Legend Distilling – Full Line Review

Legend Distilling is a new distillery that opened in the Okanagan in July 2014. They are located in Naramata (near Penticton), a region more well-known in British Columbia for its vineyards than it is for its distilleries. According to an article about the distillery though, this was done somewhat intentionally. Why do what everyone else in the region is doing? Good point.

Their line is quite impressive: they are producing a vodka, gin, 3 fruit-infused vodkas, a coffee liqueur, and a special edition gin. All within their first year of distilling! Grabbing the bull by the horns, here is my review of their individual products and line as a whole.

Starting with their “Shadow in the Lake” vodka, smelled like vanilla, tasted like vanilla, smooth texture, medium bodied, not too sweet or complex, with only a slight eLegend Distilling Linethanol taste to it (not enough to be undesirable, did not affect the flavour). Definitely worth drinking straight, perhaps neat or use a big ol’ oversized ice cube, like in an Old Fashioned.

Next up, their “Doctor’s Orders” gin, smells lightly like citrus with strong juniper notes, tastes like juniper, lavender, and something green! Potent but not overpowering, and not one botanical stands out. Their website lists “lavender, elderberry, mint and apple” as their botanicals. I didn’t taste the mint, though it did leave a cool little tingle on my tongue. Would love to try this in a martini, or mixed in a cucumber-mint tonic water (Phillips Brewing has another project called The Fermentorium and makes assorted tonic water flavours).

The Slowpoke vodkas come in 3 flavours: Okanagan Apricot, Rhubarb and Honey, and Naramata Sour Cherry. The rep told me that their Apricot one sells the best, but my store staff and I agreed that the Naramata Sour Cherry was the best. Perhaps because it had the strongest flavour. The flavours were nice, not too sweet and have natural flavours from the fruit grown locally.
My criticism of the flavoured vodkas is this: if I’m going to pay $30+ dollars for a 500 ml bottle, I’m going to by mighty upset that it’s only 23-25% ABV. Not simply because it’s a low alcohol percentage (for a spirit), but because that price is paying for a product that’s 75% water. All spirits yield a distillate in the high 90% ABV range, and subsequently get watered down to a suitable percentage (Popular Mechanics magazine does a really good job of explaining how distilling works). I understand that these were not created to be spirits mixed into cocktails necessarily, but they taste watered down. In my opinion, they would work better either as 40% ABV vodkas or sell them as vodka coolers.

The Blasted Brew coffee liqueur was quite tasty! Made from cold brewed coffee grown in the region, and tasted like coffee and vanilla. Again though, similar to the Slowpoke, I found it to taste a bit watered down. I liked that it wasn’t overly sweet or cheap tasting, and would still likely buy it in place of Kahlua/Tia Maria.

Last but not least, my favourite of the whole lot, the Defender Island gin. There’s no link to this yet because the first shipment is being sent to stores tomorrow; we got to try it from their sales rep. The key botanicals they added to their Doctor’s Orders gin that made this stand out is wild sage brush and smoked rosemary. When I asked the rep how the rosemary was smoked, he said that it was “roasted with a butane torch and then put on the BBQ with the lid closed!” The smokiness reminds me of a peated Scotch; not quite the same kind of smokiness but strong and similarly polarizing, either people will love it or hate it. Definitely a sipping gin.

Overall review of their line: I like their straight up vodka and gin, and love their special release gin. Was not too impressed with their Slowpoke or Blasted Brew. I like that they have a lot to choose from but too many choices means that less time can be devoted to perfecting a few things before moving forward. My hands-down favourite part of their line though, that completely sets them apart from their competition, is that they will be selling their teeny 50 ml bottles in stores. No better way to sample a $40+ bottle than by trying a teeny bottle! Especially considering that the distillery is a 6-hour drive from Vancouver, not many people will be hitting the tasting lounge soon, unless they are on a Naramata Bench wineries tour. I hope to have some of those teeny bottles in my stocking for Christmas this year. ;)

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Unruly Gin and Vodka Reviews – Wayward Distillation House

With the influx of new craft distilleries opening up in British Columbia, it’s difficult to create a product that’s going to be yummy and distinct. Enter Wayward Distillation House from Courtenay, BC (on Vancouver Island). Another distillery which opened up last year and managed to snag the 1st and 2nd place titles in the BC Distilled competition for 2015 in the “Favourite New Vodka” and Gin categories, respectively.

What sets them apart from their competition? They obtain their neutral base spirit from honey, rather than from a grain. Perhaps you are thinking the same thing that I first thought: “doesn’t that mean they are making MEAD?” Why YES, yes it does! And then they distill the mead to make their base and turn it into vodka and gin! Doesn’t that sound delicious?! I sincerely hope that there’s an American-style whiskey up their sleeve because that would be fantastic with a honey distilled spirit base. Unruly Vodka & Gin

The vodka smells sweet and pleasant, tastes smooth with light sweetness, has a full body, and a light finish.

