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

North Cowichan has heated exchange over timelines of its official community plan review. (File photo)
North Cowichan’s OCP review divides council

Tight timelines leads to heated debate

Matt Ellison was a star with the Kerry Park Islanders before embarking on a pro career that included stops in the NHL and KHL. (Submitted)
Ex-NHLers to highlight Kerry Park-Peninsula alumni games

Matt Ellison and Kyle Greentree commit to suit up in August

Aaron Stone, chairman of the Island Coastal Economic Trust, said he’s encouraged with the province providing finding for local agencies to hire staff to help get back on economic track during the pandemic. (File photo)
$70K for Economic Development Cowichan for new analyst

Temporary position to help recover from pandemic

“He’ll be bowling for dollars — $30,000 to be exact. Matt Hancock, 15-years-old of Lake Cowichan won in the Coca-Cola B.C. championship finals and will now bowl in the international championship with a chance to win a $30,000 scholarship. Hancock will go to the international competition in Columbus July 10. He is coached by Karen Smith of Cowichan Lake and plays on the T.G.S. bowling team.” (Lake News/May 8, 1996)
Flashback: Taxes, school district amalgamation, logging licences and student news

A look back through the pages of Lake Cowichan’s history

Tim Schewe
Drivesmart column: Give me a brake!

It was clear that none of these drivers had done a pre-trip inspection

A bullet hole is seen in the windshield of an RCMP vehicle approximately 4 km from Vancouver International Airport after a one person was killed during a shooting outside the international departures terminal at the airport, in Richmond, B.C., Sunday, May 9, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
Homicide team IDs man in fatal YVR shooting as police grapple with spate of gang violence

Man, 20, charged in separate fatal shooting Burnaby over the weekend

The Canadian Forces Snowbirds are in the Comox Valley for their annual spring training. Photo by Erin Haluschak
Suspected bird strike on Snowbirds plane during training in Comox

Pilot followed protocols and landed the aircraft on the ground without any problems

The Village on Third in Nanaimo won the Judges’ Choice award as top overall entry at the Vancouver Island Real Estate Board Commercial Building Awards. (Photo submitted)
Top developments north of the Malahat honoured by Vancouver Island Real Estate Board

Nanaimo’s Village on Third takes top honour at VIREB Commercial Building Awards

BCIT. (Wikimedia Commons)
BCIT apologizes after employee’s ‘offensive and hurtful’ email leaked to Métis Nation

BCIT says employee’s conduct has been investigated and addressed

An adult male yellow-breasted chat is shown in this undatd photograph on lands protected in collaboration between the En’owkin Centre and Penticton Indian Band with support through ECCC. The rescue from near extinction for a little yellow bird hinges on the wild rose in British Columbia’s Okanagan Valley, a researcher says. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO, A. Michael Bezener/ En’owkin Centre 2020 *MANDATORY CREDIT*
Rare yellow birds need wild roses to survive in British Columbia: researcher

The importance of local wild roses emerged over a nearly 20-year experiment

RCMP officers search around rows of luggage carts as screens block off an area of the sidewalk after a shooting outside the international departures terminal at Vancouver International Airport, in Richmond, B.C., Sunday, May 9, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
Police say gang conflict in Metro Vancouver may be behind shooting death at airport

Police said this generation of gangsters is taking things to new level and have no regard for community safety

RCMP are looking for information on an alleged shooting attempt near an elementary school in Smithers March 10. (Phil McLachlan/Capital News/Stock)
UPDATE: Man killed in brazen daylight shooting at Vancouver airport

Details about the police incident are still unknown

Pieces of nephrite jade are shown at a mine site in northwestern B.C. in July 2019. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO-Tahltan Central Government MANDATORY CREDIT
Indigenous nation opposes jade mining in northwestern B.C.

B.C.’s Mines Act requires operators to prepare a plan to protect cultural heritage resources

The body of Brenda Ware, 35, was found along Highway 93 in Kootenay National Park on Thursday, May 6, 2021. (RCMP handout)
RCMP ask for tips after woman’s body found in Kootenay National Park

Brenda Ware was found along Highway 93 in the park, 54 kilometres north of the town of Radium

Most Read