West Coast Distillers Create Festive Libations for the Holidays

Nocino! makes a warming digestif cocktail as well as a tasty featured ingredient for cocktails. (Photo courtesy of Ampersand Distilling Co.)

While the pandemic has grounded international travel, it remains possible, and entirely delightful, to bring the tastes and aromas of beloved destinations into our homes, through the power of life’s necessities, food and drink.

Several distilleries based in British Columbia have worked some inspiring alchemy to produce potent potions and elixirs that can transport one to sunny southern France, or the gently rolling hills of Emilia Romagna in Italy. As we hunker down at home to celebrate the holidays and brave another Canadian winter, these spirits offer a welcoming taste of the familiar and foreign.

Ampersand Distilling Company

The Schacht family farm in the Cowichan Valley on Vancouver Island has evolved from agriculture to spirits making, thanks to the engineering interests of its father-and-son duo. Together, Stephen and Jeremy Schacht have unlocked the technical elements of distillation to create a line of craft spirits.

Ampersand Distilling Company uses only BC-grown wheat to produce small-batch spirits made for cocktail connoisseurs. Its Ampersand Gin and Per Se Vodka have won awards in the province and around the world.

With the release of Ampersand Distilling Co.’s 2020 Nocino!, the Schachts have continued their distilling innovation into the realm of liqueur. The limited-edition Nocino! liqueur is made with green walnuts, hand-harvested in summer in the Cowichan Valley and sweetened with locally sourced honey with hints of cinnamon and allspice.

Nocino! received a gold medal with distinction at the Canadian Artisan Spirit Competition (CASC) in 2020 and won the best non-fruit liqueur at the 2019 Sip Awards Best of the Northwest. Good things in pretty bottles never last long, so if you want it, act fast.

The liqueur packs a warming punch on its own on ice, transporting you straight to an Italian piazza. But Nocino! really spices up cocktail hour when combined with other spirits and mixes. (see recipes below)

Local Vancouver Distilleries

There’s nothing like a BC-flavoured trip to Italy, but France is also within reach, of a glass. Odd Society Spirits’ Crème de Cassis liqueur is a French classic, a richly fruity black-currant liqueur. It’s often served as a digestif or in mixed drinks, making a glass of white wine or champagne sparkle as classic Kir or Kir Royale cocktails. A drizzle will also make for a luscious, boozy topping for ice cream.

Long Table Distillery in Vancouver produces a bright summer-yellow Limoncello distilled in a traditional manner and flavoured with blackberry honey in partnership with local non-profit Hives for Humanity. Limoncello can also be sourced at Dragon Mist in Surrey.

Amaretto more your sipping style? Sons of Vancouver Distillery on Vancouver’s North Shore makes a No. 82 Amaretto that is “inspired by our mothers’ canning recipes and a 16th century love story.” The liqueur begins and ends with just five simple ingredients: apricot kernels, Bourbon vanilla beans, Demerara sugar, BC honey, and orange peel. Cin cin!

Spice up your cocktail menu with No. 82 Amaretto. (Photo courtesy of Sons of Vancouver Distillery)

No matter how you choose to imbibe and transport yourself (virtually) back to Europe, choose local and celebrate the bounty of British Columbia and its strong community of craft distillers.

Ampersand Distilling Company’s Nocino Cocktail Recipes


Claudia is a travel writer and editor in Vancouver, Canada. She writes about adventure, family, food and wine, luxury and sustainable travel for print and online publications around the world. In addition to travel, Claudia loves chocolate, guacamole and pineapple margaritas.

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