The gin smells like juniper and pine, tastes like a London Dry to start but leaves behind a woodsy mouth feel. The distillers note that their botanical blend has “complimented its juniper with a hint of cedar and citrus, a dash of fragrant lavender and sarsaparilla root, and the vibrant notes of coriander.” (Wayward Distillation House – Spirits page)

Both their vodka and gin are well balanced; neither one of them has a particularly dominant flavour, and are fantastic sipping spirits. I would not want to obscure their flavour in a cocktail with too much sugar, but would be curious how they would fare in a Vesper, since it calls for both vodka and gin. Combining the two together on their own in my taster glass is magnificent! The distillers suggest drinking the vodka neat, and drinking the gin in a martini.

Sons of Vancouver – Amaretto Review

Sons of Vancouver is a new distillery operating out of North Vancouver. They opened on March 14, 2015 and have been enjoying immediate success. They won the Best of BC Distilled competition for this year in the “Favourite Spirits/Liqueur” category for their Amaretto, and both of their vodkas came in second and third place in the “Favourite Vodka” category.

LOVE Amaretto. I wrote a blog post earlier this year about making a saffron Amaretto sour. With the Sons of Vancouver Amaretto though, you won’t need to add any flavoured syrups, because this flavour is so outstanding on its own. I think I just want to drink it straight until the bottle is gone, and then cry about I can’t just live at the distillery. Yes, it’s THAT good!!

The label tells us that it’s crafted from apricot kernels, Bourbon vanilla beans, and No. 82 Amaretto label from behindorange peel. Then later, gets sweetened with Demerera sugar and BC blackberry honey to round out the flavour. Oddly enough, there does not appear to be any almonds in it. Upon some further research however, it turns out that a lot Amaretto (e.g. DiSaronno) does not have almonds in it, despite it being an “almond liqueur”. Guess it’s easier to make almond liqueur sound more appetizing than apricot pit liqueur? And yet, some distillers do add bitter almonds or sweet almonds into the distillation process. The Spirit of BC‘s review indicates that the distillers wanted to emphasize using only local ingredients; so perhaps, using imported almonds would not fit the bill? Makes me wonder they got their Bourbon vanilla beans then, as those tend to be from Madagascar!

No. 82 AmarettoThe front of the bottle says “No. 82” Amaretto, and according to The Spirit of BC’s review, this is because they made 81 batches of Amaretto before they reached the flavour they were the most satisfied with. Well, I gotta say, it shows! This Amaretto is not only the best I have ever tasted, but it’s distilled locally too, and I <3 supporting local distillers, whenever possible.

So, how does it taste? It smells like vanilla, honey, and mildly like root beer. It tastes strongly vanilla, and has a wonderful nutty roundness to it. The finish is sweet and not strong in alcohol flavour. At 26% ABV, it’s not surprising, and falls in line with their competition. The honey and Demerera sugar give it a nice, syrupy thickness to it, but it doesn’t taste overpowering or cheap. I would much prefer this in a latte over almond syrup, any day!

 

How to Make Irish Cream

Irish Cream, or better known to many as “Bailey’s” is dead easy to make at home.

Now, you might be thinking “But adding alcohol to dairy is going to make it curdle!” And you are right. You might think “EEW gross!” but think about it this way: if you are buying Bailey’s and it’s not curdling and can be left warm on a liquor store shelf for months at a time, what are they putting in it to keep it from doing that?

Now that we’ve established that it will curdle, how do we prevent that? Aside from keeping it in the fridge, a nice hearty shake of the container will bring it back to its luscious velvety state in no time. I tested this out when my handy dandy mason jar was full of homemade Irish Cream, half full, and even when there was only a couple ounces left. No matter how lumpy it started, it always reverted to the desired texture after shaking.

Next question: does it taste as good as the original? HELL YES. I’m not exaggerating. I would even say it tastes better than the original, simply because it’s fresher. Mine tasted a little bit less sweet (which I’ll discuss below the recipe),  but that didn’t change the authenticity of the flavour all that much.

Of course, you must be wondering: “But how will it taste and mix into my coffee?” Again, exactly like the original.

However, the best part about making it home: you have to use Irish whiskey. Which means that not only are you given the power to choose which Irish whiskey you use, but you’ll have some left over after you make it. My biggest hesitation to buying Irish Cream or any other liqueur I would largely have simply to put into coffee, is that I’m going to drop $30 on something I use infrequently. Irish whiskey however, is far more versatile. I could mix that in anything or just drink it straight up; the possibilities are endless!

