Gin cocktails at the Sheringham Distillery in Shirley.

Gin cocktails at the Sheringham Distillery in Shirley.

Gin City, Summer Sipping at its Finest

Gin cocktails are more than just gin and tonic now

  • Aug. 31, 2018 9:30 a.m.

Some summertime letter combinations are so familiar as to appear wedded in natural harmony. Your spouse might want DIY chores completed ASAP, or at least before AM turns into PM. Myself, I prefer to RSVP an invitation to BYOB, especially when a P.S. indicates G&Ts will be served.

When the mercury rises, the cognacs and bourbons are pushed aside for the more refreshing spirits to be found in a liquor cabinet. Heat and humidity mean it is time for mojitos, margaritas and mimosas. It is also the season to enjoy a G&T. Ah, gin and tonic, a highball pairing two copacetic ingredients, the sum greater than the parts, a drink whose very name conjures images of the Empire, Kipling, and pith helmets.

In recent years, we have on the south island become home to a number of distillers, a millennial response to the rise of microbreweries and boutique wineries in the preceding decades.

The first of these, Victoria Spirits, now Victoria Distillers, caused a stir eight years ago with the launch of Victoria Gin, featuring on the label a portrait of the monarch whose name graces our city, displaying her not as the dour, unamused, mourning queen of popular imagination, but as a graceful, wistful young woman with flowing luxurious hair. She looks like she’d not be averse to a sip of gin on a hot summer’s night.

Valerie Murray is responsible for the local boom in spirits. After a series of developments, she and her husband, Dr. Bryan Murray, bought full control of the distillery. Her son, a molecular biologist bored with his job as a DNA splicer, became the master distiller. A daughter, who had studied design at Concordia University in Montreal, came up with the label. Another daughter helped launch the brand in Eastern Canada, where the attitude was “nobody drinks gin until the 24th of May weekend,” Murray says.

In a short time, Victoria Gin became available at bars and liquor stores across the land, a triumph for a family-owned artisanal product in which, as she says, “everything was done by hand — bottling, labelling, everything.”

They even hand-chopped the wood for the still, like backwoods hillbillies producing moonshine.

The Murrays sold their company last year and the new owners moved the company from a barn on a farm on West Saanich Road to a striking waterfront location in Sidney. The wood-fired still was replaced by a state-of-the-art steam system, gleaming copper cauldrons on display.

The new home includes a tasting room, though the distillery looks like the operation of a mad scientist, or an underground scene from Breaking Bad without the hazmat suits. Best of all, the old master distiller (Murray’s son) remains.

Vic Gin now shares shelf space with several British Columbia-bred gins, including Stump Coastal Forest Gin, produced by the Phillips Fermentorium. Known for an excellent line of craft beers and sodas, the Victoria company uses a 1920s British-made copper still dubbed Old George and a modern German-built still to produce the gin, as well as a hop liqueur.

Gin drinks on a summer day. (Don Denton photograph)

Along the isolated southwestern coast of Vancouver Island, Jason and Alayne MacIsaac blend British Columbia-grown grains with water from a natural spring on their property at 2631 Seaside Drive in Shirley, near French Beach.

The proprietors of Sheringham Distillery — he a former chef, she a sales and marketing whiz — make small batches of vodka, grain spirit and a Seaside Gin whose unique ingredient includes hand-harvested local wing kelp (Alaria marginata). It does not get more artisanal and West Coast than the taste of sea foam in your gin.

Alayne and Jason MacIsaac with gin drinks at their Sheringham Distillery in Shirley. (Don Denton photograph)

For those of my generation, a late Boomer, born in 1960, gin has been considered an auntie’s drink, a bottle brought out nightly for sipping. You got the sense it was drunk as a matter of habit, rather than revelation, or delight — hooch for the parlour set.

The history of gin is far more interesting than my petty prejudices might indicate. In Georgian London, gin madness swept the common people, who for pennies found temporary relief at the bottom of a glass from the travails of poverty. Women drank alongside men at gin joints, leading to a moral panic about neglected children coming to harm as mothers lost themselves to drink, a horror depicted in a famous Hogarth engraving of drunken deprivation.

“Gin, cursed fiend, with fury fraught, makes human race a prey,” a minister wrote. “It enters by a deadly draught and steals our life away.”

Gin has been part of Victoria’s daily life since the founding of the city. The second edition of the British Colonist included an advertisement placed by Alphonse Kaindler, a French-born wine and spirits merchant known for his “business probity and urbane social character.”

As Christmas and New Years neared in 1858, he let thirsty readers know he had quantities of cognac, whiskey, sherry, port, bourbon and claret, as well as gin from Holland and Old Tom Gin from England.

