The Heart of Canada’s Craft Distilling Movement
This excerpt from the new book “The Definitive Guide to Canadian Distilleries,” explains how British Columbia became Canada’s craft distilling leader.
As if out of nowhere, British Columbia has become Canada’s ground zero for artisanal distilling. BC’s seventy-plus distilleries comprise nearly one third of all the distilleries in all of Canada. Like many overnight success stories, this one took time. Dedicated believers patiently lobbied politicians for more than a decade in order to lay the groundwork for today’s flourishing distilling scene. That certainly does not mean distilling is new to BC. What the province is experiencing today is a reprise of another boom that began late in the 19th century. In Victoria, for example, two distilleries and countless breweries kept 24-hour-a-day saloons hopping. Drinkers in BC once knocked back more alcohol per capita than those in any other province or territory.
At the turn of the 20th century, brewer Henrich Reiffel Sr. and his family tapped into that cash cow by purchasing Braid’s Distillery in New Westminster, BC. They turned Braid’s into the renowned British Columbia Distilling Company. But when BC officially went dry in 1917, Reiffel decided to set sail for Japan, where he opened a brewery.
In Canada, prohibition was a provincial matter rather than a federal one, and for the most part, provincial politicians gave it little more than token attention. British Columbia’s brief flirtation with prohibition had very little support and ended in 1921. The public’s favorable opinion of wine and beer had survived mostly unscathed, largely because wine and beer are bulky—so less attractive to illicit producers—and therefore largely out of sight. In contrast, bootlegging during that four-year period tarnished the reputation of “hard” liquor, making politicians queasy about supporting its production even after prohibition ended. Then, when America enacted its own Prohibition in 1920, whisky smuggling quickly captured headlines on both sides of the border, leading to the perception that hard liquor was the devil’s dram. Smuggling beer or wine just didn’t have the same front-page charm as axe-wielding constables smashing barrels of booze.