The recipe I used from sourced from All Recipes, and I knew it was good because my friend made it for me and gave it to me as a birthday present. She also used soy milk and cream, though I am not certain how she found a non-dairy replacement for the condensed milk, or if that hadn’t been taken into consideration.

I tested it out at half the recommended yield (4 cups on the recipe page), as I wanted to ensure I would enjoy it. The great thing about All Recipes is you can specify what yield you want and it automatically modifies all the quantities for you.

“Original” Irish Cream Recipe
Makes 2 cups

  • 1/2 cup whipping (heavy) cream (35% MF)
  • 7 oz condensed milk (half a 14 oz can)
  • 3/4 cup + 1 tbsp + 1 tsp Irish whiskey
  • 1/2 tsp instant coffee granules
  • 1 tbsp chocolate syrup
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1/2 tsp almond extract

In a blender, combine whipping cream, sweetened condensed milk, Irish wIrish Cream Gift Bottlehiskey, instant coffee, chocolate syrup, vanilla extract, and almond extract. Blend on high for 20 to 30 seconds. Store in a tightly sealed container in the refrigerator. Shake well before serving. Keeps for about 2 months in the fridge.

I did not have chocolate syrup on hand, so I used 1 tsp of cocoa powder instead. This made my version slightly less sweet but did not change the flavour otherwise. Next time, I will add 1 tbsp of sugar as well.

Belgian Beer (Part II – Belgian Strong & Sour Ales)

Continuing off from the previous post, this post will focus on Belgian Strong Ales and Sour Ales.

Belgian Strong Ales are beers that are at least 7% ABV, and its sub-styles are the Belgian blonde, Belgian golden strong, and the Belgian dark strong ale. The tricky part about this style that makes it difficult to define is that Belgian brewers themselves do not use this nomenclature. Yet it is understood as a classification among importers and drinkers alike. In this case, the examples within these categories will do a better job of explaining the category better than I would!

Belgian Strong Ales worth trying:
Belgian Blonde: Brugse Zot – smells like a witbier, tart flavour, light finish. Other beer in this category which I have not tried yet include Palm, and Leffe Blond.
– Belgian Golden Strong: Duvel – smells toasted, light bodied, pairs well with fatty foods. Other beer in this category include Delirium Tremens, and Piraat.
– Belgian Dark Strong: Abbaye des Rocs Grand Cru – smells like caramel and raisins, tastes like gingerbread, medium bodied, pairs well with caramelized foods, and can be cellared for 10 years! Other beer in this category include Gulden Draak, and Kasteel Donker.

"Timmermans" by Fgeerts - Own work. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons - https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Timmermans.jpg#/media/File:Timmermans.jpg

An example of spontaneous fermentation.

Sour Ales are beer which taste sour but not bitter like an IPA. This is because the sourness is not attributed to use of hops, but more due to spontaneous fermentation and aging in oak barrels. Sour sub-styles include the Lambic, Gueuze, Fruit Lambic, Flanders Red Ale, and Flanders Brown Ale (Oud Bruin). Lambics are exposed to wild yeast and bacteria native to the Senne Valley, Gueuzes are a mixture of Lambics aged 1-3 years and undergo a secondary fermentation in the bottle, Fruit Lambics are brewed with various fruits in the secondary fermentation process, Flanders Red Ales are brewed with a special red malt and the Lactobacillus bacteria which imparts lactic acid into the beer creating its sourness, and Oud Bruin which may be aged in oak barrels or not but all do undergo a secondary fermentation as well.

Other terms you may come across: Faro – a type of lambic which is sweetened at the end, so that the additional sugar does not increase the % ABV. Kriek – cherry lambic, Framboise – raspberry lambic, and Cassis – blackcurrant lambic are some of the most common fruit lambic flavours. Keep your eyes out for some fruit beer, as not all of them are created equal; while a lot of them use fruit in their fermentation process, some of them add fruit juice or syrup to the end of fermentation instead (see Kasteel Rouge).

Sour Ales worth trying:
– Lambic: I really like the Lindemans line. Not having recently tried them though, I have no tasting notes to offer, other than their faro was mildly sour and sweet. Other beer in this category includes the Cantillon Grand Cru.
– Gueuze: Van Honsebrouck St Louis Fond Tradition Gueuze – smells sour and fruity, tastes like sour pineapple, has a sharp and clean finish. Other beer in this category include the Cantillon Lou Pepe, Tilquin Gueuze, and the Lindemans Old Gueuze Cuvee Rene.
– Fruit Lambic: Van Honsebrouck St Louis Fond Tradition Kriek – tastes like pie! Sour flavour and sour aftertaste. Other beer in this category include the Oud Beersel Kriek, Cantillon Lou Pepe Framboise, and Lindemans (kriek, framboise, peche, pomme, and cassis).
– Flanders Red Ale: Omer Vander Ghinste Bockor Cuvee des Jacobins – don’t smell this beer, it smells like fish! It tastes toasted, sour and fruity. Other beer in this category include the Rodenbach Grand Cru.
– Oud Bruin: I have not tried any of these yet but I am keeping my eyes peeled for these ones: Petrus Oud Bruin, Vander Ghinste Oud Bruin, and the Van Honsebrouck Bacchus.

