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Cheers: B.C. distilleries win big in 2021 Canadian Artisan Spirit Competition

Time to raise your coupe, tumbler, or highball glass to some spirited British Columbian businesses who are making some award-winning spirits.
The Italian-style green walnut liqueur called Nocino! from Ampersand Distilling Co. on Vancouver Island has been named Canada's Artisan Spirit of the Year. Photo via Ampersand Distilling Company/Facebook

Time to raise your coupe, tumbler, or highball glass to some spirited British Columbian businesses who are making some award-winning spirits.

The results of the 2021 Canadian Artisan Spirit Competition (CASC) are in, and B.C. distilleries have taken home top honours in the lion's share of the categories, including the Canadian Artisan Spirit of the Year.

This year, the CASC awarded Best in Class, Gold, Silver, and Bronze medals in 19 categories, such as infused or flavoured vodka, single malt whisky, and amaro or vermouth. 
"The competition also includes Terroir honours, recognizing distilleries whose use of local ingredients is reflected in the character of their spirits," note organizers.

While spirits from across Canada were represented in the 2021 CASC awards, distilleries in B.C. were lauded Best in Class in 10 of the 19 spirit categories, and one spirit, the Nocino! (an Italian-style green walnut liqueur) from Vancouver Island's Ampersand Distilling Co. was named the Canadian Artisan Spirit of the Year. 

Ampersand's Nocino! is made from local honey, organic wheat and green walnuts that distillery owners Jeremy and Jessica Schacht harvest themselves in the summertime. 

The Nocino! began as something they tested out at home on their own, before releasing it as a small-batch product. The spirit is lovely to sip on its own before or after a meal, but it can also pop into cocktails and hold its own, like as a sub for Sweet Vermouth in a Manhattan, for example.
The CASC judges singled out Ampersand's Nocino!'s “pronounced aromas of walnut, and medium notes of orange peel, nutmeg, coffee, and burnt sugar… very complex and exceptionally balanced… with a deeply roasted flavour and a pleasing note of bitterness," calling it a "carefully crafted liqueur.”

This is the first time a liqueur has won the competition: past winners have included Kazuki Gin and Akvavit from Sheringham Distillery in Sooke and Ethos Gin from Monashee Spirits in Revelstoke. It is the fourth time a B.C. craft distillery has been named "Spirit of the Year" in the annual competition. 

Other B.C. Best in Class winners include The Woods Spirit Co. in North Vancouver, for Pacific North-West Amaro (Amaro or Vermouth category); Wynndel Craft Distilleries in Creston, for Apple Brandy (Brandy or Eau de Vie category); Arbutus Distillery in Nanaimo, for Espresso Vodka (Flavoured or Infused Vodka category); Dubh Glas Distillery in Oliver, for Noteworthy Gin Navy Strength (tie, Gin category); The Liberty Distillery in Vancouver, for Endeavour Old Tom Gin (Aged Gin category); and Merridale Cidery & Distillery in Cobble Hill, for Cowichan Spiced Rhumb (Alternative Rum category).

Best in Class winners of the 2021 Canadian Artisan Spirit Competition:

  1. Absinthe: Distillerie Fils du Roy (QC) – Courailleuse
  2. Akvavit: Confluence Distilling (AB) – Vinland Aquavit (Best in Class, 2020)
  3. Amaro or Vermouth: The Woods Spirit Co (BC) – Pacific North-West Amaro
  4. Brandy or Eau de Vie: Wynndel Craft Distilleries (BC) – Apple Brandy
  5. Flavoured or Infused Vodka: Arbutus Distillery (BC) – Espresso Vodka
  6. Aged Gin: The Liberty Distillery (BC) – Endeavour Old Tom Gin
  7. Classic Gin: Patent 5 Distillery (MB) – Navy Strength Gin
  8. Contemporary Gin: (tie) Compass Distillers (NS) – Gin Royal; The Dubh Glas Distillery (BC) – Noteworthy Gin - Navy Strength
  9. Flavoured Gin: Raging Crow Distillery (NS) – Spruce Tip Gin
  10. Liqueur: Ampersand Distilling Company (BC) – Nocino!
  11. Fruit Liqueur: La Vallée Bleue (QC) – Cassimix
  12. Alternative Rum: Merridale Cidery & Distillery (BC) – Cowichan Spiced Rhumb
  13. Traditional Rum: Last Straw Distillery (ON) – Blackstrap Rum - Double Barrelled
  14. Classic Vodka: Bandits Distilling Inc. (SK) – Northern Lights Vodka
  15. Contemporary Vodka: Ironworks Distillery (NS) – Ironworks Vodka
  16. Single Grain Whisky: Shelter Point Distillery (BC) – Double Barrel Batch 5
  17. Single Malt Whisky: Odd Society Spirits (BC) – Commodore Single Malt Whisky
  18. Young Whisky: DEVINE Distillery (BC) – Ancient Grains (Best in Class, 2019, 2020)
  19. White Spirit: Silver Fox Distillery (ON) – 4 Peppercorns
  • Distillerie Fils du Roy (QC) – Fils du Roy Bitter

With files from Charlene Rooke/The Alchemist Magazine