The sunny Okanagan Valley, a short flight or long-weekend drive east of Vancouver, has developed a reputation as the “Napa of the North,” with more than 200 wineries along its lakeshores and hills. But the latest reason to visit this scenic British Columbia region is even more spirited: to sample craft spirits from a new crop of small-batch distilleries. We’ve highlighted several of these promising producers, as well as tips on the top places to snack between sips.
Western Canada’s oldest craft distillery, the family-run Okanagan Spirits Craft Distillery, got its start back in 2004, and it now brews single-malt whiskey, gin, vodka, fruit liqueurs, aquavit and Canada’s first genuine absinthe. Tours and tastings are offered at the main location in the city of Vernon, north of Kelowna. You can also sample the spirits at its tasting bar near the lakeshore in downtown Kelowna.
Kelowna-based Urban Distilleries brews gin, vodka and whiskey in an industrial building in downtown’s north end. Try the pours at its tasting bar or settle into the lounge for a cocktail.
In what was once the town doctor’s office, a husband-and-wife team, Doug and Dawn Lennie, provide a different kind of cure. Amid the wineries along the Naramata Bench in central Okanagan, the spouses opened Legend Distilling, producing gin, vodka and a vodka-spiked cold-brew coffee dubbed Blasted Brew. Sample their spirits at the tasting bar or show up on the weekend (at 3 p.m. Fridays or at noon Saturdays) for a 30-minute tour.
Small-batch producer Old Order Distilling Co. distills vodka, gin and whiskey from 100 percent B.C.-grown fruits and grains, which you can check out in its downtown Penticton tasting bar and cocktail lounge. Further south, Dubh Glas Distillery brews Noteworthy Gin from B.C.-grown barley. Try it at the distillery tasting room in Oliver.
Where to sip and snack
If you prefer your booze with food, you can have craft cocktails made with local spirits at several Okanagan restaurants. At Kelowna’s Waterfront Wines, a long-standing favorite for creative regional cuisine, pair a platter of housemade charcuterie or the grilled prawn and tomato risotto with drinks like the Okanagan 75 (Okanagan Spirits gin, elderflower syrup, lemon and sparkling wine).
Take a seat at the bar at Kelowna’s comfortably buzzy RauDZ Regional Table and kick off your evening with a Lavender Bees Knees, which mixes Okanagan Spirits gin with lavender honey, lemon, grapefruit and hops bitters. Once you put your glass down, dig into the signature burger, the RJB, a brioche bun piled high with grilled beef tenderloin, butter-poached crab, cured bacon and onion jam. And if that’s not decadent enough, you get roasted potatoes with duck fat mayonnaise on the side.
On Lake Osoyoos, The Restaurant at Watermark Beach Resort grows all the herbs that its bartenders use in the seasonal cocktails. Enjoy a refreshing Sparkling Mint Lemonade, which consists of Okanagan Spirits gin mixed with St. Germain, fresh mint grown on the property, lemon juice and soda. Graze on “potted” salmon, a delectably creamy fish spread served with pickled fennel and garlic crostini, or dig into a plate of housemade sausages with beer-baked beans.
At one of the Okanagan’s top winery restaurants, Burrowing Owl Winery’s The Sonora Room, not only can you nosh on creative locally sourced cuisine paired with the winery’s own varietals, but you can sip cocktails with spirits from Okanagan producers. End your meal with an after-dinner Sweet Rhubarb and Honey Martini (Legend Distilling’s rhubarb honey vodka with lemon simple syrup) as you watch the sunset over the vineyards. If you can’t bear to call it a night, book a room in the winery’s Tuscan-inspired guesthouse, where the 10 spacious rooms have more vineyard views. Cheers!