While the flavour information was my personal interpretation of the beers’ flavours, the Belgian beer lesson and category information (from this post and the one preceding) were given to me by Gerry West from Westbier. He gave us a private tasting at our liquor store, and is a Belgian beer importer into Vancouver, Canada.

Links for further reading:
– Beer in Belgium on Wikipedia
– Lambic Beer on Wikipedia
– Flanders Red Ale on Wikipedia

Belgian Beer (Part I – Trappist, Belgian & French)

Belgian beer is in a class of its own. It’s some of the oldest beer that the world has to offer, and has a flavour profile that is quite unique compared to beer from anywhere else in the world.

What’s even more awesome is that some of the Belgian beers are made by monks. The ones that are called Trappist beers belong to one of only a few monasteries. The monastery makes its money by producing the beer and selling it all over the world. Yet the monasteries do not profit; the money is to provide the monks with a living allowance, to contribute to the monastery for their building maintenance and upkeep of brewing equipment, and then any money leftover is donated to charity. A very different approach to passing around the church plate!

Belgian beer can be broken down into 4 basic styles: Trappist, Belgian & French, Belgian Strong, and Sour Ale (The first 2 styles will be covered in this post, the next 2 styles in the next post). There are also Abbey beers which are brewed in the Trappist style but are not produced by a monastery. The beers within a style are going to be similar but will also express a fair amount of flavour variance.

Trappist and Abbey beer denote their sub-styles by calling them single, dubbel, tripel, or quad. This is a general term to describe how much malt and how much % ABV the beer has. Single beers are not really produced any longer, and were intended to be consumed throughout the day without any marked decrease in cognition. Some of the beers have a number after them (e.g. Rochefort 10 or St Bernardus Abt 12) and this is to denote strength relative to the same brewery. A “12” is not stronger than a “10” among different breweries.

Trappist/Abbey beer worth trying:Belgian beer
– Dubbel: St Feuillien Brune – has a roasted malt flavour, medium body, smells fruity, medium sweetness. Other beer in this category that I have not yet tried include the Chimay Rouge and Westmalle Dubbel.
– Trippel: St Feuillien Trippel – smells like pear, medium body, slight bitter after taste, appropriate as an evening beer. Other beer in this category include the Westmalle Trippel and Kasteel Trippel.
– Quad: Kasteel Cuvee du Chateau – smells like raisins and sweet plum, heavy body, tastes like caramel sweet awesomeness, clean finish. Other beer in this category include the Prearis Quad, Chimay Bleu, Rochefort 10, and St Bernardus Abt 12.

Belgian & French beer denotes its sub-styles by calling them witbier, belgian pale ale, saison, bier de garde, or belgian specialty ale. Witbiers are made predominantly with wheat, belgian pale ales are like regular pale ales but with belgian yeast, saisons are low alcohol pale ales (3-8% ABV) that are brewed seasonally in farmhouses in Wallonia, bier de gardes are a stronger pale ale, and belgian specialty ales are more difficult to classify into one sub-style.

Belgian & French beer worth trying:
– Witbier: Hoegaarden – light citrus smell, slightly floral at the beginning, clean finish, and light body. Prearis Belma – smells like oranges, light and tart flavour but not too sharp, medium body, slightly spicy finish. Other beer in this category include Abbaye des Rocs Blanche des Honnelles.
– Belgian Pale Ale: An example of which I did not try is the De Konnick.
– Saison: Dupont Saison – medium body, tangy, citrus finish, better to pair with food. St Feuillien Saison – light body, slight fruity flavour, clean finish, good on its own.
– Bier de Garde: An example of which I did not try is the Saint Sylvestre 3 Monts. 
– Belgian Specialty Ale: St Feuillien Grand Cru: smelled and tasted like caramel, heavy body; must be stored cool but drink it warm (hands under a fat bottomed glass with a stem), otherwise the bottle can explode! Kasteel Rouge: smells and tastes more like a cherry liqueur than a beer; you will like it if you like sweet things!

The next post will discuss the Belgian Strong Ales and the Sour Ales.

Further reading:
– Beer in Belgium on Wikipedia
– Trappist Beer on Wikipedia
– Dageraad Brewing (A Vancouver-area brewery that produces a Belgian style Blonde and Amber ale)
– Old Abbey Ales (A Vancouver-area brewery that produces a Belgian Tripel, Quad, and IPA)