Island Spirits on Hornby Island

DSC_0469 DSC_0470 It’s difficult to ‘distill’ the ‘spirit’ you get when you hit the entranceway of Island Spirits Distillery on Hornby Island.  After driving through the dense bush lining the gravel road, a clearing awaits, in which it wouldn’t be unusual to see dwarves or elves parading around the entrance of the cedar shake-clad distillery. The modest footprint of the distillery is a pleasant reminder of when spirits were distilled from small companies around the country, instead of today’s massive factories where speed and quantity rule, rather than patience and quality.

DSC_0462 Instead of dwarves or elves, I’m greeted by two tall figures, and while their bearded visages may remind me of trolls, they are all business, science and flavour.  Peter Kimmerly and John Grayson are two-thirds of Island Spirits Distillery, and as they described their products and the processes necessary to achieve the high quality they’re seeking, you know they have a passion for their work.  Kimmerly is an ice breaker captain, Grayson a winemaker.  The third part of their triumvirate is Dr. Naz Abdurahman, a professor of organic chemistry.  They came together about seven years ago to share their love of experimenting with distilling spirits, and now their results are winning rave reviews from consumers and at tasting competitions.

DSC_0460 Kimmerly explained how their longer process and custom-made still removes the impurities such as propanol, isopentanol, methyl butanol and iso butanol from their gin and vodka products. Those impurities are what cause you to have a hangover, but they also interfere with the enjoyment of a spirit in its pure form, unadulterated by the heavy mixers we use to make industrially made liquor more palatable.

DSC_0464 So, you can sip Phrog Gin and Phrog Vodkas at room temperature, neat, or perhaps with a bit of pure water to them.  The Phrog Name comes from the multitudes of singing frogs on the Hornby property, changed to ph at the beginning to reflect the scientific nature of the trio, pH being the measure used to describe how acidic a compound is.

Science aside, the proof is in the tasting.  I sat at the comfortable tasting counter, wondered at the complex curves of the still, marvelled at the number of aromatic botanicals added into the Phrog gin such as juniper, coriander, cinnamon and eleven more, and then sipped, and relaxed.  Smooth is the first word that comes to mind, especially with the vodka.  The gin changes with every sip, more of the aromatics being released as you swirl it in your mouth and expose it to air.

Island Spirits has also gone a fun step further with the creation of its Black Jelly Bean Szechuan, a liquor that tastes just as it sounds….dark liquorice flavour with a jolt of spice as it clears your palate on its way to your belly.
The only problem with perfection is bureaucracy.  Provincial government regulations make it next to impossible to actually make money on their products while keeping them reasonably priced.  To get the most bang for your buck and to help them stay in business, take a trip to Hornby and buy direct from the distillery.  Find out more at

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