The Union is gone, but Callister Brewing, a dead-themed Botanist, and an SOV advent calendar bring some sunshine

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      We’re not ashamed to admit this: there have been tears here at the Straight this week, that having everything to do with the October 24 closure of the Union just off Main. Chances are you were familiar with the drill, especially if East Van’s home.

      It went something like this: a) put your head down and pedal grimly home after work, the worst part of the journey being heartbreak hill on Adanac?; Or b) stop at the Union for a Banga #2, Seoul Sister, East Van Sunrise, and When You Do Yuzu You Do You Dude, and then loading ye old bicycle into the back of a taxi van, the buzz taking care of whatever guilt you might have had at 5:20.

      RIP in peace the Union, and cheers to the legendary Kristi-Leigh Akister. In the meantime, brighten up your week with the following.

      Another reason to love Ontario

      There’s no need to pretend otherwise—as a proud West Coaster you’ve been conditioned to have a mammoth chip on your shoulder when it comes to Ontario (this solely because it happens to be home to Toronto). That’s not only understandable, it’s entirely forgivable. (Hell, even Wikipedia understands the Hogtown disdain; check out the “List of places referred to as the Center of the Universe” page and you’ll find this entry for Toronto: “a term used derisively by residents of the rest of Canada in reference to the city.”) On the plus side, Ontario has given us plenty to like over the past few years, including METZ, the Muskokas, and, now, Forty Creek’s Art of the Blend Niagara Whisky.

      Timed perfectly for the arrival of fall (aka the dead-leaves November monsoons, not the great hotumn of October), the latter lands on the West Coast November 5. Forty Creek’s Art of the Blend announces itself with heaps of brown sugar, maple fudge, apricot preserves, and honeyed oak, its beautiful sweetness having something—or everything—to do with the addition of Niagara-region grapes. (That’s where the “Blend” part of the equation comes in-Riesling and vidal blanc were harvested, cold-pressed, fermented, and then infused into the whisky by Forty Creek master blender Bill Ashburn.)

      Hitting shelves at a bold 45 percent ABV, this whisky is dangerously smooth and unapologetically bold, that especially appealing when the rains arrive. Final thoughts on Art of the Blend? That would be “Well done, Ontario. Sometimes it’s okay to admit that, even though we pretend otherwise, we secretly like you.”

      Christmas comes early

      Ever notice how Halloween decorations start popping up in your local drugstore at the tail end of summer, and the fake Christmas trees take root at Canadian Tire when it’s mid-October? For those whose motto is “Be Prepared for Tomorrow Today” comes this week’s release of Sons of Vancouver’s second Whisky Advent Calendar, featuring 24 miniature bottles, each nestled behind a window in a gorgeously illustrated box. SOV launched its inaugural calendar last year, with the North Vancouver distillery’s co-founders James Lester and Richard Kraus leading a team that worked, Santa’s elves-style, days and nights to hand-fill each bottle, and then place those bottles in each hand-assembled box.

      “It was honestly the biggest undertaking, besides opening the distillery, that we’ve ever done,” Lester told the Straight last year. “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.”

      This year each box is again filled with 12 SOV blended whiskies and 12 whisky liqueurs, the ultra-Christmasy box illustrated with Easter Egg in-jokes that fans of the distillery can grill the bartender about the next time they pop in for happy hour. (Why, exactly, is a sports car on fire on the side panel, who’s the basketball player in the window between days 17 and 18, and why is Santa reclining in a martini glass in nothing but his gotch?). As for what’s inside, the Straight has already done a little exploring; Day 1’s slot contains an SOV Chocolate Orange Whisky Liqueur that will have you dreaming of Terry’s Orange balls, A Christmas Story, and a whisky glow that feels doubly wonderful when the weather outside turns frightful. 

      Day of the dead (not the Romero film)

      With good reason, it’s on your bucket list—to the point of being something of a double obsession. That would be not only celebrating Día de los Muertos in Mexico City (full regalia, including facepaint, mandatory), but doing so after spending an afternoon at Hanky Panky (famous for its number 13 ranking on the list of the World’s 50 Best Bars). Assuming you’re not headed to VYR this afternoon, there’s always next year. In the meantime, get ready to break out the marigolds and celebrate the undying beauty of La Catrina, because the Vancouver Fairmont’s much-feted Botanist is bringing the spirit of Mexico’s Hanky Panky cocktail bar to the West Coast.

      On November 2 and 3 Botanist ace bartender Jeff Savage, along with executive chef Hector Laguna, will oversee a collaborative dinner and cocktail menu designed to honour Día de los Muertos. A six-course tasting menu (expect everything from leche de tigre octopus to lamb barbacoa) will be paired with three Hanky Panky-created cocktails and three from Savage.

      Can’t get enough Day of the Dead? The festivities move to Fairmont Lobby Lounge & RawBar on November 4, with Hanky Panky’s cocktails taking centre stage along with live music and Día de los Muertos-themed entertainment. For more information go here. And don’t forget to load up on sugar skulls.

      Canada Beer Cup cleanup

      Good luck getting your hands on this one—East Van’s Callister Brewing Co. just took top honours at the 2022 Canada Beer Cup, including Best in Show for its Wee Laird Wee Heavy. The newly award-winning Scottish ale spent 10 months in barrels previously used by Okanagan Spirits to mature its highly sought after single malt whisky, Laird of Fintry. In addition to Wee Laird Wee Heavy’s gold in the wood-influenced category and Best In Show nod, Callister claimed gose gold for its Cuban Taxi Guava, and a spontaneously fermented beer-category bronze for its In Bloom Lambic Style Ale.

      British Columbia breweries took home 46 medals in the competition, where 1,300 entries from across the country were sampled and rated by judges from Canada, Italy, the U.K., Sweden, and the States.
      Other Greater Vancouver triple medal winners included Container Brewing (silvers for Seawise Giant and Three Legged Marem and bronze for Seeing Doppel), and Dageraad Brewing (a silver for Field Theory, and bronzes for Blonde and Brune).

      Gold medals meanwhile went to Metro Vancouver’s Main Street Brewing (Naked Fox IPA), and Silver Valley Brewing (The Lion ESB). For the complete list of winner, go here. And then get in line at Callister, with the caveat that someone’s going to go home disappointed—hopefully not you.