak. This was the only non-craft whisky featured in this class. Aged in American oak ex-bourbon, French oak ex-merlot/cab sauv/syrah, and virgin Hungarian oak. The cask is what sets it apart with tangy carnal and salted bacon notes.

The Gold Stream Rye Whisky was aged in ex-rye barrels and finished in charred cherry wood. Another limited release that would be gone forever, but that is because the owners are looking to sell the distillery. This was a more mellow and subtle whisky with flavours of golden fruit followed by grainy and spicy.

The Lohim McKinnon Whisky was a single malt with a red wine Bordeaux finish, giving it a peated character described as campfire.

Once we were better acquainted with each spirit we were tasked with discerning the flavour pairing elements between sweet, sour, fatty, alcohol, bitter, spicy, salty, and/or savoury.

There are 3 different ways to make your whisky to charcuterie pairing either amplify flavours, layering on them, or contrasting them in general. For example the nuttiness in a whisky will bring out the nuttiness in cheese. Layering a complex whisky with a complex charcuterie item helps to balance out each. And to mellow out an intensely peated whisky contrast it with something fatty and build up an umami flavour like with the Two Brewers above and prosciutto.

We were advised to chew the charcuterie meat to work oils in your mouth before sipping our whisky. And then left to our devices to taste and savour, discovering what we liked and what worked for us.

In closing, I liked the discovery portion of both classes. Not just having our instructor speak at us, but to be able to learn as we went. This was great way to get better acquainted with gin and whisky and how we can incorporate both into our regular drinking repertoire more.

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