Crafty Sips

Drink up at one of Vancouver Island’s creative craft distilleries

by John Lee

Shelter Point Distillery double barrel whiskey. Photo courtesy Shelter Point Distillery

B.C.’s dew-frosted fall is waiting in the wings, but there’s still plenty of time to raise a glass to our golden summer finale. And while craft beer has dominated the limelight here in recent years, there’s a lip-smacking artisan liquor scene to be explored — especially on Vancouver Island, with its decanter-full of highly creative producers.

Here’s a full flight of great island distilleries (with tasting rooms) to check out — plus an insider ‘sip tip’ from each.

Shelter Point Distillery

With its handsomely gabled, winery-style main building –– check out those cool copper pots –– this seaside farmland distillery near Campbell River is one of the island’s most inviting libation destinations. Vodka launched the company’s ship back in 2011, but small-batch whisky is the key focus, from velvet-smooth Double Barreled to richly-fruited Montfort District Lot 141––plus a celebrated single malt that’s a cherished local favourite.

Sip tip:“I’d recommend our flagship Artisanal Single Malt Whisky, produced in the traditional style of Scotch. It recently won Best Canadian Single Malt at the World Whiskies Awards.” –Leon Webb, distiller

Shelter Point Distillery copper pots. Photo courtesy Shelter Point Distillery

Victoria Distillers

This 2008-launched distillery was an early pioneer of BC’s contemporary craft liquor surge. And despite new owners and a move to swanky Sidney digs, they’ve lost none of that early creativity, crafting everything from smooth, caramelly Oaken Gin to silky, slightly nutty Left Coast Hemp Vodka. Some things have changed, though, including an inviting new cocktail lounge and an expanded roster of tasting tours.

Sip tip:“Our Empress 1908 Gin was inspired by the Empress Hotel’s iconic high tea. With grapefruit, rose and ginger hints, it makes an amazing G&T –– which changes colour from indigo to pink when the tonic is added.” –Peter Hunt, master distiller

Empress 1908 Gin – Gin and Tonic. Photo courtesy Victoria Distillers

Wayward Distillation House

Northern BC honey is the foundation of everything they do at this Courtenay-based craft producer –– from delicious, mead-based Unruly Vodka to autumn-appropriate Krupnik, a honey liqueur suffused with warming spices and vanilla notes. Drop by for tours and tastings and ask about cocktail recipes: they can tell you exactly how to make savour-worthy ‘Krupnik Toddies’ here.

Sip tip:Our velvet-smooth Drunken Hive Rum has rich honeycomb and caramel notes, perfect for an evening of slow sipping by the fire.” —Dave Brimacombe, head distiller

Mead-based Drunken Hive Rum. Photo courtesy Wayward Distillation House

Sheringham Distillery

Founded in a shingle-sided barn on Vancouver Island’s southwest coast in 2015, Sheringham recently moved to a larger property in Sooke, tripling capacity and growing their friendly tasting bar. The move means an expanded menu of lip-smacking libations, including super-smooth vodka, a soon-to-be-released Asian-inspired gin and Akvavit, a fortifying Nordic spirit with hints of dill, caraway, anise and citrus.

Sip tip:“Our signature Seaside Gin captures the terroir and purity of Vancouver Island, combining premium botanicals and dried winged kelp. It’s great as a straight-sipper, in cocktails or martinis or in a timeless gin and tonic.” —Jason MacIsaac, distiller 

Sheringham Distillery’s signature Seaside Gin. Photo courtesy Victoria Distillers

Arbutus Distillery

Fusing house-grown botanicals with carefully curated BC ingredients, Nanaimo-based Arbutus elevates classic tipples with distinctive West Coast flourishes. With a restless production menu ranging from a licorice-forward Baba Yaga Absinthe to Amaro –– a fresh take on a beloved Italian liqueur –– their lively tasting bar is perfect for sipping cocktails and watching over the steampunk-like distilling operation.

Sip tip:“Our Empiric Gin combines bold aromatics with classic juniper and coriander––alongside rosemary, hops, lemon verbena and lavender. It’s perfect for zesty G&Ts and unique cocktails.” —MikePizzitelli, head distiller

Arbutus Distillery’s Empiric Gin. Photo by Jacob Janko, courtesy Arbutus Distillery