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BC is full of craft distilleries, and this summer you don’t have to go far afield to find a drink featuring your favourite local flavours. This month, we talked to Captain Peter Kimmerly, Distiller and Proprietor of Island Spirits, about the signature gin and vodka that he and Dr. Naz Abdurahman produce on Hornby Island. Plus, we’ve got tips for discovering local distilleries near you, and sharing some refreshing summer cocktail recipes to get your summer sipping off to the right start.
We Heart Local (WHL): We have to ask - how did an icebreaker captain and a professor of organic chemistry decide to start distilling gin together? And why on Hornby Island?
Peter Kimmerly (PK): I have been distilling since I was 18. My buddy Naz has taught distillation for 30 some years. T. Boone Pickens bought Gulf Oil International and then they sold my lovely icebreaker (long story), so I needed a job. I became Senior Master of the Hornby Island ferry. I retired. There is a party on Hornby about every three days, and three of us challenged each other to come up with the best gin. We tweaked the recipe between parties then brought it to the next party to gauge its acceptance level. We consciously were reducing the astringency of gin and bringing it into something that went well with water. Two and a half years of pleasant research. Over 30 well documented iterations of the recipe.
WHL: What's the difference between the sipping spirits you produce and regular gin or vodka?
PK: I need to introduce the concept of ‘reflux ratio’. All of my stills are capable of 100% reflux - I design them to do this. What does it mean? If you have full heat delivered and nothing dripping out the pipe - that is 100%. Now reduce the cooling water flow until you have the tiniest little stream coming out, that is 99.9% reflux and produces pharmaceutically pure spirit. I have sent our products to labs in various provinces and I always get a call - “Where did you get this alcohol? It is the cleanest we have ever had in the lab.” It helps to have a PhD Chemist plus a Cruise Ship Chief Engineer on the team. We guarantee no hangover.
WHL: What's the story behind naming your creations Phrog Gin and Phrog Vodka?
PK: When we were playing around, everything had a monkey (on its) label. There are over 30 monkey labels. We won the competition to produce the best gin on this little remote island, then entered it in the Chicago International Spirits competition and won the Silver next to Hendrick’s Gin who won the Gold. Hendrick’s had been producing since 1885...we did not even have a license yet. OK: now we had a winning recipe. Then we went to a graphic artist from the Napa valley and he suggested we de-trivialize. A monkey in a pink sweater aiming a Glock at you with his eyes closed was not the label that would make sense. We changed to a frog - because the frogs around here are deafening in the spring-time. The ‘PH’ comes from ‘pH’ - the propensity to accept hydrogen ions - which is the measure of acidity or basicity. This appeals to people who understand chemistry. So it became Phrog.
WHL: What locally grown ingredients do you use in your spirits?
PK: I have a three acre orchard behind the house. Everything is devoted to the fermentation room. We have two 200 foot hedges of Elderflower (or “hollanderbluten”), as well as apples, pears, plums and grapes. I grow as many botanicals as I can - like fennel and star anise - but to keep up with production we also source from Golden Bough botanicals in Vancouver.
WHL: Do you recommend a certain kind of glass for enjoying your products?
PK: Yes. We have 6 oz heavy bottom glasses. There is a Phrog logo on them, laser etched in. Fill to the frogs feet then put water in up to his bum. Two-thirds gin, one-third water. Perfect.
Looking for a BC distillery that’s local to you? Try some of our top picks: Sheringham Distillery
on Vancouver Island produces award-winning gin with a twist, featuring sustainably hand-harvested local winged kelp as one of its flavour notes. Kootenay Country Craft Distillery
makes award-winning vodkas on a 100 mile diet philosophy, with flavours like Huckleberry Ginger Cinnamon Vodka. Pemberton Distillery
turns the Pemberton potato into unique organic Schramm potato vodka and gin...plus several other products!Finally, Vancouver’s Odd Society
produces Wallflower gin and vodka based on barley grown in Prince George and malted in Armstrong. To find even more micro-distilleries near you, check out this useful map
from BC Distilled.
Now that we’ve got you feeling thirsty, delight guests at your next summer soiree with these recipes:
Or, throw a pairings party! Try these tasty guides to pairing your favourite local cheeses with either beer
BC is full of craft distilleries, and this summer you don’t have to go far afield to find a drink featuring your favourite local flavours.