1313 Island spirits and cocktails

Distilleries of Vancouver Island: A Guided Tour of West Coast Craft and Artisan Spirits
by Marianne Scott

Victoria: TouchWood Editions, 2021
$25.00 / 9781771513326

Reviewed by Joe Wiebe


Published earlier this year, Marianne Scott’s Distilleries of Vancouver Island is essential reading for anyone who might enjoy a wee dram of Island whiskey, a sip of Sooke spirits, or a tumbler of Tofino vodka. It is a comprehensive, informative and entertaining guidebook that features 19 distilleries located throughout the southern half of Vancouver Island from Victoria up to Campbell River, along with two on Salt Spring Island.

Scott first became interested in the Island’s distillery scene when she visited Victoria Distillers back in 2016. A year later she visited nine other craft distilleries on the Island as research for an article she wrote for British Columbia magazine. Since then, another 11 distilleries have opened on Vancouver Island, and this phenomenal growth inspired her to write this book.

“I was charmed by the ardour these entrepreneurs bring to their spirited craft,” Scott writes in the book’s Introduction. I can certainly relate to that myself! Getting to know the stories and the people behind the province’s craft breweries is what inspired me to write my book, Craft Beer Revolution: The Insider’s Guide to B.C. Breweries, which was published in 2013 when there were 50 breweries in BC.

Graeme Macaloney of Macaloney’s Caledonian Distillery & Twa Dogs Brewery, Victoria, with his Forsyths pot stills. Photo courtesy Marianne Scott
Marianne Scott. Alicia Telfer Photography

Ever since 2012, when I embarked on an epic road trip around the province to visit a number of craft breweries as research for my book, I have been sprinting to keep up with the growth of the industry. The second edition of my book, published in 2015, included 90 breweries. Soon after that I helped establish the BC Ale Trail, which became the main outlet where I write about the province’s craft beer scene. At last count, there are now 221 craft breweries in BC — not even the pandemic seems to be able to slow the growth of the industry.

The province’s craft spirits industry is following a similar trajectory: the BC Distilled website includes a list of more than 60 distilleries located throughout the rest of BC along with the 21 included in this book. I have certainly noticed a number of new distilleries popping up in many of the same neighbourhoods or towns where breweries are located. This is likely because the same government rule change that allowed breweries to open tasting rooms back in 2013 was also extended to craft distilleries.

Shelter Point Distillery’s whisky storage near Campbell River
Tofino Distillery’s cocktail lounge and tasting bar, Tofino. Photo courtesy Marianne Scott

Keeping this book focused on Vancouver Island was smart — trying to cover the entire province would have diluted its content too much, and no one likes a cocktail that’s too weak! Divided into six regions, each distillery gets its own thorough chapter running anywhere from 15-20 pages. These include detailed biographies of the owners and master distillers who make the products, including interesting stories about challenges they faced in opening their businesses and successes they’ve enjoyed along the way. Colour photography will help give you a good sense of what to expect when you visit the distillery.

Scott also describes the distillery’s range of products and any awards they’ve won, and often includes some historical references that explain how certain types of spirits came about. Finally, each chapter includes some signature cocktail recipes using that distillery’s products. One fun way to read this book would be to plan ahead and make the cocktail so you can sip it while you read about the distillery.

Products of Sheringham Distillery, Sooke. Photo courtesy Marianne Scott
Brennan prepares a flight of cocktails at Stillhead Distillery, Duncan. Courtesy Stillhead Distillery
One of Tofino Distillery’s west coast gins. Photo courtesy Marianne Scott

Of course, many of these distilleries are small operations and only sell their products on site so the other way to use this book is to plan some road trips to check out the ones that interest you the most. Scott points out that spirits tastings and driving do not mix well so make sure you either use a designated driver or keep the sampling to a minimum. The best option would be to purchase a bottle or two of your favourites and then enjoy them either back at home or once you are settled into a local hotel or AirBNB.

I usually focus on visiting breweries when I travel, but reading this book has definitely given me some ideas for alternative stops on future road trips Up Island. And with Christmas coming I can think of a few friends who will enjoy receiving this as a present.


Joe Wiebe

Joe Wiebe, the “Thirsty Writer,” is the author of Craft Beer Revolution: The Insider’s Guide to B.C. Breweries, the definitive guidebook to British Columbia’s burgeoning craft beer industry, which was a BC bestseller in 2013 and won the Gourmand Award for Best Beer Book in Canada. A second edition was released in 2015. Joe, who has MFA in Creative Writing from UBC, has been a freelance writer for 20 years, writing hundreds of articles on a wide range of subjects including arts and culture, sports, business and travel, but since 2008 he has mainly written about craft beer in a wide variety of publications.  Joe is a co-founder and Beer Director of Victoria Beer Week, which takes place annually in early March, and the BC Ale Trail project, for which he is the Content Manager. He is also the beer columnist for CBC Radio’s All Points West program and appears on other radio and TV shows as a craft beer expert. He emceed the Canadian Brewing Awards in 2016, and regularly hosts panel discussions and beer seminars in venues throughout British Columbia. Editor’s note: Joe Wiebe has also reviewed a book by Frank Appleton for The Ormsby Review.


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Publisher and Editor: Richard Mackie

The Ormsby Review is a journal service for in-depth coverage of BC books and authors in all fields and genres. The Advisory Board consists of Jean Barman, Wade Davis, Robin Fisher, Cole Harris, Hugh Johnston, Kathy Mezei, Patricia Roy, Maria Tippett, and Graeme Wynn. Scholarly Patron: SFU Graduate Liberal Studies. Honorary Patron: Yosef Wosk. Provincial Government Patron since September 2018: Creative BC

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Bartender Cam Watson at Victoria Distillers, Sidney, BC. Courtesy Victoria Distillers

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