Merridale celebrates new craft-distillery license in style

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Whispered passwords, fabulous flappers and the sounds of jazz greeted attendees at the doors of Merridale cidery for its Speakeasy Cocktail Party held on June 18. In true speakeasy style, a secret password was required to gain access to the cider house full of jazz tunes, cocktails, appetizers, and samples straight from the barrel. Dressed to impress, ladies and gents at Merridale’s speakeasy party celebrated not only the barrel and cask spirits that have been quietly aging, but also the opening of the distillery industry in British Columbia.

Merridale holds claim to the first craft-distilling license in B.C. — which was granted just one day prior to the event. Due to the newly relaxed liquor laws introduced earlier this year, several other craft distilleries in B.C. join Merridale in the sale of bottled local spirits.

Cowichan Cider Brandy is the first bottled product released by Merridale Ciderworks under its new license. The first batch is comprised of six different blends of local cider apples and aged in French oak barrels. Laurent Lafuente, Merridale’s master blender and Swiss-trained French winemaker, was on-site to explain Merridale’s multi-stage distillation process and guide the crowd in how to taste the blended products drawn directly from the casks.

“At 43 per cent alcohol content you cannot leave your nose in the glass, because you will burn your nose. So what you have to do is leave your nose on top of the glass two or three seconds and relax,” Lafuente suggested with a smile. After taking the crowd through the aroma profile, which is warm and full of spice, Lafuente explained, “What you want to do is take a quarter of a teaspoon on your tongue.” He laughed when warning that it might burn at first because of its strenght, “but this is good, and stick with it! It is part of the process.”

“We tried from 39 all the way to 49 per cent alcohol content,” says owner Rick Pipes. “Mostly you’ll find products at 39 to 40 per cent, but this product is so smooth and so complex that we decided to leave it at 43 per cent.” Pipes feels this is a balance between economics and flavour. “At 43 per cent, we get 10 per cent less in terms of yield, but it’s so good we wanted to put it out at 43 per cent to preserve the flavour.”

The easy part of the speakeasy event was showing up for the brandy, but the hard part was choosing the perfect 1920s period costume. “We must have tried on five or six different outfits tonight to get them just right,” said Janina Wetselaar, who came with friend Elly Driessen. So, how did they make the final decision? “She chose mine and I chose hers!”

Merridale Estate Cidery holds regular events on site at 1230 Merridale Road in Cobble Hill. Tastings are offered daily between 10:30 a.m. and 7 p.m.

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