North Vancouver distillery awarded for best whisky in Canada
Sons of Vancouver is the first artisanal producer to win the Canadian Whiskey Awards in its 13-year history
Winning the award for Best Whiskey in Canada was a no-brainer for Sons of Vancouver.
Palm trees and Tropical Breeze to be exact. The North Vancouver distillery won the grand prize at the Canadian Whiskey Awards for the company’s all-rye spirit, which gets its tropical vibe from aging in Virgin Islands rum casks.
It is the first time in the 13-year history of the award that a craft business has come out on top.
Last year Crown Royal won. The year before it was a 43-year-old Canadian club.
While larger producers must focus on consistently releasing thousands of casks per month, Sons of Vancouver’s smaller size allows them to blend new batches every time.
Co-founder James Lester said his distillery tries to make whiskey that is truly aromatic and flavorful. There are whiskeys from Ireland, which are very apple-heavy, and whiskeys from Scotland, which are banana-heavy. But this style has never really been done in Canada.
At Palm Trees, “it was like knowing you were getting something different than just picking it up and smelling it,” he said. “That really made it.”
Lester said it was an incredible honor and surprise to be part of the Canadian Whiskey Awards.
“I was told the grading wasn’t even close,” he said, adding that the whiskeys are blind-tasted.
Getting the big flavors in Palm Trees took years of cask aging and careful blending to bring out the flavors the team wanted.
“The magic of whiskey really comes from the cask,” Lester said. “It’s coming from a tree, but it could also be coming from the bottom, middle or top of an oak tree felled in the fall or spring, winter or summer – and then it’s 50 logs up those barrels.”
The next step in the whiskey magic is blending. That’s the most important part, Lester said. And having more casks means more tools at the distiller’s disposal.
“We used 100 barrels. We tried to find our fruitiest ones and we pulled those out and separated them from the rest,” he said.
Unfortunately, if all this description has you drooling over a sip of this vaunted liquid, you’re out of luck. Only 275 bottles were made and they sold out months ago.
The same applies to Marshmallows Over a Campfire, of which 190 bottles were produced. This batch won silver at the same awards ceremony. It was also Lester’s personal favorite, borrowing flavors from Scotch casks with “campfire, wood and burnt telephone pole.”
Definitions have gotten out of hand
If you’re one of the many still confused by all the alcohol industry naming conventions, you may have wondered why Canadian whiskey is called rye.
One might assume that it contains its namesake grain. Not so.
In Canada, whiskey can legally be called rye even if it’s 100 percent corn, Lester explained.
“This dates back to the 1860s when Canadian whiskey was being defined. There was always a small percentage of rye in it, so they just called it rye whiskey,” he said.
But Sons of Vancouver has turned that tradition on its head by emphasizing the underdog crop. Previously, the distillery had made whiskeys in the 90 percent range, and Palm Trees was 100 percent rye.
The whiskey produced by the craft workshop is also cask proof, meaning it has not been diluted to have a lower alcohol content. The amber liquid produced by Sons of Vancouver is usually in the 55 to 65 alcohol volume range.
“The lower the percentage of alcohol, the more bottles you get and the more customers you can reach,” Lester said. “That’s a good reason to lower the ABV.”
“For us, I don’t want people to look at it and think about it because there’s more alcohol … they see it as more flavor,” he continued. “It’s a whiskey meant to stand on its own in a class or cocktail. And the higher the percentage of alcohol, the more flavor you get.”
If all this talk of flavorful whiskey has your taste buds tickled, Lester said a new batch is on the way next month. You can sign up for a whiskey mailing list on the Sons of Vancouver website.