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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Cider (local and import)

Working at a private liquor store has taught me that I know nothing about cider. Wanting to understand this craze was my mission and I have since discovered a few things about myself, as well as opened up my palette. ;)

First things first, most ciders are divided into dry or sweet categories, similar to wine. This makes sense because wine is made from grapes and cider is usually made from apples or pears. The thing that I like the most about cider is that it has a more “grown-up” taste to it than coolers (or BC “Growers” ciders, yuck) and also, it does not leave you feeling bloated like beer tends to. A drier cider will taste somewhat like a dry white wine, without the acidic taste sometimes found in the finish (obviously, that’s going to depend on the quality and varietals used to produce the wine but need a base of comparison for those who have not adventured into ciders, yet), whereas a sweeter cider can range from tasting like a light soda to fruit juice.

I purchased 6 ciders from my liquor store, 5 were local and 1 was an import. From L to R, the ciders are:
ciders

  1. Tod Creek Apple Cider (Vancouver Island, BC)
  2. Rekorderlig Elderflower Pear Cider (Sweden)
  3. Leftfield Big Dry Apple Cider (Okanagan, BC)
  4. Leftfield Little Dry Apple Cider (Okanagan, BC)
  5. Tod Creek Apple Cider “Bamfield Bound” Semi-dry with Maple Syrup (Vancouver Island, BC)
  6. Tod Creek Apple Cider “Mala-hop” Dry with Triple Hops (Vancouver Island, BC)

I did a side-by-side comparison tasting at home and these are my tasting notes:

  1. Smells like apple juice but has a dry, simple, clean flavour.
  2. Smells like pear, tastes very sweet, reminds me of a more sophisticated Growers.
  3. Has no discernible smell, rich apple flavour, dry, slight tartness, complex.
  4. Smells like sweet apple juice, tastes sweet apple juice and more tartness than the LF Big Dry.
  5. Does not have a strong maple syrup flavour but does taste like a “semi-dry”, as it tasted equally as dry and it did sweet.
  6. Smells like hops, tastes dry, has a gentle hop aftertaste.

After this endeavour, I decided I greatly preferred sweet ciders to dry ciders, and that I also prefer pear ciders to apple ciders (if you are anywhere near Montreal, there’s a fantastic ice pear cider made by a couple living on a rural Québéc farm, which they sell at Marché Jean-Talon!)

To further quench my thirst for (mostly pear) cider, I also tried the following ciders after my home sampler:

  • Magner’s Pear Cider: dry, simple flavour, tasted like slightly flavoured soda water
  • Sir Perry Pear Cider: tasted fine at first but had this awful aftertaste that tasted slightly sour and made me think I was drinking effervescent urine. We poured it down the drain.
  • Kopparberg Pear Cider: YUM. Sweet without being as sweet as the Rekorderlig, had a bit of a cream soda aftertaste.
  • Rekorderlig Apple & Blackcurrant Pear Cider: Very sweet, complex fruit flavour, pairs with desserts nicely.
  • Sea Cider Bramble Bubbly: Slight berry flavoured cider, medium sweet/dryness.

I may not enjoy cider as much as I enjoy beer or cocktails, but if I am looking for something cold that requires no preparation, I might reach for a can of cider in with my beers for a summer’s eve.