It isn’t always wine we Uncork in this corner, as regular browsers know. Every so often we unscrew the twist cap on a new spirit, pop the crown cap on a special brew. And so we come to the fourth edition of this year’s BOYs—the Best of the Year; this time it’s sips and gulps as we recall selected spirits and brews that particularly pleased the palate. Unless otherwise noted, all bottles are 750 millilitres.
Boomsma Jonge Genever ($29.92)
The one and only Dutch gin in the LDB’s portfolio. Different from your basic London Dry, it likes to be well-iced and can accompany many fish treats, like smoked mackerel with chopped red onion and all sorts of herring. Do try it with sushi at least once.
Okanagan Spirits Aquavitus ($29.99)
From a unique Canadian distillery—home to abundant grappas, fruit liqueurs, and specialty items (like B.C.–made absinthe)—this came into being to fill a void left when one of the big Danish aquavit producers departed the market. For reasons best known to the Monopoly, it’s not sold through LDB stores, so you have to go to the distillery in Vernon to get it or order through www.okanaganspirits.com/. Try it iced, neat, or in a Caesar-style cocktail.
Trader Vic’s Original Macadamia Nut Liqueur ($31.99)
For people with a serious sweet tooth from the legendary inventor of the original mai tai. Nutty and rich, and did I mention sweet? It’s the first of a line of exotic liqueurs under the Trader Vic’s name to arrive here. It warms up a good, strong cup of coffee and makes a tasty ice-cream topping; mixing it half and half with brandy tames the sweetness.
Ed Phillips & Sons Prairie Organic Vodka ($39.99)
Says the accompanying product sheet: “crafted on the Minnesota prairie by a fifth generation of spirit makers in partnership with over 900 local farmers”. Made from organic #2 yellow corn (the leftover corncobs are converted to biogas to power the stills), it’s silky and just a little sweet, gentle and mellow, and very nice well-iced. It’s kosher, too.
Pemberton Distillery Schramm Potato Vodka ($49.99)
This was detailed here in early October and is one of the best new domestic spirits to come along in years. Capitalizing on the availability of fabulous potatoes up past Whistler, it’ll delight many a visitor here for the Games. If you’ve never tried potato vodka, you’re in for a tasty surprise. Yes, $50 is a hefty tab, but it’s worth it.
Island Spirits Phrog Premium Gin ($50)
Another happy surprise, this time from Hornby Island. It has unique green-herb aromas and a glorious finish and is sure to make the best true martini you’ve tasted in years. The company also produces a companion vodka—same price, same limited availability. Specialty spirit stores like Liberty have it. Once the clouds clear, you might like a jaunt to Hornby to check out the distillery; phone first.
Hazelnut Spice Rum and Spruce Gin
Last on this part of the list, two from Oregon’s Rogue Spirits, both in the $75 range. The rum is a wonderful spirit to celebrate cold weather with. It’s got toasted hazelnut, orange, cinnamon, and vanilla flavours; it’s great in coffee and alongside some of Thomas Haas’s chocolate creations. Both it and the gin have won an impressive number of international awards. If you like the smell and taste of spruce, this one will please for sure. And if you’ve never had a hot gin toddy, now’s the time and here’s the method: dissolve a couple of sugar cubes in an ounce and a half of fresh lemon juice, add two-and-a-half ounces of Spruce Gin and boiling water to taste, top with a slice of lemon. Or pour a shot into one of five flavours of Northern Delights Inuit herbal teas, which some specialty stores around town are starting to stock.
Victoria Spirits Twisted & Bitter Orange Cocktail Bitters (about $10, 100 millilitres)
The new product from distiller Peter Hunt, whose Victoria Gin (the pride of Old West Saanich Road) made many friends last year. The name’s cool, the bitters even better. Orange bitters have an edge on, say, Angostura: while still abundantly bitter, there’s a flavourful orange aspect that works wonders in cocktails. Like Robert B. Parker’s Boston detective Spenser, I like to put a couple of dashes over ice and then fill the glass with Woodford Reserve bourbon. As far as I’ve been able to determine, this is the first Canadian-made bitters to appear on the scene since Otto Rieder made one back in the ’60s in Grimsby, Ontario. An excellent addition to your 2010 liquor cabinet, it’s for sale in the tasting room on Old West Saanich Road and in other Victoria outlets and will be available in select Vancouver locations after New Year’s; check the Web site for details.
Estrella Damm Inedit ($5.97)
On to the brews. This one comes from Spanish brewery Estrella Damm and is a collaborative effort with “the globally acclaimed chef Ferran Adrià” (I quote from the neck tag), the glitzy half culinary genius, half mad scientist from Spain’s elBulli restaurant, which rich foodies acclaim as the best restaurant in the world. Reasonably priced for a bunch of beer in the bottle, it’s quite light, not particularly different (I expected more given Adrià’s reputation), very gulpable, and a little turbid. More from the neck tag: “Inedit means ”˜never been done before’”¦[it] was created to pair with the most exquisite and challenging foods”. I dunno, it goes pretty good with some salt-and-pepper potato chips and a decent burger.
Rogue Brewery Brutal Bitter ($7.15, 650 millilitres)
The same folks who make the rum and gin, above, in Oregon have dozens of different beers. This is one of their best. Despite the name, it’s certainly not brutal nor is it all that bitter, but it’s a good name for a terrific dinner brew.
Hell’s Gate Premium Lager ($8.95 for six 355-millilitre cans)
One of the new B.C. brews from the past summer. As has become pretty much the norm with locally brewed beers it’s “all natural”, made with B.C. water and B.C. malt. Fresh and a little spritzy, to fit fine with food.
Deschutes Brewery Black Butte Porter ($14.99 for six 355-millilitre bottles)
I love porter in all its guises, and this one out of Oregon (what is it with all these Oregon brews, anyway?) is rich and chocolatey, mellow and mild, priding itself on being “an approachable porter”. Lip-smackingly good. Bet you can’t sip just one.