Margaret’s Spirited Summer Travels and Tipples

Margaret Swaine

Margaret Swaine

Whenever I travel I always ask who’s making spirits in the region and what are they distilling. Ingenious mankind can turn just about anything into an alcoholic beverage – you just need sugars (or starches to turn into sugars) and bingo you’ve got a drink. I’ve found surprising and delicious distillates all over the globe.

In Brazil recently visiting the region of Serra Gaúcha in the most southern state of Rio Grande do Sul, where the Vale dos Vinhedos is a recognized wine denomination of origin with the biggest concentration of wineries in the country, I posed that question. The answer was that many of the wineries made grappa – and excellent versions I can attest. Italian immigrants in the late 1800’s, mostly from Veneto with some from Trentino, populated this area bringing with them a love and knowledge of wine, grappa and Italian cuisine.

Rio de Janeiro on the other hand is closer to sugar cane production than wineries. Here the spirit of choice is cachaça. Cachaça is distilled from sugar cane juice: the best come from artisanal pot still production in regions such as Salinas in Minas Gerais state, Paraty in Rio de Janeiro state and Monte Alegre do Sul in São Paulo state and can be aged in wood barrels for many years. Aprazível, a restaurant in the trendy Santa Teresa district of Rio, has its own cachaça sommelier, Paulo Magoulas and a cachaça list with over 100 versions, organized under the states that produce them.

Kangaroo Island Spirits, Kis Wild Gin

Kangaroo Island Spirits, Kis Wild Gin

On Kangaroo Island in Southern Australia, I found KIS. Kangaroo Island Spirits was founded by Jon Lark because he figured the island needed a proper gin. He makes his using grape spirit infused with native KI juniper called boobialla, along with traditional juniper berries, and botanicals such as mace, coriander, lime and ginger. Delicious. He also makes vodkas flavoured with native botanicals such as KIS Samphire and tasty local infused liqueurs such as Anisette from KI wild fennel and star anise.

Closer to home when I visited Prince Edward Island, I discovered the Prince Edward Distillery. Founded in 2007 in Hermanville by partners in life and business, Arla Johnson and Julie Shore, the distillery makes Canada’s first and only potato vodka. Beckie Mullally, who was serving at their store in Charlottetown, told me it can take up to 40 pounds of potatoes for one bottle of spirit. If they wait until winter when the potatoes get softer and the starches start their conversion to sugar, they may only need 20 pounds a bottle. They also produce grain vodka flavoured with wild blueberry, a lovely aromatic gin, I.C. Shore Whiskey, Canadian Rye and Merchantman’s Rum. I asked Beckie about the moonshine stories I was hearing. “Oh yes,” she replied cheerfully. “People still make moonshine here. You can’t go to many weddings or funerals without needing to know which punch bowl is which.”

VICTORIA GINIn British Columbia, Okanagan Spirits has locations in both Vernon and Kelowna where they craft distil BC fruit such as apricot, cherry, raspberry, apple, plum and pear into wonderful eau-de-vie. I particularly like their barrel aged Canados made from apples and Old Italian Prune from prune plums. Victoria Gin, hand produced in small batches on Vancouver Island has made inroads on the liquor shelves in BC and Ontario. The LCBO is offering 20 Bonus Air Miles on each bottle purchased between June 23 and July 20th. Distilled from ten botanicals (natural and wild gathered), it has a gently juniper nose with floral notes from rose petals. Smooth and rounded on the palate, the juniper comes delicately through with a hint of citrus, perfumed with spicy coriander and enhanced with earthy angelica and orris root. Hints of liquorice in the finish come from star anise.

SIR ISAAC'S PREMIUM PEAR CIDERSir Isaac’s Premium Pear Cider made by Puddicombe Cider Company in Ontario using local pears, is a great summer refresher. When CanGro Foods closed their plant in Ontario, Puddicombe, one of the largest pear growers in the province, got creative. Brock Puddicombe and his winemaker sister Lindsay went to England to learn how to make Pear Cider. Two years of experimentation and learning later, the resulting cider, made from Niagara Barlette and Bosc pears, is a success. It captures the pear aromas and flavours through-out with nice bubbles and a slightly sweet but clean pear taste that lingers.

PUMP HOUSE BLUEBERRY ALEMoncton has been called by Reader’s Digest the most honest city in North America and the most polite. It’s also home to Pump House Brewery opened by Moncton firefighter Shaun Fraser in 1999. The brewery/restaurant serves awesome wood-fired oven pizza but what impressed me most was their beer sampler tray. Nine samples of their own brewed beer, all delicious, for a mere $6.75. Of particular note were their Scotch Ale with its malty smoky flavours from peat smoked barley and the Pump House Blueberry Ale, light and fresh with floating blueberries in it. Now it’s available in cans in Ontario and other provinces – without the floating blueberries unless you add your own. Creamy with a mildly blueberry taste and sweet, bready, malty background, it finishes refreshing with hints of pepper.

In Spain, the summer drink of choice is often sangria. Osborne Estate, located in the Tierra de Castilla region of Spain gave me a recipe for red wine sangria that makes a terrific crimson coloured Spanish punch with tropical notes. Take one bottle of Solaz Tempranillo Cabernet Sauvignon 2010 (a velvety smooth, ripe berry red wine) and pour into a pitcher. Add two ounces of Duff Gordon brandy, 2 ounces of Cinzano sweet red vermouth, one cup each of pineapple juice and passion fruit juice, and slices of lime, lemon and orange (seeds removed). Stir gently and refrigerate for four to ten hours. When ready to serve, add ice and stir gently. This makes a deep, smooth, tropical flavoured punch, that’s refreshing and not too sweet.

Duff Gordon Brandy de JerezLUKSUSOWA VODKAIn Poland, vodka reigns supreme and many believe the best come from potatoes. In Warsaw connoisseurs were in rapture over a version made from new potatoes called Mlody Ziemniak (Young Potato) 2012, a single distilled vintage dated vodka made by Chopin distillery but alas I couldn’t find it anywhere in stores though I did locate its details on Chopin’s website. Apparently each year it sells out fast. Luksusowa Vodka, pure potato vodka made in Poland since 1928, is first crafted in small batches in copper pot stills at local farm distilleries. Then it’s further refined at a centralized plant where it’s triple distilled in a continuous still before the addition of natural spring water from artesian wells. As should be expected of potato vodkas, it has a smooth creamy body and slight potato sweetness. The bonus is that it’s value priced and makes a great ice cold martini.

Wherever you travel this summer, ask for what the locals drink. That’s sure to keep you in high spirits.


Margaret Swaine

For all of Margaret’s picks click here: Margaret’s Whisky and Spirits

 Bowmore 12 Years Old Islay Single Malt

Luxardo Slivovitz