Spirits of the Coast: Three local distilleries specializing in gin, vodka, whiskey and more

The Sunshine Coast has its stories of smugglers and pirates, evidenced by popular destination names like Secret Cove, Pirate Rock, and the infamous Smuggler Cove. Fortunately, those times are long gone and there is no need to smuggle alcohol anymore, especially when we have three excellent distilleries here on the Sunshine Coast.

The Sunshine Coast has its stories of smugglers and pirates, evidenced by popular destination names like Secret Cove, Pirate Rock, and the infamous Smuggler Cove. After the Civil War ended in 1865, Americans began using the nooks and crannies of our coast for smuggling.

Fortunately, those times are long gone and there is no need to smuggle spirits anymore, especially when we have three excellent distilleries here on the Sunshine Coast: Bruinwood Estate Distillery in Roberts Creek, and One Foot Crow and The 101 Brewhouse + Distillery, both at Gibsons.

Bruin’s Crossing

My first stop was the Bruinwood Estate Distillery, owned by Danise Loftram and Jeff Barringer, who is a brewmaster and artist. Located for the last 20 years in the woods where the bears (bruins) make their home, it is their tasting cabin.

I was immediately drawn to the gleaming equipment at the rear and wanted to learn about the process of making the gin and vodka. Jeff walked me through the steps he’s been doing for the past five years to make gin and vodka:

  1. A wheat and barley mash is added to the mash tank. The puree turns into sugar in about six hours.
  2. The mash ferments in the tank for three to four days.
  3. The still is stripped of the liquid and redistilled two more times.
  4. Flavoring is added to distilled spirits before bottling.

Bruinwood makes all of their flavors from scratch with ingredients that are sourced from BC, designating them a craft distillery. Gin flavors include botanicals such as coriander, juniper, anise, and elderberry. Their vodka is infused with syrups made from tangerines, espresso, vanilla, and seasonal ingredients. They even make a gin flavored with plants from the Botanical Garden which they sell as a fundraiser.

After the tour it’s time for a tasting, but let me tell you, I rarely drink and when I do, I avoid gin. I love junipers but don’t want the taste of their astringent berries on my palate. Danise explained that there are a variety of juniper strengths in gin and that she had “gateway gins” for me to try.

I started with a sip of their Earl Gray gin made with Earl Gray from Davis Bay Tea which had a delicious aftertaste, without the characteristic bitterness of gin. Next, I tried a refreshing grapefruit gin. I converted, at least, to the tasty Bruinwoods gins.

His Limoncella smelled like lemon cake. Limoncella is the secret ingredient in my lemon sponge cake recipe, so it went home with me, as did the Espresso vodka made with locally roasted Straits coffee. Their Horchata liqueur, named after a Mexican street drink, was a delight with flavors of almond, cinnamon and vanilla, and deservedly won the 2022 BC Distilled People’s Choice award for best liqueur. The most intriguing gin of all, though, was their Joker Gin, which would change color from blue to purple when tonic water is added.

To make a creamy, fizzy, festive drink, use Bruinwood’s Advocaat liqueur, the Dutch custard equivalent of eggnog used in their classic Snowball recipe.

For winter they have Pumpkin Spice, Pfeffernusse (peppernut) and Peppermint Cream Advocaat, which I advise you to buy before they run out.

You’ll find Bruinwood in markets all over the coast, as well as at their Roberts Creek location.

Bruinwood Snow Globe

3 oz (90 ml) Bruinwood Advocaat

3 oz (90 ml) sparkling lemonade or Sprite

1.5 oz (15 ml) lime juice

fresh lime, to garnish

In a tall glass, pour a small amount of Sprite and a few drops of lime and mix. Add remaining soda with ice, stirring gently. Garnish with a lime wedge.

something to brag about

If you have ornithophobia, a fear of birds, ask someone to do the shopping for you at One Foot Crow Craft Distillery, as there are giant crows painted throughout the building. If you like unique liqueurs that pay homage to the history of sailing, come visit us.

Of course, my first question when I met owner Bob Bottieri in the building with the giant raven painted on the front was, “Why the name?”

“We noticed a young crow missing a leg visiting us every day at our home in West Vancouver,” he said. They fed the baby kibble and peanuts and gave it the simple name of One Foot. The name came to mind when he moved to the Coast and opened the distillery, which was a lifelong dream.

Bob and his partner, La Vonne Girard, are in the film industry, and their work took them to the coast, where they eventually bought property. La Vonne operates Rustic Weddings, where she hosts weddings and other events, and also has a lavender farm that provides the main ingredient for her Lavender Gin.

Tasting at the OFC is a lesson in the history of spirits. Bob pulls out a bottle of black gin called Gunpowder Gin.

Bob explained that to test the liquor in barrels, the sailors would set it on fire with gunpowder. If the alcohol burned, it was complete proof. If the liquid did not catch fire, it was diluted. In homage to the proof of gunpowder, Bob created this molasses-colored gin.

The Rhubarb, Cranberry and Pumpkin Spice liqueurs were more to my liking. Bob puts BC cranberry juice into the royal pumpkin cranberry vodka and pumpkin pie spice into the pumpkin spice vodka.

From the majestic OFC alembic comes one more surprise, whiskey, my favorite hard liquor. It’s hard to compete with aged single malt spirits, but their caramel-flavored 108 proof whiskey was elegant considering it was young and reasonably priced. You would never know that it was aged in a barrel for only six months and was not shipped from Scotland.

101 does it all

For the past five years, Chris Greenfield and David Longman have been feeding Coasters delicious meals, brewing beer and distilling spirits at Gibsons.

Chris says they started with a 10-gallon domestic still until their huge German still came along, which fills half their building. Of this twisted metal leviathan, The 101 Brewhouse + Distillery Brews brandy, whiskey, liqueur, moonshine, gin, and vodka from BC-grown grains under the direction of their brewmaster.

They use British Columbia-grown berries and botanicals to create flavors, like their fancier cranberry liqueur that’s the base for their Saragritas, a cranberry margarita named after one of their employees. The entire process from the grain to the liquor in a glass takes approximately nine days. Their 101 Gin has 13 botanicals, including flowers, spices, and citrus, plus the obligatory juniper.

They sell their spirits through private liquor stores and the Brassica restaurant.

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