The Real Deal

Moonrise seen from the Sooke Harbour House. Photo: Peter Skillman

Moonrise seen from the Sooke Harbour House.
Photo: Peter Skillman

We were sitting at the Sooke Harbour House overlooking the Strait of Juan de Fuca of Vancouver Island, British Colombia, sipping a martini made from local ingredients: Sheringham Gin, Tugwell Creek Solstice Metheglin, Bittered Sling Lem Marakesh. I recognized very few of the words.

I’m more of a whisky person, but I’m coming around to gin these days. And this was a bright, nuanced gin martini with both floral and salty marine flavors, just like our surroundings. The garnish of a pickled fir tip was truly something I had never considered possible, much less tasted before.

We learned that Sheringham Gin was distilled just up the road from Sooke, in the community of Shirley. We decided to search for the distillery at the end the next day, after a lazy day of touring the coast by motorcycle, a pistachio and cream-colored dream re-issue of a vintage model. It’s been decades since I sat on the back of motorcycle, but I remember now how much fun it was.

Our ride: the Indian Chief Vintage.

Our ride: the Indian Chief Vintage.

We got a little lost looking for the road to the gin place, not that there are many roads; we were following verbal instructions from the night before rather than a map. We asked a couple of guys chatting roadside if they knew of a local gin distillery. They laughed as if that was a stupid question. Of course they did – this is the kind of place where everybody knows everyone.

Two double-backs later, we’d found our way – a steep-ish gravel road through forest and blackberry bushes heavy with fruit.

The view from Sheringham Distillery, Vancouver Island. All photos: PKR

The view from Sheringham Distillery, Vancouver Island.
Photo: PKR

It’s always a joy to see people create their own slice of paradise. Here is a place that distillers Jason and Alayne MacIsaac have made just the way they want it: A hand-built house, a lush garden overlooking the water, and a craft distillery out the back. The real deal. There was a vintage custom motorcycle out front to complete the picture.

We just showed up with no warning on loud bikes, and we were offered an extremely warm welcome.

Both Jason and Alayne came out to greet us, and Jason took us on a tour of their establishment.

Like the majority of distillers on Vancouver Island (there are almost 40 of them), the MacIsaacs make their own alcohol. Jason says they prefer the taste of locally produced organic white wheat and malted barley, and gives us a sip to prove it. It’s fresh, like a cool breeze.IMG_3007

The gin recipe involves the addition of orris, angelica, coriander and juniper. With dashes of orange, lavender, rose petals and lemon – and a dash of hand-harvested local winged kelp(!).  It might sound crazy, but we could taste every one of those ingredients. Lovely.

A further twist of the screw results in aqvavit, something I haven’t had in almost as long as I’ve been on a motorcycle. After tasting the Sheringham version, I’ll be returning to this drink more often.

Two of the Sheringham products.

Two of the Sheringham products.

When people talk about small craft distilleries, this is what they mean. It’s a lot of work and a massive amount of determination, but look at what it can bring forth. There is a commitment to authenticity, to quality, and to the life that goes with this work on every level.

I’m sorry to say we didn’t have time to visit the nearby Tugwell Creek winery to taste their honey mead – which is what the metheglin in that martini turned out to be.

Sheringham Distillers just started production over the past couple of years. Here’s hoping this is just the start of something beautiful.

Jason MacIsaac in front of the distillery.

Jason MacIsaac in front of the distillery.


Northbound Spirits

I’m back from a great trip to Trondheim, Norway, the furthest north I’ve ever been. The unexpected cancelled flights and lost luggage of the first days were more than made up for by stellar weather, a picturesque Nordic town, forested vistas and long hikes.

Trondheimsfjord, seen from the Lade Walk. Photo: PK Read

Trondheimsfjord, seen from the Lade Walk.
Photo: PK Read

We found a retro pub by the river, right next to the Old Bridge, a book lined den of live music, readings and conversation.

Inside the Antikvarietat on the Verftsgate.  Photo: PK Read

Inside the Antikvarietat on the Verftsgate.
Photo: PK Read

The front part had snacks, cakes and light dishes, but the rear bar had a fairly extensive of Norwegian artisanal beers. I tried one, an India Pale Ale by Fyr & Flamme. And a bit of Linie Aquavit, that Norwegian spirit that is only sold once it has been sent on a ship in oak sherry casks from Norway to Australia and back, thus crossing the ‘line’ of the equator. I had my first taste of Linie back in my early twenties, and none since – it tastes just as good as I remember. Don’t know why we don’t have it more often. Potato-based and flavored with caraway, this particular aquavit has a nice richness compared to the others we tried on the trip, which were (for me) basically just strong shots of liquor. I’m open to being told otherwise.

Photo: PK Read

Fyr & Flamme, Linie Aquavit.
Photo: PK Read

Now, I know I usually focus on champagne and whisky, and truly, I am not much of a beer drinker, but the Fyr & Flamme (“Fire & Flame’) IPA was a fine drink by any measure. It was like a foamy, rich, malty glass of liquified pine forest. So much flavor, so varied and complex and herbal. Apparently, three different hops are imported from the USA to make this beer, so I suppose it’s not entirely ‘local’. And while I won’t be giving up my champagne any time soon, I would be open to other kinds of bubbly like this IPA.

Good whiskies and champagnes were available at some of the bars and restaurants we visited, but at prices so astronomical that it was a bit off-putting. I wasn’t able to locate any locally-produced whisky – I’d be interested to hear from anyone who knows something about Norwegian whisky production.

The Arctic Circle is only 500 km to the north, but we didn’t have time to cross that line on this trip. Ideally, I’d like to hop on a boat and head up through the Lofoten Islands and then northwards. After this visit, I am sure we’ll be back for more. And I’ll be writing more about it this week.

The banks of the Nidelva. Photo: PK Read

The banks of the Nidelva.
Photo: PK Read