Sons of Vancouver Distillery’s first-ever whisky advent calendar was inspired by one of the great traditions of Christmas, but take a close look at the box that houses 24 miniature bottles and you’ll also find no shortage of Easter eggs.
Remember how, earlier this year, SOV’s small-batch distillers James Lester and Richard Kraus made a seamless first foray into the whisky world with their award-winning Cigarettes on a Leather Jacket? Not to spoil one of the surprises found in the lovingly illustrated, hand-assembled box, but look on the left side-panel and you’ll see a retro-cool biker in a black motorcycle jacket puffing away on a smoke.
“There are so many inside jokes on the box,” Lester acknowledges in an interview with the Straight. “In 2020 and 2021 we were producing hand sanitizers along with every other distillery, so there’s a picture of our bartender sitting on a pile of hand sanitizer roasting marshmallows over a campfire.”
The Easter eggs there? One would be that Sons of Vancouver’s next whisky release will be dubbed Marshmallows Over a Campfire. Another is that said the distillery’s bartender is dressed like a man who loves, in no particular order, beachfront luaus in Kauai, Elvis Presley in Blue Hawaii, and everything ever recorded by Don Ho.
“He always wear a Hawaiian shirt, which is his whole thing,” Lester says with a laugh. “There’s the ghost of Elvis in one of the windows, and the distillery casks are featured as well—they’ve kind of become celebrities at the shop here. Basically we wanted to do call-outs to as many things as we could.”
And then of course there’s the whiskies. Sons of Vancouver was immediately embraced after opening in 2015 for its wildly popular and award-winning Amaretto, and Tiki Nation takes on Coconut Liqueur and Blue Curaçao. Earlier this year Cigarettes on a Leather Jacket immediately established the distillery as a multiple threat—despite being new to the whisky game, SOV took home gold at the Canadian Artisan Spirits Competition with the release.
Beyond the fact that it’s a fun way to jump into the Christmas season, Lester says the Whisky Advent Calendar makes the most of the fact Sons of Vancouver now has multiple whiskies on the go, but generally in small batches.
“We wanted to put something out where people could get a feeling for the range of products that we have, but which didn’t involve us burning through all the whisky we have, which would mean a year of two of no releases,” Lester says. “For us, this was a way to help establish the distillery as a bit of a whisky maker, while also controlling our volume.”
And that idea of positioning Sons of Vancouver as being serious about the spirit was as important as having fun with the 12 blended whiskies and 12 whisky liqueurs that make up the package . On the bottom of the Whisky Advent Calendar you’ll find a quick note which serves as a shout-out to an industry that continues to grow at a grassroots level: “In this collection you will find some remarkable, sippable and extremely flavourful drams but also some experimental things full of smoke and spice. Not everything released here will be available again or guaranteed to return next year. We believe there is a really incredible opportunity in Canadian Whisky, right now, to make great flavourful blends that aren’t seen terribly often in the category. Most of our whiskies lean towards over-proof and high rye mash bills but there are malts and blends included here for everyone’s enjoyment. If you like what you try over the next 24 days, we encourage you to shop around and try other small distillers. In our opinion some of the best Canadian Whiskies are being put out by small producers and are being very overlooked at this moment.”
To reveal the contents of even the first few days of the Sons of Vancouver Whisky Advent Calendar would spoil the magic of an early Christmas gift. Think about it—no one’s supposed to start popping windows, or peaking at what’s going to be under the tree, in the middle of November.
Laughing, Lester will allow that not every experiment worked out when SOV was in the creation phase with its various whiskies and liquers.
“Honestly, one of the things that I was most excited about was an upside-down pineapple-cake whisky,” he recalls. “I had this idea to make a sort of a tiki-based whisky—something similar to what you might find in a rum-style. The upside-down pineapple cake did not make the cut. It wasn’t even close. But I’ve got a really good idea that I think we could pull off for next year.”
For the whiskies and whisky liqueurs that turned out smashingly, the liquor elves were busy for weeks at the distillery. After being designed and fabricated by Great Little Box Company in Richmond, each box—illustrated by Sam Parker of Parker Design—was assembled by the Sons of Vancouver team, and then packed, in a specific sequence, with bottles that had to be hand-filled.
“It was honestly the biggest undertaking, beside opening the distillery, that we’ve ever done,” Lester says. “Starting with the design—we had to invent a box where the bottles would stand up. Our whole thing at Sons of Vancouver is under-promising and over-delivering. When you were a kid and got the Nestle chocolates in the advent calendar, getting to punch them out every day was something that you were really excited for.
"Globally, there are only a couple of 24-day whisky advent calendars," he continues. "We wanted to do something that would blow people’s heads off. Something that they would see, hold in their hands, and go ‘This feels important.’ We wanted something that people would really want to have.”
Sons of Vancouver has sold out of its Whisky Advent Calendars at the distillery, but you can still find them in B.C. liquor stores with a little calling around. But hold off on popping that first window—and not just because you’ll end up ruining the surprise: starting on December 1, Sons of Vancouver will be taking to its Instagram page to talk about the whiskies each day right up to Christmas.
“We’ll do every release, day-by-day,” Lester notes. “We’ll do that at 8 p.m. each day, so hopefully that will give everyone time to crack the bottle before we ruin the surprise. We’ll do tasting notes and cocktail recommendations where appropriate. I don’t want to spoil anything, but a few of them make for really great cocktails with whatever you have lying around the house.”
So keep the Whisky Advent Calendar on hand, cue up Elf, A Christmas Story, or Black Christmas, and break out the candy canes, mandarin oranges, and rum balls. Right down to the Easter eggs, Sons of Vancouver has just made the most wonderful time of year a little more wonderful.