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. ;)

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!

 

Deep Cove Gin – Review

First off, I applaud people for having the tenacity to operate a distillery. I am so happy that there are more local craft distilleries popping up in British Columbia! Not as fast as craft breweries or cider houses, but definitely making a significant impact.

And then sometimes, you come across a craft brewery that wants to dip their toes into craft distilling. One example of this is Deep Cove Brewers & Distillers (another example of this is The Fermentorium – the distillery brain child behind Phillips Brewing in Victoria, BC). Some people would argue that just because someone knows how to make beer dDeep Cove Ginoes not mean they know how to make a good gin. Some people would argue that (craft) alcohol production is all the same thing….or is it? Would you trust a wine maker to produce a yummy beer? Would you go into a Scotch distillery expecting to find a good wine? Now, I’m certainly not against people trying their hand at it, or even bringing in a “resident expert” to produce under an already established name. That’s good marketing. But, is it good alcohol? Furthermore, in an increasing craft market, how does a company make something distinct enough to be remembered and yet still palatable?

Enter Deep Cove Gin. They named their gin “Oliver” because they added olives and rosemary into their production. It is common to find rosemary as a botanical, but far less common to find olives. Seems to fit, since a lot of Martinis come with olives as a garnish, or one can order a “dirty Martini”, which is a Martini with some olive brine in it.

The bottle smelled great but the straight up flavour on its own was overpowering. Definitely not a sipping gin. Would not go well in sweet cocktails, and much to my surprise, I also did not like it in a Caesar. I did however enjoy it in a Martini, and an Avocado Gimlet (see here for the recipe). I also wonder how different it would taste if I merely left olives and rosemary in some gin myself to infuse? I did not get a chance to try it with tonic water, so it could mix well into that. Overall, I was disappointed and perhaps I expected it to be more versatile than it was. It had a smooth body to it and little after burn.

I give it 2.5 stars

Even though I haven’t given it a high rating, I am still eager to try their vodka, their sweet tea vodka, and their whiskey. Some distillers are better at one spirit than others.

Vancouver Tequila Expo 2015 (A Comprehensive Tequila Review)

Getting the chance to go to the Vancouver Tequila Expo was a treat! No tokens required as a trades person, we were able to try as many samples as we wanted. My only complaint was that the many food stations which were free for the general public, since we were not the “general public” and were being kicked out when they were to arrive, the food stations largely had not opened yet, and therefore, I was more drunk that I had cared to be at that time. Which resulted in me texting my partner for some “emergency sushi” (is there any other kind?). ;)

If you don’t know much about tequila, here is some information to serve as a crash course on what you need to know:

  • Good tequila should be made from 100% blue agave. The cheaper tequilas that we over did in our youth were likely only 51% blue agave. If your stomach wretches at the thought of Jose Cuervo or Sauza, there is good reason for that; it’s not pure. Careful when you do your research; some tequila will state it uses “100% agave” which is not the same as “100% blue agave”.
  • Tequila usually comes 3-4 varieties: blanco (white, aged less than 3 months), reposado (pale yellow/beige, aged 3-12 months), anejo (darker yellow, aged at least 12 months), extra anejo (darkest yellow, aged at least 36 months). Stay away from any variety labelled “Gold”; it means that food colouring was added to a blanco to get you to think it’s a reposado/anejo.
  • Since all tequila has to be 100% blue agave, the major variance in flavour is going to come from: where the agave was grown and its terroir, how much of it was produced at a time, and what type of barrels was in aged in. While all tequila is aged in oak barrels, some of them are aged in virgin oak barrels; whereas some acquire used casks which had previously aged wine, rum, Bourbon, or Scotch whisky.
  • Tequila is a type of mezcal, but not the other way around. Tequila is a city in the state of Jalisco in Mexico and is used to denote a particular region (sort of like how Champagne is from Champagne in France). The major difference in flavour is that mezcal is smokier and more complex than tequila and is made by combining agave and maguey plants, not just blue agave. They are also known to include various spices and fruits in the distillation process. Mezcal is produced in the state of Oaxaca, and is also commonly produced in a single village, which can make for some high bottle prices.

And now, onto the tequila (and mezcal) reviews!

Hornitos Black Barrel: I was a little uncertain as to whether I would enjoy thHornitos Black Barrele top shelf of Sauza because Sauza is awful but, the Hornitos Reposado was decent. I gave the Black Barrel a try and was pleasantly surprised. It lends its complexity to aging it in a Scotch barrel.
Definitely had a little bite and smokiness in the finish. While the rep did not disclose which Scotch distillery’s barrel was used, it does mean that the tequila would actually be the third spirit in the barrel, since the Scotch distillery would have obtained it from a rum or Bourbon distillery first. Sauza is a tequila subsidiary owned by Beam Suntory Holdings, the #3 top-selling spirits producer in the world, which means that barrels can go back-and-forth between distilleries; the profit still goes to the same company in the end.

