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“Nothing goes down like a cold dead frog” is the mantra of this reincarnated Aldergrove brewery emerging from the former Backwoods Brewing. Dead Frog has a lot more going for it than just a catchy handle, though. It’s friends with Vancouver’s Storm Brewing (a winning recommendation all by itself), and it makes some pretty good beer—four of them, currently, including a very good lager and the flagship Pale Ale. Amber gold, it manages a satisfying blend of hoppiness and sweet malt that is a natural with anything spicy, especially curry.
Fruit wine has boomed over the last decade in B.C., to the point where the market’s saturated. Making the most convincing case that fruit wine is not just a way to extract more value by one-off sales to tourists is Naramata’s Elephant Island. Its Stellaport, made from Stella cherries on the property, is one of the best after-dinner wines in B.C., and sells out every year. A solera system of topping up a mother barrel with the latest vintage and aging for eight years in oak gives it unusual depth and richness. The apotheosis of the chocolate cherry.
Pete Kimmerly, one of the partners at Hornby Island’s Island Spirits Distillery, built his first still 40 years ago. Now he’s legal, shipping Phrog Vodka and Phrog Gin, packaged in sleek tall bottles with a whimsical frog logo, to private wine stores throughout the province. Continuous small-scale distilling using sugar beet as the raw material means an ultra-pure product. He also has a licorice-flavoured Black Jelly Bean Szechuan Vodka (only at the distillery).
No one knows better than Merridale’s Rick Pipes that the Cowichan Valley’s blackberries and apples were made for each other. In his new “brandihouse,” he’s making a couple of blackberry products from local fruit to go with his apple brandies. There’s a good oak-aged blackberry brandy called Mure-Oh, but even better is the blackberry eau-de-vie—rough brandy gets blended with pure blackberry juice for the final fermentation. Only at the cidery.
Japanese visitors are always astounded to find that Masa Shiroki, once a B.C. government bureaucrat, is making artisan sake on Granville Island of a quality that lives up to some of the best from their homeland. New over the last year is a sparkling sake—Shiroki takes his popular Junmai red-label sake, carbonates it, gives it a dose of sugar syrup, then packages it in stoppered Grolsch bottles. Now available year-round, and at 13.5 percent alcohol, it’s a little like Spanish cava—try with smoked salmon or dessert.
The alcohol (14 percent) is high for a wine, let alone a cider. But Sea Cider’s Rumrunner, inspired by tales of smugglers’ boats zipping between here and the U.S. during Prohibition and aged in Newfoundland screech and Kentucky bourbon barrels, is one of the big successes at this Vancouver Island cidery. Tucked behind the Pat Bay Highway, Sea Cider has more than 1,000 traditional apple trees like the Winesaps and Winter Bananas that go into this rich, spicy, and very alcoholic cider. Comforting as apple pie, it’s a perfect winter drink.
Storm wowed at the 2009 Caskival festival in Vancouver with its Root of All Evil Root Beer, an unusual one-off for brewmaster James Walton. True to its East Side origins, Storm hasn’t gone the bottled route and rarely strays from its regular drafts (Hurricane IPA, Black Plague Stout, Highland Scottish Ale, and Precipitation Pilsner) as well as a series of deliciously sour, seasonal Belgian-style lambics using blackberry, raspberry, and black cherry. The unconventional Highland Scottish is a particular favourite—creamy and nutty, with malty caramel and a mildly hopped taste. Most of Walton’s brews can be found at The Whip, 209 E. Sixth Ave.
Finally, you can buy Victoria Gin through the LDB. The first artisan gin in B.C. is built on the essential juniper berries plus coriander, angelica, orris root, lemon peel, orange peel, cinnamon bark, star anise, and rose petals as well as a mystery ingredient (commonly thought to be love). Its floral, heady, fragrant aroma—all those rose petals—makes you swoon before you’ve even tasted it. Unusual and idiosyncratic, it’s a shame to waste it in a G & T. A martini maybe, but best nearly neat with a few drops of soda.
Macerate Fraser Valley walnuts still in their green shroud of a shell in Okanagan brandy, blend with red wine from the valley, then age in American and French oak for 13 months and you get the 2007 D’oro, a delicious aperitif or digestif. Vista D’oro also makes Pinot Noix (walnuts blended with Okanagan Pinot Noir). Try them both at Au Petit Chavignol (843 E. Hastings St.) with any kind of blue cheese, especially Stilton, along with a handful of nuts.