Monday, August 8, 2011

Drinking Gin on Hornby

"Winding roads go to interesting places." So says my wife.

Winding roads lead to places of mystery and intrigue, to backwoods and sandy beaches, to mountains and to valleys. Interesting things and fabulous adventures are found along and at the end of winding roads.

Hornby Island is a case study in "The things you find along winding roads." Hornby's myriad winding roads lead to beaches, an endless array of pottery studios, stained glass artisans, houses with astounding views, little known campsites, marinas, wineries and cemeteries. There are winding roads to trailheads for hiking and biking and winding roads that make you think twice - while the theme to deliverance plays through your head.

One of the shorter -but easily one of my favourite - Hornby Island winding roads leads to gin. And not just any gin... it leads to Captain (yes Captain - he's a retired ice-breaker Captain) Peter Kimmerly and the home of Phrog Gin.

Most distilled spirits are gleaned from starchy sugars like potatoes or from grains. According to Peter and his Organic Chemist-partner, these are the culprits responsible for hangovers and aftertaste. Peter starts all his alcohol production with organic sugar beets. Apparently sugar beet sugar produces the cleanest, purest alcohol from which you can create your spirits.

You also need a great bloody still (or in Peter's case, six of them) and some really, really cool technology. For instance, Peter's son is the Chief Engineer on a cruise ship. He built Peter a vacuum evaporator. His reasoning: If it can be used to distill 40,000 gallons of freshwater each day on a ship, a smaller one should be able to distill booze. When it's operating, it creates pressure so low, it's the equivalent to distilling alcohol, 4,000 above the summit of Mount Everest. That one step renders alcohol vapours so pure, they'd seduce even the most devout priest.

Peter's newest still is a work of art. Honestly, it's worth a trip to the Phrogery just to see the still. According to Peter it took two months to design, five month to be built by grey-haired, bearded Germans, deep in the Black Forest. It was shipped to Hornby in a seven foot long, five foot high crate and it must weigh two tons. It's a gleaming piece of functional art, rendered in hand-pounded copper and stainless steel. The cracking tower is seven feet tall!

So, what comes out of all this science, heart and dedication to purity?

Phrog's spirits are Gin, Vodka, Hollunderblutin (the aromatics are elderflower) and Aquavit (of which I'm not a huge fan - sorry Peter). And what spirits they are. To mix Phrog Vodka with anything, would be a crime. To even bring a Tonic water bottle near Phrog Gin; a sin. The Gin is served best at room temperature at 2/3 gin, 1/3 water.

There are also two flavoured Vodkas - usually the death of all drinkers due to their sugars and artificial flavours. Not Phrogs. Peter's Vanilla Vodka gets its flavour from pure, scraped vanilla beans. The Black Jelly Bean Sichuan Vodka (yes you read that correctly - roll it around in your brain a while) is flavoured with star anise and hot, red Thai, chilli peppers. There is nothing synthetic in the mix. Imagine the purest licorice taste with a small alcohol kick. Swallow it and wait a fraction of a second for the chilli pepper to hit you. It's subtle, but it's there and it is fantastic.

And, while we brought home a bottle of gin and a bottle of Black Jelly Bean Sichuan Vodka, I've since learned that I may be able to buy them in town; unlike Tofino Brewing Company's Tuff Session Ale - another story for another day.

Peter's Island Spirits Distillery, home of the Phrogery and all things related to creating the best booze on the planet, is but one of the many winding roads on Hornby. At the top of the mountain, up the long winding, gravel road, you'll find the Meadery (we ascended to them last year). You'll find Ford's Cove marina and great fish and chips at the end of the long road that winds across the island.

So, the next time you find yourself facing the choice of the straight path or the winding road, go the long way around. To paraphrase John and Paul: The long and winding road, will never disappear. And, you never know what - or who - you'll find.

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