Lost in the hubbub surrounding the close of comments for the provincial government's liquor review is the reality that quiet but measured liberalization of some laws has been well underway for some time now.
No better proof can be found in the unveiling of Odd Society Spirits, Vancouver's new smallbatch distiller, which has quietly opened the doors to its impressive tasting room in East Van. Sitting at the nicely black lacquered, long black bar and gazing at its backdrop that mirrors the distillery's first label, it's not hard to be impressed, even if a little surprised, that this polished operation has popped up at 1725 Powell St. (604-716-6745).
Of course, it's not quite that simple.
When still in high school, co-founder and distiller Gordon Glanz was a keen home winemaker, an interest which, he says, was a short but logical step to home distilling. It was only a matter of time before he looked farther afield, eventually working in a winery in Germany for a year. There, naturally, beyond the grape harvest and fermenting was a chance to learn how to make Schnapps and more.
Watching the rise in the interest in craft distilling south of the line (which has seen six-fold growth to some 300 micro-distilleries in the last 10 years, Glanz and his wife Miriam felt the time was ripe to plan for a craft distillery in Vancouver.
Gordon left town to learn further the intricacies of distilling in (well, where else?) Scotland, where Edinburgh's Heriot Watt University helps shape tomorrow's distillers. He graduated with an MSc, and got to play in more than a few hallowed haunts along the way. He also met up with Joshua Beach, production manager and distiller, who has an invaluable background in breweries and equipment.
As he walks me through the business end of the operation, with its gleaming 350-litre Holstein copper stills and 15-foot vodka column, Glanz says he reckons the arrival of Odd Society is, "A culmination of at least five years of work and planning, with no shortage of loops and hoops to be jumped through."
B.C.'s newly designated Craft Distillery licence, he explains, comes with certain tax breaks, but there are strict requirements attached to it: "You have to use 100 per cent B.C. agricultural products. We use malted barley from Prince George. You have to ferment on site. You have to distill traditionally, and you can't use neutral grain spirit."
Hence Odd Society is the first (though by no means the last) true Craft Distiller to open in the city under the recently introduced new rules.
Right now you can drop by for a distillery visit to check things out. Grab a seat at the bar for a taste of the distillery's very smooth, gently viscose and reasonably priced East Van Vodka (with label art by tattoo artist Shwa Keirstead), and hopefully buy a bottle or two before you leave.
In a few months or so, Glanz suggests, you'll also be able to drop by what will by then have morphed into a cocktail lounge to taste some concoctions (created by Homer Street Café's JS Dupuis) again with ingredients all produced on site. You can be sure in there somewhere will be a Creme de Cassis, modelled on a family recipe courtesy of French Table restaurant owner Hervé Martin. And even if you can't make it down for a taste, you can already find East Van Vodka on quite a few private store shelves.
Look for Gin and an un-aged and unadulterated barley spirit, Mongrel, shortly. And, much later, whisky.
Belly's Budget Best: Jaboulet Parallèle 45 Côtes du Rhône 2010
Medium-bodied Grenache, Syrah, Mourvedre blend with forward juicy red berries, quiet spice and gently peppery finish. Think coq au vin (BCLS $18.99, 89 points).
Tim Pawsey covers food and wine for numerous publications and online as the Hired Belly at hiredbelly.com. Contact: rebelmouse.com/hiredbelly, on Twitter @hiredbelly or email email@example.com.
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