The best artisan spirit in Canada for 2020 is a Japanese-inspired gin, delicately flavoured with cherry blossom and yuzu, which was also awarded Best in Class spirit in the Contemporary Gin category. Though its name and inspiration may sound exotic, Kazuki Gin, made in Sooke on Vancouver Island, won Excellence in Terroir for its use of local ingredients that evoke a stylistic sense of place, like the only grown-in-Canada green tea (and green tea blossoms), from at the Island’s Westholme Tea Company. The hat trick of CASC awards this year joins a growing list of accolades for the Sooke distillery founded by Jason and Alayne MacIsaac, which also won Canadian Artisan Spirit of the Year in 2018, for its Akvavit.
The Terroir designation—expressive local spirits could earn Merit or Excellence in Terroir, depending on their scores—is just one of the new features of this year’s awards, which were judged by a panel of eight nationwide. (Full disclosure: the author is the lead judge.) Monashee Spirits (makers of Ethos Gin, last year’s Canadian Artisan Spirit of the Year) won the new Bitters category for the Barrel Aged House Aromatic Bitters it uses in its Revelstoke cocktail bar. A new Branding category, for which design experts considered labels, packaging and brand identity, saw Ironworks Distillery in Lunenburg, Nova Scotia recognized for its ceramic-bottled, wooden-crated Around the world Rum.
Of 16 Best in Class awards, nine went to B.C. distilleries. Other big B.C. winners included category-winning Shelter Point Single Malt Whisky, de Vine Ancient Grains Young Whisky, Odd Society Bittersweet Vermouth, Maple Leaf Spirits Lady of the Cask Brandy, Arbutus Distillery Barrel-Aged Absinthe, Tumbleweed Raspberry Moonshine in the White Spirit category, Truth Oat Vodka from the Liberty Distillery for Contemporary Vodka and Garlic Vodka from Monashee Spirits for Infused Vodka.
In addition, B.C. distilleries including Central City Brewers & Distillers, the Dubh Glas Distillery, Fernie Distillers, Merridale Cidery & Distillery, New Wave Distilling, The Woods Spirit Co. and Wynndel Craft Distilleries won Gold medals in spirit-tasting (and some, also for their branding). In the Branding category, additional Gold medals also went to B.C. brands Forbidden Spirits, Montis Distilling, Salt Spring Shine Craft Distillery and Wayward Distillery. Many other B.C. spirits were awarded Silver and Bronze medals. See the complete 2020 CASC results, or view them by region to spotlight B.C. winners.
The Canadian Artisan Spirit Competition, which handed out its first awards in 2018, was started by Alex Hamer, the founder of BC Distilled, an annual artisan spirit tasting festival that happens on April 4 this year, and of Artisan Distillers Canada, a national industry association.