Too much of anything is bad, but too much of a good whisky is barely enough.
– Mark Twain
In 1908 a Scotsman by the name of Captain James Cameron Dun-Waters stumbled upon a delta on the westside of Okanagan Lake. This pristine area, with its tumbling waterfall and habitat to sheep, deer, birds and bears, was at times known locally as “The Garden of Eden”. Along with his wife Alice, James Cameron (J.C. as he was known) instantly fell in love with the area and set to establish his estate over the recently acquired 1,174 acres of land which he re-named Fintry, after his home in Scotland.
Along with hunting and farming, J.C. was well known for his love of scotch whisky. In fact, Captain Dun-Waters had a $5,000 shipment of scotch sent over to Canada with custom labels that made reference to his newly coined nickname, the “Laird of Fintry”. Legend has it that somewhere on the estate, which is now a BC Provincial Park, one may still be able to find crates of scotch buried over the years by J.C. himself during the era of prohibition.
Fast-forward to present day where prohibition is not only a thing of the past but local beer, wine and spirits are now the flavour du jour. Even within the Okanagan, a region primarily known for its wine, one can find perhaps BC’s best and most decorated craft distillery, Okanagan Spirits. And if the Dyck family, who own and operate Okanagan Spirits, have their way, the “Laird of Fintry” moniker will be known as more than just the nickname of an old Scotsman; it will be synonymous with some of the best whisky that Canada has to offer.
The Laird of Fintry Single Malt Whisky, Okanagan Spirits premier whisky, and whose name and label pay homage to the man himself, is quickly becoming one of Canada’s most sought-after whiskies. Aged for at least three years in oak casks, batch sizes of this whisky have been limited over the years and as such the process to acquire a bottle has become as legendary as J.C. himself. With over 9,000 lottery entrants vying for one of the approximately 1,500 bottles, the whisky, along with the distillery itself, has amassed somewhat of a cult status that reaches beyond local borders.
The World Spirits Awards is an annual competition which aims to judge spirits from all over the world in a jury-based system. In 2015, Okanagan Spirits cleaned up at this event. In total, they took home three Double-Gold Awards (for their Black Currant Liqueur (which also took home the distinguished 2015 Spirit of the Year Award), Haskap Liqueur and Aquavitus), three Gold Awards (Raspberry Liqueur, Absinthe and Laird of Fintry Whisky), a Silver (B.C. Pepper Charred Whisky), and a Bronze (Gin). Perhaps even more impressive was the fact that Okanagan Spirits also took home Distillery of the Year, an award it also won in 2013.
In a region widely-known for its production of fruit, perhaps it’s no surprise that Okanagan Spirits has long been known for their selection of locally produced fruit-based liqueurs and Eau de Vie (fruit brandy). However, they are becoming well-known for more than just producers of sweet nectars. Their Gin is a local bestseller, the Aquavit has been gaining in popularity, particularly for the Scandinavian crowd, and this summer the distillery just released its first ever Bourbon-Style corn whisky, aptly named BRBN. Along with the Laird of Fintry and other small-batch whiskies, Okanagan Spirits is vying to become one of the premiere whisky distilleries in Canada.
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BRBN Bourbon-Style Corn Whisky is born! Available for purchase while limited supplies last, if you miss out on this batch you can still try a dram at a select number of locations including our neighbours who are all about #supportinglocal – @saltedbrick! ・・・ Repost: Good morning! #BRBN corn based bourbon from @okanaganspirits ! #brbnwhisky #whisky #vodka #gin #scotch #distillery #kelowna #vernonbc #bourbon #okanagan
Like the region’s wine industry, one of the spinoffs in crafting spirits locally is the positive impact on the local economy. In BC, in order to obtain a “craft” distillery designation alcohol must be produced using 100% of BC agricultural products while all fermentation must occur onsite at the distillery (it is estimated that this rigid designation is likely the most stringent in North America). This means that 100% of the grains, fruit, corn, etc. that are used during the production of Okanagan Spirits products are local to BC. The distillery thus supports the local agricultural industry and has gone to lengths to develop and nourish relationships with local farmers and suppliers; a benefit to local farmers and a testament to the quality of the resulting product.
For those that either live or visit the Okanagan Valley, Okanagan Spirits has two locations. Their Vernon location (5204 24th Street, Vernon, BC) features the largest copper still in North America, a whisky lounge and a tasting-bar; all of which was recently constructed to create a unique experience for visitors. The Kelowna distillery* (267 Bernard Avenue, Kelowna, BC) is located in downtown Kelowna and features a patio and lounge (which allows visitors to enjoy cocktails while also being able to accommodate private events). As with both locations, visitors always have the opportunity to sample much of what the distillery has to offer at the respective tasting bars.
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Our Sweet Raspberry white chocolate truffle is flavoured naturally with @okanaganspirits Raspberry liqueur. You can find it in our Valentine Collection. #okanagan #valentinesday #chocolateart #chocolate #kelowna #raspberry #buylocal #handmade #handpainted #smallbusiness #okanaganspirits #liqueur #artisanchocolate #artisan #livalilchocolate
“To what held his interest, he gave his heart.” Those were words taken right from the obituary of Captain James Cameron Dun-Waters shortly after his death in 1939 of cancer. When J.C. first came to the Okanagan he could see that the area had great potential. Unconventional though he was in his ways (even being labelled as “eccentric”), J.C. lived his life doing things that “struck his fancy.” And perhaps the Dyck family, through the medium of whisky, much like other industry pioneers such as Anthony von Mandl of Mission Hill, will in time be known for the trails they blazed and their contribution towards putting the Okanagan on the international distillery map.
*The Kelowna Distillery is also where Shereen Abbas (Distillery Manager) happens to hang-out most days. I have to give a big shout-out to Shereen for taking the time to sit-down with me in preparation for this post. Shereen is a big supporter of local small businesses (such as liv a lil chocolate), a passionate voice in the distillery industry, and an overall positive and optimistic person to be around.