B.C.’S DISTILLERIES TAKE FLIGHT
As a visitor to Whistler, you will probably want to experience locally sourced food and beverages: from Dungeness crab, Kusshi oysters and Pemberton beef to wines from the Okanagan and microbrews from craft breweries. Now, you can add local spirits – including gin, vodka, absinthe, lemoncello and single-malt Scotch – to the mix. British Columbia’s craft distilling industry is flourishing. In fact, the West Coast is Canada’s unofficial hub of artisan distilleries, also known as boutique, micro or independent producers of liquor. Thirty-two of the 60 micro distilleries in Canada are in B.C., and according to B.C. Distilled, the annual micro-distillery festival, most of them have emerged in the past four years and produce more than 60 per cent of the country’s small-batch spirits. Why the recent B.C. bounty? For the past century or so, Canadian liquor production had been dominated by a handful of large-scale, massproduced distilleries. The restrictive bureaucracy and liquor taxes that grew out of prohibition in the early 20th century made it impossible for the little guys to compete. But in 2013, the B.C. government began loosening the laws. The “tied house” rule, which had prevented craft distilleries, breweries and wineries from selling products at their own off-site restaurants, was ended. Craft distilleries were allowed to build on-site tasting rooms and lounges, and also sell directly to restaurants and private liquor stores, thereby bypassing the brutal markups and byzantine distribution routes through the provincial liquor board. It’s still not easy to produce profitable yet premium, small-batch hooch in this province. The craft designation comes with its own set of onerous regulations, while liquor continues to be taxed at a higher rate than beer or wine. But those dedicated to their craft have carved out a niche in selling highly distinctive spirits made with local grains, indigenous botanicals and wild fruits that appeal to connoisseurs looking for the taste of terroir in their cocktails.