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Spirits of the Coast: Three local distilleries specialize in gins, vodkas, whiskeys and more

The Sunshine Coast has its tales of bootlegger and pirates, evidenced by the names of popular destinations such as Secret Cove, Pirate Rock and the infamous Smuggler Cove. Luckily, those times are long past and there is no more need for smuggling booze, especially when we have three fine distilleries right here on the Sunshine Coast.

The Sunshine Coast has its tales of bootlegger and pirates, evidenced by the names of popular destinations such as Secret Cove, Pirate Rock and the infamous Smuggler Cove. After the Civil War ended in 1865, Americans began using the nooks and crannies of our coastline to traffic in contraband. 

Luckily, those times are long past and there is no more need for smuggling booze, especially when we have three fine distilleries right here on the Sunshine Coast: Bruinwood Estate Distillery in Roberts Creek, and One Foot Crow and The 101 Brewhouse + Distillery, both in Gibsons. 

Bruin Crossing

My first stop was Bruinwood Estate Distillery owned by Danise Loftram and Jeff Barringer, who is the brewmaster as well as an artist. Located for the past 20 years in the woods where bears (bruins) make their home, is their tasting cabin. 

I was immediately drawn to the gleaming equipment in the back and wanted to know the process of making gin and vodka. Jeff walked me through the steps he’s been doing for the past five years to make gin and vodka: 

  1. A wheat and barley mash is added to the mash tank.The mash is converted to sugar in about six hours.
  2. The mash ferments in the tank for three to four days. 
  3. The still is stripped of liquid and redistilled twice more. 
  4. Flavouring is added to the distilled spirits before bottling.

Bruinwood makes all their flavours from scratch with ingredients that come from B.C., which designates them as a craft distillery. Gin flavours include botanicals like coriander, juniper, anise and elderberry. Their vodka is infused with syrups made from mandarin oranges, espresso, vanilla, and seasonal ingredients.They even make a gin flavoured with plants from the Botanical Gardens that they sell as a fundraiser.

After the tour it’s time for a tasting, but I disclose that I rarely drink and when I do, I avoid gin. I love juniper trees but I don’t want the taste of their astringent berries on my palate. Danise explained that there’s a range of juniper strength in gin, and that she had “gateway gins” for me to try. 

I started with a sip of their Earl Grey gin made with Davis Bay Tea’s Earl Grey that had a delicious aftertaste—no characteristic gin bitterness. Next, I tried refreshing grapefruit gin. I was converted, at least to Bruinwoods’ flavourful gins.

Their Limoncella smelled like lemon pound cake. Limoncella is the secret ingredient in my lemon pound cake recipe, so that went home with me, as did the Espresso vodka made with locally roasted Strait Coffee. Their Horchata liqueur, named after a Mexican street drink, was delightful with flavours of almond, cinnamon and vanilla, and it deservedly won the 2022 BC Distilled People’s Choice Award for Best Liqueur. However, the most intriguing gin of all was their Joker Gin that turned colour from blue to purple when you add tonic water. 

To make a creamy, fizzy, festive drink, use Bruinwood’s Advocaat liqueur—the Dutch cream custard equivalent of eggnog used in their classic Snowball recipe. 

For the winter they have Pumpkin Spice, Pfeffernusse (peppernut) and Peppermint Cream Advocaat, which I’d advise you to pick up before they run out. 

You will find Bruinwood at markets throughout the Coast, as well as at their Roberts Creek location. 

Bruinwood Snowball

3 oz (90 ml) Bruinwood Advocaat

3 oz (90 ml) sparkling lemonade or Sprite

1.5 oz (15 ml) lime juice

Fresh lime, for garnish

In a highball glass, pour a small amount of Sprite and a squeeze of lime and blend. Add remaining soda with ice, giving it a gentle stir. Garnish with lime wedge.

Something to crow about

If you have ornithophobia—a fear of birds—have someone do the shopping for you at One Foot Crow Craft Distillery, as there are giant crows painted throughout the building. If you have a taste for unique spirits that play an homage to sailing history, by all means stop in. 

Of course, my first question when I met owner Bob Bottieri at the building with the giant crow painted on the front was, “Why the name?” 

“We noticed a young crow with a foot missing that visited us every day in our home in West Vancouver,” he said. They fed the baby crow kibble and peanuts and gave it the simple name of One Foot. The name came to mind when he moved to the Coast and started the distillery, which was a life-long dream.

Bob and his partner, La Vonne Girard are in the film industry, and their work brought them to the Coast where they eventually bought a property. La Vonne operates Rustic Weddings, where she hosts weddings and other events, and also has a lavender farm that supplies the prime ingredient for their Lavender Gin. 

Doing a tasting at OFC is a history lesson in spirits. Bob pulls out a bottle of black gin called Gunpowder Gin.

Bob explained that to test the proof of liquor in barrels, sailors would light it on fire with gunpowder. If the alcohol burned, it was full proof. If the liquid didn’t light on fire, it was watered down. In homage to the gunpowder test, Bob created this treacle-coloured gin. 

The Rhubarb, Cranberry, and Pumpkin Spice spirits were more to my liking. Bob puts B.C. cranberry juice in the cranberry vodka, and real pumpkin and pumpkin pie spice into the pumpkin spice vodka.

From OFC’s majestic still comes one more surprise, whiskey—my favourite hard liquor. It’s difficult to compete with aged single-malt liquors, but their caramel-tasting, 108-proof whiskey was dandy considering it was young and reasonably priced. You’d never know it was aged in a barrel for only six months and wasn’t shipped over from Scotland.

101 Does it all

For the past five years, Chris Greenfield and David Longman have been feeding Coasters delicious meals, brewing up beer and distilling liquor in Gibsons. 

Chris says they started with a 10-gallon home distiller until their massive German distiller arrived, which fills one half of their building. From this leviathan of twisted metal, The 101 Brewhouse + Distillery concocts brandy, whiskey, liqueur, moonshine, gin and vodka from B.C.-grown grains under the direction of their master brewer. 

They use B.C.-grown berries and botanicals to create flavours, like their more-ish blueberry liqueur that is the base for their Saragritas—a blueberry margarita named after one of their employees. The entire process from grain to liquor in a glass takes approximately nine days. Their 101 Gin has 13 botanical ingredients, including florals, spices and citrus, in addition to the obligatory juniper. 

They sell their spirits through private liquor stores and Brassica restaurant. 

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