Master distiller Ken Winchester points to a stack of second-hand bourbon casks that lines the inside wall of de Vine Vineyards’ new distillery.
It’s not an overly huge room, but big enough to house Bruhnhilde, a 30-year-old German still that is the heart of the operation, a mash tank and a few dozen barrels.
“We found Bruhnhilde in a Cowichan warehouse and it took us a year to put it together, now she works great,” he says.
Beside Bruhnhilde, named for the princess of German folklore, is the double-stacked row of casks with de Vine’s first batch of whisky, Glen Saanich, waiting to bottle next year.
Within some of the casks are also some one-off experiments because, well, that’s what craft distillers do, Winchester says.
One cask is labelled ‘Maple’. Another says ‘Burbin’ (take a guess what that is).
“We can’t call Glen Saanich whisky [because it won’t be three years old], just like we can’t make a ‘bourbon’, but Glen Saanich is going to be great, and the ‘Burbin’ looks good so far,” he says. “I don’t know if we’ll ever make [a bourbon-style spirit] but we never stop experimenting.”
With Glen Saanich, it’s likely the label will explain the spirit as “made in the tradition of a Scottish whisky.”
The whisky labelling rule – that only a three-year-aged barley spirit qualifies – is outdated, but will stick around thanks to NAFTA while being challenged in concept by craft distilleries in B.C.
There are currently 10 distilleries on the Island, the closest being Phillips Brewery’s Fermentorium and Sidney’s Victoria Distillers. Coming this summer is the Victoria Caledonian Brewery and Distillery on Enterprise Crescent.
This year is another big leap forward for de Vine Vineyard and Distillery at 6181 Old West Saanich Rd. They’ve launched a trilogy of gins, the Dickens’ era, London-style New Tom, the modern Vin Gin and a coming brand based on the 500-year-old version of the famous Dutch spirit. They also offer a strawberry vodka made with the organic fruit of Longview Farm (formerly Vantreight), a Honey Shine that’s essentially a honey rum made from B.C. ingredients, as well as apple and blackberry brandies.
De Vine has put a Saanich twist on as much as it can though it’s the first lot on the Central Saanich side of the border with Saanich. Its hilltop vineyards, a lower and an upper, are hidden from view by the steep and winding driveway from Old West Saanich and overlook the peninsula.
From the entrance of the driveway you could shake a bottle of fizzy and fire the cork across the road, and across the border, onto Lana Popham’s Barking Dog Vineyard in the District of Saanich. Winchester previously leased Barking Dog and it’s there he started Victoria Gin (now in Sidney) eight years ago.
When he connected with the owners, Catherine and John Windsor, it was a perfect fit.
“It’s been great here,” said Winchester, who rents a two-acre farm on one corner of the lot with his wife. “The lot was a fixer upper, it’s been totally redone. We have an orchard with pears, apples, plums and calvados. We use flowers for botanicals and the brandies we make here are 100 per cent fruit, no additives.”
Even the syrup for the maple whisky is tapped from red maples on the property, and they’ve collected on-site spruce tips for their Sitka gin.
De Vine’s tasting room is now open seven days a week for summer, from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m., with a food truck on weekends.