A one-hour flight from big-city
Vancouver, British Columbia’s bucolic Okanagan Valley has long been one of
Canada’s top wine destinations. But while thirsty oenophiles can merrily weave their
way around the more than 100 wineries that radiate from the regional capital
Kelowna, there is also a full menu of additional libations to whet your whistle
– if you know where to look.
The focal point of downtown Kelowna’s Okanagan Spirits is the gleaming
steampunk-style copper still that sits in the corner and cranks out a wide array
of artisanal booze. Deploying British Columbia-grown fruit to full effect, the
company concocts 25 spirits on site, including fruit liquors such as blueberry and
sea buckthorn, and a taste bud-popping prune brandy called Old Italian. But the
biggest lure might just be the company’s wormwood absinthe. Smooth, warming and
laced with liquorice flavours, it is usually one of the tastings that curious
visitors partake of.
Spirit fans also belly-up to the
tasting bar at across-town Urban
Distilleries. Alongside hand-bottled tipples like amber rum –
with its lightly-fruited palate and sweet finish – and rich, chocolate-noted espresso
vodka made with coffee beans from a local roaster, the distillery’s highlight
is the smooth, highly-sippable Spirit Bear gin, flavoured with apple and citrus. An ideal sunny afternoon
quaff, its rainy day equivalent is the company’s velvety single malt
whisky; a block of oak barrel bobs in each bottle, deepening the liquor’s hue
as it ages.
Beer by nature
Reflecting British Columbia’s surging
craft beer renaissance – the province is arguably
Canada’s top region for microbreweries –
the Okanagan is home to popular ale producers like Penticton’s Cannery Brewing and Oliver’s Firehall Brewery, as well as
smaller neighbourhood spots like Freddy’s
Brewpub, where the dark and nutty Brownstone Ale is recommended.
But the star of the local beer scene is
Tree Brewing. Headquartered in Kelowna, its top-selling
tipples include the smoothly-malted Cutthroat Pale Ale, the crisply-quaffable Thirsty Beaver
Amber Ale and the near-legendary Hop Head IPA, a lip-puckering, hoppy brew.
Visitors can sample beers at the tiny tasting room bar or take a
behind-the-scenes tour with tastings and a souvenir glass (Fridays and Saturdays
by appointment only). Whichever way you swing your visit, be sure to try the
latest seasonal brews: the Halloween period’s nutmeg-noted Jumpin’ Jack Pumpkin
Ale and winter’s smooth, vanilla-flecked Vertical Winter Ale.
Cider houses rule
Settled by pioneering fruit farmers
long before its wine region reputation kicked in,
Okanagan locals have been making their
own cider from the area’s bounty for decades. But while historic home-based cider
is hard to quantify, several commercial operations open their doors to visitors.
Tree Brewing makes its own dry apple
variety under the Dukes Cider brand, while the signature drink at South
Okanagan’s Orchard Hill is a crisp
Red Roof Cider.
But the Ross family has been doing
their thing at the orchard-striped East
Cider Company for longer than
most. Samples in the farm’s cabin-like tasting room run from non alcoholic
peach, cherry and apple ciders to the signature “hard” variety. This dry cider blended from local apples, including
Spartans and Macintoshes, is joined by an alcoholic ice cider made from Golden
Delicious apples that are left to freeze on the trees and are
harvested in winter.
If you are feeling delicate the next morning, grab a restorative applewood
smoked bacon breakfast wrap at Kelowna’s Okanagan Street Food or a large,
frothy cappuccino at the coffee shop favourite Bean
Scene. The three-venue, family-owned operation roasts its own java at
its flagship location on Kelowna’s Dickson Avenue.
If a more extensive hangover cure is
required, the region’s Okanagan
Lavender and Herb Farm offers refreshing – and rehydrating – lavender
lemonade plus a fresh air wander through its carefully cultivated flower-strewn
Finally, make a beeline for nearby Arlo’s Honey Farm where you can peer
at the buzzing hives and sample a sweet tasting or two – go for the
recuperative wildflower variety. Before leaving, pick up some puff-reducing honey
eye serum in the farm shop to apply behind your sunglasses.