Gin lends itself to exotic and time-tested drinks from the Tom Collins to the Singapore Sling. There’s the Gin Rickey (gin, lime juice, chilled club soda), Bee’s Knees (equal parts lemon juice, honey syrup and gin, a recipe from the Prohibition era of bathtub gin), Cucumber Gimlet (gin, lime juice, simple syrup, rosemary, a thin cucumber slice), Salty Dawg (gin, lime juice, grapefruit juice, pinch of salt), Gin Fizz (gin, lime juice, club soda, honey) and the Negroni (gin, Campari, vermouth).

To mark the first days of summer, we held an impromptu tasting with a bottle of Vic Gin (batch No. 151) ($44.99 at government stores). Our guests included a language student from Korea and another from Japan, both with limited exposure to gin.

“Kind of sweet with a floral taste,” said Hiroko Kataoka from Japan.

“It doesn’t smell too strong, but has a distinct taste. Some berry,” added Eunbi Kim from Korea.

Ah, the berry. That would be juniper. With notes of citrus, floral and spice. The secret ingredient, of course, is Vancouver Island’s peerless, pristine water. The gin did not drive us mad, but left us with an eagerness to try building some cocktails, especially the sweeter ones.

Perhaps our visitors will remember this as gin summer.

Gin cocktails for a summer day. (Don Denton photograph)

Story courtesy of Boulevard Magazine, a Black Press Media publication

Like Boulevard Magazine on Facebook and follow them on Instagram

CocktailDistilleryDrinkGinGin and tonicPhillips FermentoriumSheringhamSheringham DistillerySpiritsSummer drinkVictoria Distillers

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Calls for potential overdoses in B.C. spiked in 2020, especially in the Okanagan - Shuswap. Pictured above is a BCEHS re-enactment of paramedics attending an overdose. (BCHES photo)
UBCO program increases drug checking availability in Kelowna, Penticton, Vernon

January 2021 data shows of 95 opioid samples tested across Interior Health, 93 contained fentanyl

Person experiencing homelessness. (Black Press Media file photo)
Program preventing youth homelessness launches in Kelowna

Upstream Project’s goal is to help young people become more resilient

Youth from Vernon, Kelowna, Penticton and the Kootenays were able to dig into two evenings of online learning and connection through United Way Southern Interior B.C.’s <CODE>anagan program. (Submitted)<code> </code>
CODEanagan gives youth a chance to learn about technology

The youth, aged 12 to 21, built their own WordPress sites and developed blogging ideas

A rainbow shining on Kelowna General Hospital on May 12, 2020 International Nurses Day. (Steve Wensley - Prime Light Media)
New COVID cases trending down in Interior Health

24 new cases reported Thursday, Feb. 25, death at Kelowna General Hospital

The Combined Forces Special Enforcement Unit of British Columbia’s (CFSEU-BC) Uniform Gang Enforcement Team (UGET) has arrested a man who was on the run for nearly a decade. (File photo)
9-year search for international drug trafficking suspect ends with arrest at YVR

Khamla Wong, charged in 2012, taken into custody Feb. 24 by BC-CFSEU

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry updates B.C.’s COVID-19 situation at the B.C. legislature. (B.C. government)
B.C. reports 10 additional deaths, 395 new COVID-19 cases

The majority of new coronavirus infections were in the Fraser Health region

A new survey has found that virtual visits are British Columbian’s preferred way to see the doctor amid the COVID-19 pandemic. (Unsplash)
Majority of British Columbians now prefer routine virtual doctor’s visits: study

More than 82% feel virtual health options reduce wait times, 64% think they lead to better health

Larch Place is the first building to be built in the BC Housing, Canadian Mental Health Association housing project at the corner of Third Street SW and Fifth Avenue SW. This view is from the Shuswap Street side where it sits behind the Graystone East building. (File photo)
Opening of doors at new housing development in Salmon Arm welcomed

BC Housing announces opening of 32 rental units, with 35 more expected in summer 2021

Cory Mills, Eric Blackmore and A.J. Jensen, all 20, drown in the Sooke River in February 2020. (Contributed photos)
Coroner confirms ‘puddle jumping’ in 2020 drowning deaths of 3 B.C. men

Cory Mills, Eric Blackmore and A.J. Jensen pulled into raging river driving through nearby flooding

Castlegar doctor Megan Taylor contracted COVID-19 in November. This photo was taken before the pandemic. Photo: Submitted
Kootenay doctor shares experience contracting COVID-19

Castlegar doctor shares her COVID experience

Vancouver International Women in Film Festival kicks off March 5.
Women in Film Festival features two B.C. filmmakers

The 16th annual festival kicks off March 5, 2021

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

The booklet roots present day activism in the history of racist policies, arguing the history must be acknowledged in order to change. (CCPA)
New resource dives into 150 years of racist policy in B.C.

Racist history must be acknowledged in order to change, authors say

Agatha Mary Clarissa Miller, before she knew she would change literature. Photo Wikipedia
And Then There Were None

What book knocked your booties off when you were young?

Most Read