Don’t fret dear reader, you have not stumbled across a different page. While The Wet Hop is definitely a beer forward endeavour, there is another burgeoning industry that is supplying the good folks of British Columbia with delicious, handcrafted beverages. I’m talking of course of the rise in distilleries and quality spirits in the Lower Mainland and beyond. Minibar Blues will be an occasional feature where I explore spirits, cocktails, and of course, the good people supplying folks with all of their wet bar needs. I will also be sharing my own mixology experiments, including cocktails and infused spirits creations. The first feature for this series, is a look at East Vancouver’s Odd Society Spirits.
I’ve been promising myself since I discovered Wallflower Gin, that I would visit the Odd Society tasting room. Why it took me so long is beyond me, but now that I have accomplished my maiden voyage, I feel a great burden off my shoulders. Located on Powell Street, ostensibly in the heart of Vancouver’s “Yeast Van” neighbourhood, Odd Society brings a little Old World refinement to the district, while fitting in seamlessly with its New World approach to the hard stuff.
The best way to describe the space at the Odd Society is to imagine what it would be like if H.P. Lovecraft was a spirits sommelier and owned his own distillery. Equal parts, well odd, refined, and trendy, the tasting room is inviting, but prepares the visitor for the supreme quality of product that is being crafted on the premises. I was fortunate enough to have dropped in early on a Thursday, meaning that I was the sole customers for the majority of my visit. This allowed me to talk a little shop with the bartender, Rob, who was an informative and friendly host.
I began my visit with a tasting flight. Odd Society offers a basic three spirit flight, with a small charge to add additional tasters. For my particular flight, I chose to sample their Mongrel, Wallflower Oaken Gin, and the previously mentioned Wallflower Gin.
Mongrel: Rob started me off with the Mongrel. In basic terms, Mongrel is moonshine, or more technically speaking, whisky “straight off the still.” Rather than aging in barrels to develop its flavour profile, Mongrel gets bottled immediately in order to preserve its youthful exuberance. I was skeptical about beginning my tasting here. I anticipated something very hot and caustic, with little to no refinement. I was surprised to find that while yes, there is a certain wildness to it, Mongrel possesses an unexpected and comforting smoothness. Made from 100% Canadian rye, Mongrel features a nice spicy backbone, that is ideal for warming the soul during colder months and is the ideal starting point for your next great cocktail.
Wallflower Oaken Gin: As I previously mentioned, my entry point into the world of the Odd Society was through their Wallflower Gin. I knew before arriving at the distillery that I would like to compare it next to its oak-aged sister and Rob offered it as the second taster. At its base, it is simply Wallflower. However, after the distillation process, it enjoys a nice vacation (seven months to be exact!) in whisky barrels, before being bottled. It was a nice transition from the Mongrel, as the lingering spice on my palette allowed the whisky characteristics to shine. While a bit more aggressive than your typical gin, Oaken is wonderfully balanced as its gin botanicals mesh nicely with the smokiness of the barrel. Out of all of Odd Society’s offerings, this is my favourite neat. While Oaken would certainly feature nicely in a Gin & Tonic, I believe it is best to enjoy its complex characteristics undiluted.
Wafflower Gin: The one that started it all was a great finish to this taster series. After the two offerings imbued with the spirit of whisky, Wallflower was a great palate refresher before turning my attention to the cocktail menu. Lighter and more approachable in body to my first two samples, Wallflower is no less flavourful; it has the ideal botanical kick with a generous complement of citrus. This makes it a very enjoyable gin to serve neat, while also being a mixologist’s best friend from a cocktail standpoint.
After whetting my tastebuds with some straight offerings, it was time to move on to the cocktail menu. It is a bit daunting at first to navigate, as there is no shortage of options and taste profiles. This is enhanced by the fact that on top of using their base spirits to mix wonderful creations, Odd Society also has an assortment of infusions that they make on site, to help elevate their mixing game. These cocktails do rotate on a regular basis, depending on the availability of the infusions and spirits, keeping the lineup and taste experience fresh with each visit. In the end, I decided to mix it up with a combination of safe and more exotic options, settling on: The Gentleman’s Sour, Chupacabra, and a Caesar.
- Wallflower Gin
- Lemon Juice
- Vegan Foamer
- Szechuan Bitters
I began very safe—I love sours. Whether they’re built with gin, bourbon, or whisky at their base, if I see a unique offering on the menu, I’m sold. This particular take on a classic was wonderfully balanced: the Cassis and raspberry lend tart, fruity tones; acidity is brought forward from the gin and lemon juice; and the vermouth and bitters impart a dry spicy characteristic. I had never encountered vegan foamer before, only heard of it, and I was pleased with the texture and consistency it gave my drink. A nice little touch to know that vegans and non-vegans alike can enjoy this wonderful cocktail.
- Sons of Vancouver Amaretto
- Lapsang Tea Syrup
- Almond Oil
Next on the list was this exotic beast. I wasn’t sure what to expect with this cocktail. I have had lapsang tea on its own and enjoy the smokiness that it offers, but I wasn’t sure how it would play with the vermouth and lemon. This is a very complex cocktail. The almond oil adds great weight to the drink, which is not something I have thought about too much, in regards to a cocktail. Chupacabra skillfully demonstrates how useful Mongrel is to your wet bar: the young whisky flavours act as ignition for the bitterness of the vermouth, the sweet nutty vanilla of the amaretto, before finishing with tea. Dry and smoky at the end, with a touch of astringency from the lemon, reminds me of breathing in the air inside a sauna.
- House Spices
- Jalapeno Havarti
- Caper Berry
To most, the idea that a Caesar was my most adventurous choice, would be laughable. However, I cannot stress enough how much I H-A-T-E Caesars. I have tried for years to like them, but have never been swayed on this particular drink . . . until now. Friends can attest to the fact that I haven’t stopped talking about this cocktail for over a week. While other Caesars have felt either too thick or thin, the Odd Society version is just right. The level of spice is perfect and probably more importantly to my interests, they use lemon-pepper to rim the glass, instead of the usual, putrid celery salt. The garnish (salami, cheese, caper) plays nicely with the cocktail’s contents, especially the caper berry which I dropped into the glass to add a little extra briny punch. The star of the show here though, is the dill vodka. The soft, sweet taste it imparts to the drink adds a layer that I had yet to find in a Caesar and has me rushing to make my own dill-vodka infusion.
If you love spirits, a visit to the Odd Society tasting room is an absolute must. The atmosphere is wonderful and this is only elevated by the drinks available for consumption. Whether you’re looking to sample a spirit from their lineup that you’ve never had before, or get inspiration for your own adventures in mixology by tasting a cocktail, there is something for any hard bar lover. I want to close this article by giving a big shout out to Rob, who was a great bartender, wonderful host, and exactly the type of person that represents the image that Odd Society portrays. Go visit him and let him mix you a drink!
À Votre Santé!
[Featured Photo and Tasting Room Photos credit: Odd Society Spirits]
[Cocktail Photos courtesy: DF Parizeau]