It’s Tuesday, 3pm in Vancouver. And it’s hot. It’s almost too hot…An elderly lady, walking her well groomed poodle, has just informed my wife and I that we should be careful walking along this particular street. Not the response I was hoping for, given we’d only stopped to ask directions. But I remained un-phased. Don’t be fooled dear reader – you see beneath this middle class facade is quite the ‘gangsta’ (I believe that’s how the kids say it?!). Unperturbed, we continue on our way.
Now despite my olive skin tone, I do not cope well in the heat (nb; for those who’ve not met me, I have the complexion of Queen Elizabeth. When on Summer holidays, I can quite reasonably be accused of haunting many beach resorts with my pastiness!). We’ve been walking for what seems an eternity (I’d say at least 20 minutes) and we’re in desperate need of shaded refuge. But I continue with a determined spring in my step. For I know that at the end of this epic journey is gin!
We turn the corner, and start to descend a steep hill. And there it is. Nestled a short birth away from the waterfront, and crossing point to Granville Island, is the beautiful site of ‘Long Table Distillery’, its black & white logo emblazoned boldly on a retro looking converted warehouse building. I reach for the door handle, a smile plastered across my face, such is the palpable sense of anticipation. I can almost taste the gin…
The door won’t budge…
I stare blankly at the ‘opening times’, listed neatly on the entrance. ‘Long Table Distillery’ isn’t open on Tuesdays.
Fast forward to Wednesday then…and as seasoned pros by this point we arrive at the distillery in half the time. As we pass the old lady and her poodle, we exchange a knowing glance and a wave (though I can’t swear it wasn’t some kind of gang hand signal she was making). Regardless, we’ve made it. We’re inside Long Table.
As we enter the building, we’re heartily greeted by the seemingly one man whirlwind production line that is Charles Tremewen; co-founder and Master Distiller of Long Table gin. ‘Welcome to Vancouvers first Micro Distillery. How can I help you today?’.
Having opened their doors in 2013, Charles, and his partner Rita, did so on the strength of their passion for traditional small batch distillation methods and the use of quality Canadian botanicals. And it seems that they’ve caused quite a stir! As my eyes wondered around the dimly lit room I was struck by a wall adorned with framed magazine articles and press releases dating back to the brands inception, immortalising their accolades and achievements during their short but impressive tenure as Vancouvers favourite gin joint.
And if magazine collages don’t do it for you, then perhaps their trophy haul will. Their London Dry gin upped its game from receiving a Silver award at the San Francisco Spirits Competition in 2015, taking Gold at the Vancouver International Spirits Competition (VISC) this year. Not to be outdone, their cucumber gin (yes – cucumber gin!) took Gold in both respective competitions in the same years! Fancy something a little different? Their bronze award winning bourbon barrel gin may be the ‘new kid on the block’, but I’m willing to bet it’s going to go from strength to strength.
And over the last 4 years, business has really taken off, making Tremewen seemingly the busiest man in Canada! He describes how they have become ‘swamped with orders’ since the awards started rolling in. Between serving from his on site bar, excitedly recounting tales of his brands growth with yours truly (as well as talking with a number of other gin enthusiasts who come and go throughout the afternoon) he is a hive of activity, frantically printing and individually hand labelling hundreds of bottles for his next shipment. Growing in stature maybe, but this is still small batch to the core; it’s both impressive and exhausting to behold!
‘But with all these awards, how small batch can they be?!’ I hear your scream. Well calm down. I assure you – this is small batch at its best. Their custom made 300 litre copper pot still kicks out just about 300 bottles per batch at the end of its 5 hour production run, before each bottle is painstakingly hand labelled!
And it seems that ‘a few’ other people may have heard a little something about Long Tables rising success. Our conversation is interrupted by the phone ringing at least 4 or 5 times, by various journalists calling for the inside scoop or loyal customers looking to enlist Charles & his gins for their upcoming parties and events. And not once does Charles let on about his days sizeable work load, never waivering in his passionate and enthusiastic responses. He is humbled & thankful for the appreciation and generous in his willingness to engage in conversation on all things gin. Indeed, it may be that Long Tables popularity has grown at a pace that’s even exceeded Tremewen’s expectations- on one call I overhear him having to reluctantly refuse a large party booking for the distillery, based on its modest size & strict fire regulations/licensing requirements. Although occurrences like this are going to be disappointing, this bloggers view is that surely this will only be an incentive to continue riding the wave of success and I imagine that larger premises will become a necessity in the future.
Anyway, I came here for a reason! Excited by the prospect of trying these medal winners out for myself, I order the ‘gin flight’. Now I’ve had beer sample flights before, but being presented with an identity parade of award winning gins? Well, that’s just swell!
I wanted to try something truly Canadian. And with Long Table, that’s exactly what you get! The 8 botanicals that make up their London Dry offering are all natural & organic, handpicked (both locally from the mountains and from select locations across the globe) by expert wild foragers. Even the water the team use is sourced from ‘British Columbia’s pristine Coast Mountain Range’. One thing Charles is keen to point out is that Long Table don’t make their own base spirit on site. He explains that he knew they wouldn’t be able to produce a clean enough base themselves. So rather than compromise on quality, Long Table buy from a distributor. Anyone want to hazard a guess at where it’s from? Fear ye not dear reader, it is of course a 100% Canadian, 5 times distilled, grain base. Not enough you say? Well just for you, Charles & the team give it a 6th distillation in their copper still. They’re good like that!