Blue Hour: I triedIMG_20150530_164115 their Reposado and their Anejo, both of which were intensely tasty. They disclosed that they are currently aging their tequila in barrels obtained from the Knob Creek Bourbon distillery. The rep was a little nervous giving me that information, simply because he believed that their barrel source may soon be changing. Blue Hour is owned by the Don Good Tequila Company, a Canadian-owned company operating out of Jalisco, Mexico. The company has only been known to produce tequila.IMG_20150530_164436

Herradura Reposado: This is the top shelf production line of the same company which produces El Jimador. The tequila was nice and smooth; cheap enough to mix and delicious enough to enjoy straight. Herradura is owned by Brown-Forman, a US-based spirits producer which owns Jack Daniels (Tennessee Whisky), Woodford Reserve (Bourbon), and several other big name spirits brands.

Asombroso: IMG_20150530_170739These were definitely unique tequilas. Their reposado is aged in Bordeaux red wine casks for 3 months, and their anejo is aged 5 years in French virgin oak barrels. The reposado definitely carried a fruitier flavour than I would typically attribute to a tequila, and the anejo was robust and caramel-like. Their bottles are quite pretty, especially the reposado with its hand-painted like detail. Asombroso is family owned and operated in the US and only produces tequila. The high label price seems to support this notion.

Dulce Vida: I managed to try the reposado, anejo, and extra anejo. These were all fantastic, especially the extra anejo. This distillery is one of few who claims to producIMG_20150530_171317Organic tequila and that their agave harvesting is sustainable to the environment. All of their tequilas were very smooth and simple. Not very intense and all lightly sweet in flavour. They age their reposado and anejo in Bourbon barrels (cannot remember if it was from Jack Daniels or Jim Beam) and they age their extra anejo in barrels from a Napa Valley winery.

Agave Underground: Definitely gets points for having the coolest bottle toppers. TIMG_20150530_171743ried their reposado and anejo and both were nice and smooth with a nice little bite at the finish.  They age their tequila in Jack Daniels barrels and make this information public on their website. The company is a small batch producer and makes only tequila.

Del Maguey: This company produces several single village mezcals. I tried all three thIMG_20150530_172416ey had at the show; the Vida San Luis del Rio, the Chichicapa, and the Minero – Santa Catarina Minas. The San Luis del Rio is considered their “entry level” mezcal, as it’s priced less than $100.  It had a light body and light smokiness to it. The Chichicapa was far more smokier but still had a light to medium body to it. The Santa Catarina Minas was definitely my favourite; was a little less smoky than the Chichicapa but had a nice full bodied sweetness in the background that made it exquisite to sip.

Clase Azul: Again, some of the most stunning boIMG_20150530_173435ttles I have ever seen. The reposado was definitely memorable, very nice and smooth and not too sweet. They age their tequila in virgin oak barrels. The anejo was also quite good, but I found the reposado more memorable. Casa Tradicion is the Mexico-based company which produces the tequila using organically grown agave, yet they do not label their tequila as being organic.

Alipus Mezcal: This mezcal is also single village origin. At this poinIMG_20150530_175129t, my ethanol to food ratio was too great for me to remember if I liked it. I know I didn’t dislike it! Perhaps I only have fonder memories of Del Maguey because their bottles stood out more. I believe I only tried one, but that detail is hazy!

T1 Tequila Uno: Tried their reposado and anejoIMG_20150530_180212. Both tasted sweet and pleasant, but nothing outstanding. The higher price tag is likely related to the company being family owned and operated, creating small batches of their spirits. Certainly a sipping tequila.

Gran Cava de Oro: Aged in French white oak barrels definitely lent some coIMG_20150530_180734mplexity to the flavour. Both the reposado and anejo were sweet and pleasant to drink. Their reposado is aged for 6 months, and their anejo is aged for 2 years. Their extra anejo is aged 5 years, but I did not get a chance to try it.

 

 

Links for further reading:
– Hornitos Tequila
Blue Hour Tequila
Herradura Tequila
Asombroso Tequila
Dulce Vida Organic Tequila
Agave Underground
Del Maguey Single Village Mezcal
Clase Azul Tequila
Lorenz Agave Spirits importer – Alipus Mezcal
T1 Tequila Uno
Gran Cava de Oro
Tequila on Wikipedia
Mezcal on Wikipedia