Interestingly, you’ll find most distilleries have named their stills – usually after a spouse, mother or grandmother etc. Though when I quizzed Tremewen on the name of their most important ‘colleague’, I’m in formed that ‘he or she remains unnamed’. Sensing my chance had come, I suggested that ‘Matt’ had quite a nice ring to it. A suggestion that was to only be greeted with laughter. I’m not sure why?…I’ll assume he’s just mulling it over for now…
First up on the tasting board was the London Dry. One thing I couldn’t get Charles to part with was the exact list of his 8 macerated botanicals (a great magician never reveals his secrets and all that), but safe to say that this is a juniper forward gin, with hefty support from its citrus counterparts. This is a classic London Dry – on the nose the juniper & citrus peels (I get lemon) are dominant. There is a subtle suggestion of spice that makes itself known, most likely associated to the inclusion of two types of pepper and fennel. There is a bold freshness to the aroma, which is backed up by its taste. The spice lingers on the tongue long after the first sip, suggestive of the power behind this 44% proof offering and the quality of the craftsmanship. There’s a liquorice quality to it. It comes across as both clean and well balanced – the sharpness of the citrus blends beautifully with the gins earthier notes. You can pick out piney & woody tones, a taste which perhaps fittingly pays tribute to the mountain ranges and lakes that combined to create its list of ingredients. You’re almost left with postcard images of a Canadian wilderness with each sip.
Ding ding ding, on to round two! Second up is the cucumber offering, where we see the addition of two more botanicals (yep, you guessed it; one of them is cucumber!). But these aren’t just any old cucumbers. Oh no, sticking to the ethos of Long Table, they’re sourced from a small farm further north in Pender Harbour. Whilst the juniper and citrus are still present, there’s almost a cooling mellowness to the scent. To really get those cucumbers ‘kicking’ the team distill out the aromatics, rather than infusing them in the way that Hendricks do. That peppery finish isn’t lost by the inclusion of our tenth ingredient – though there is a more subtle and gentle feel to the gin. It seems softer on the pallet, though it’s freshness, combined with the lemon tones that cut through, make this feel like a real summer time favourite.
For best results, I’d recommend either of these gins are served over ice, with a healthy wedge of lemon and a premium tonic water of your choosing. Though for my money, the London Dry edges it. For gin purists, this is everything you could ask for and more. It’s a sophisticated and classic gin that’ll leave you wanting more every time.
With its distinctive golden haze, last (but by no means least!) is the bourbon barrel gin. Having never really been a fan of whiskeys, I always have a feeling of trepidation when tasting barrel aged gins. But I need not have worried! Long Table age their gin for around 4 months in 30-litre bourbon barrels to introduce oaky notes in to the equation. And you’ll be glad they have. Cue aromas of vanilla and caramel, supported by the same warming spice of the London Dry, but with suggestions of darker, rich citrus fruits. This, by its very nature, feels more complex and robust than the London Dry or the cucumber gin, but it’s character and flavour profile make this a perfect sipping gin. I can imagine enjoying this bad boy in front of a roaring open fire, watching as the Canadian winter season replaces the summer heat.
As the final remnants of my sample glasses are satisfyingly polished off, it becomes clear that this is much more than just a gin distillery. This is craft spirit making at its finest. Indeed, should you ever find yourself wanting to try alternatives to gin (how dare you!) Tremewen would be only too pleased to offer you a bottle of his award winning Vodka or one of his seasonal spirits. But what really impresses me is that this is a company who care, looking to give back to their community wherever they can. A prime example being using locally produced honey from the ‘Hives for Humanity’ programme to sweeten their limoncello; a scheme that works to get homeless people back in to work.
And as I stand to leave, I’m left only to ponder on the name. Charles encourages people to come along to the tasting rooms weekly ‘Gin & Tonic Fridays’ or ‘Cocktail Saturday’ sessions, where likeminded enthusiasts and gin novices alike can gather to discuss the art of craft gin making at communal ‘long tables’, whilst sampling the fruits of Tremewen’s labour. On reflection, I can’t think of a better name or way to enjoy gin.
There are around 780 micro distilleries in the US and 62 in Canada alone. But as we exchange firm handshakes and a warm goodbye, I can’t help but feel that Long Table is destined to stand out from that crowd.
Whilst only a limited selection of Long Tables offerings are currently available outside of the distillery itself and local Vancouver bars & restaurants, the brands continuing notoriety, combined with Tremewen’s infectious passion, will surely only lead to continued growth. And although you won’t yet find ‘Long Table’ products on the shelves of any UK stores, you can now buy their gin on both ‘Master of Malt’ and ‘the Gin Kiosk’. And following their successful introduction at this years ‘Junipalooza’ event, I think it’s only a matter of time before they’ll be needing to pull up a few extra chairs to their ever growing long table…